Three games ago, against the Rising Pune Supergiants, Delhi Daredevils had paid for making too many changes to their playing eleven. That game, with as many as four players rested, took the sting out of their season. Until then, they had been flying high, even touched second in the standings. Subsequently, they have been left rectifying those faults in a bid to regain balance, even if all momentum garnered in the first half of the season has been sucked out.
It is a strange thing, really. Sport is all about that word, momentum. Every athlete on this planet believes so, if you ask him or her. They train, they go out and perform, and if they get on a winning run, they do everything to keep it going. Some get superstitious, some not so much but try not to move away from their usual routines.
In the end, it is about doing the same thing again and again. ‘Boring’ like Virat Kohli said the other day, is the key to success on the field. And it holds true beyond cricket, in football, tennis, motorsport, hockey; this list can go on and on.
So, the question is, did the Daredevils get ‘bored’ of their winning run earlier in the season and made so many inexplicable changes to their eleven? Sure, ‘rest to key players’ was the explanation given after they lost to Kings XI Punjab in the next game immediately, again making four changes.
Now the question begs again; how do you rest four performing players in one go? That too in a T20 cricket franchise-based tournament where the squad has been assembled from different parts of the world. Instead of grinding it out and striving for consistency, that too in a youthful set-up, the Daredevils have followed a mysterious trend of changing and chopping without due necessity.
And ever since those two losses, they have been trying to compensate, so much so that they have gone overboard. Let us talk about Sunday’s game now. Against Mumbai Indians, three changes were made. Zaheer Khan came back, of course. But then, two pacers – who made a tremendous impact in their win against Sunrisers Hyderabad – were dropped. Nathan Coulter-Nile and Mohammad Shami made way for Shahbaz Nadeem and Imran Tahir.
These last two changes pose some serious doubts about the team management’s line of thinking. Surely, they were swayed by Visakhapatnam’s slow, spinning tracks where Mumbai have struggled in their two home games previously. Why risk playing three spinners and limit your attacking options though?
Horses for courses maybe, but why not make an additional change then, go the whole hog and bring in a hard-hitting all-rounder? All of this without taking into consideration that this was a fresh pitch, different from the first where Mumbai struggled to 92 all out (against Sunrisers Hyderabad) and 124/9 (against Kings XI). Clearly, the square had been worked upon to give them a more ‘home’ feeling.
Yes, hindsight is very beneficial once a team goes down by 80 runs in a T20 match. But all of the Daredevil’s mistakes didn’t come at the start. A couple grave errors in decision making on the field allowed Krunal Pandya to get away. His knock of 86 off 37 underlines pure power hitting and sublime timing. Additionally it was a pointer to what confidence and opportunity allows young cricketers to do on a highlighted stage. However, to say that his innings was helped along by Delhi’s think tank, and lack of bowling changes, wouldn’t be far from the truth.
Nadeem opened the bowling, and returned in the sixth over. From then, until the 14th over, the Daredevils deployed their three spinners in tandem for a return of 1-99. For nine overs, Pandya just mauled the spinners taking 69 runs off 27 balls against them.
Why didn’t the think tank – comprising of both Paddy Upton and Rahul Dravid watching from the dugout – intervene? In all, the three spinners bowled 12 overs and conceded an astonishing 143 runs.
Here comes the bigger surprise though. Tahir had been taken for 43 runs from his first three overs already, and then he was deployed to bowl a fourth in the death. Surely, JP Duminy could have been given a bowl if the full-time spinners were leaking runs. If not, couldn’t they have played Carlos Brathwaite instead, who provides a ready all-round solution?
Or even Sam Billings, for his consistency and belligerence? There are no definitive answers to these questions, except that the Daredevils completely lost their strategic plot in a vital game. And once Mumbai got 200-plus the chase was an improbable one. Quinton de Kock (40 off 28) tried, but lightening didn’t strike twice after his Bangalore blitz.
Let there be no doubt, however, that the team management’s repeated mistakes have cost this young side dearly in the past ten days. So much so, that they might struggle to make it to the knockouts, if the other results don’t go their way.
The situation isn’t desperate though. Unlike Mumbai, Delhi still have fate in their hands. The summation of their errors though has put the spotlight squarely on the likes of Dravid, Upton and Khan. Can they redeem themselves and guide this team to the knockouts?
Well, only the next set of strategic decisions will tell.