The one thing common to successful IPL teams is that they all crave consistency. It was the watchword by which Chennai Super Kings lived (and perished), while Mumbai Indians spent bucket-loads of money to retain their players. Kolkata Knight Riders and Rajasthan Royals achieved much using the same formula as well. Even Royal Challengers Bangalore, who always seem to blow hot and cold, have done well to retain a core nucleus of top players over the years.
The Delhi Daredevils, on the other hand, have repeatedly missed this trick. Their first couple seasons were impressive, with a settled top-order boasting of the likes of Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Mahela Jayawardene and David Warner. Two semi-final spots and competing in the now-defunct Champions League T20 were to be the zenith of Daredevils' history.
Their downfall began in 2011. They let go of Gambhir, and banked everything on the ageing prowess of Sehwag and Jayawardene. The two stalwarts did enough to pull them through to the knockouts in 2012, but that pales in comparison to what Gambhir has achieved in Kolkata. Then, after Sehwag left in 2013, their fortunes completely nose-dived — finishing bottom of the pile in 2013 and 2014 and second-last in 2015.
Not that the Daredevils haven't tried to stop the rot. They have torn up team sheets and rebuilt every year, put the World Cup winning coach Gary Kirsten in charge of the team (and then fired him), and even bought Yuvraj Singh for a spanking Rs 16 crore, all in a bid to regain lost form.
And they have done so again this year, rebuilding from scratch, releasing 11 players prior to the player auctions. Doing so, they had the largest purse available, and their largest purchase was Pawan Negi, picked up for Rs 8.5 crore, and at a time when he hadn't even made his India debut.
Since then, he has played all of one T20 international in the last three months, and his reputation finds more weight from past Chennai Super Kings performances.
Meanwhile, if there is one man who has seen his reputation enhanced by the recent World T20, it is big-hitting West Indian Carlos Brathwaite. Purchased for Rs 4.2 crore, Daredevils will hope he can replicate the power and timing of those four World T20 finals' sixes time and again during the upcoming season.
To balance the books, they have Quinton de Kock, Amit Mishra, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Imran Tahir and Zaheer Khan, retained from last season. The latter's role has been upgraded from bowler-mentor to bowler-captain. Even so, there remains a question mark over his fitness and whether he can last six rigourous weeks, and indeed his ability, given that this will be his first competitive outing since the 2015 IPL.
Among these experienced T20 hands though, the name Chris Morris (Rs 7 crore) stands out. Time and again, he has amply displayed his wares in this format, but his inclusion is a marker of the Daredevils' "borrowed" strategy this time around. For, they have bet on youth, and heavily at that. The idea is borrowed from the Rajasthan Royals, who are conveniently banned for the next two seasons. Get an influx of youth, back it up with a dash of T20 experience (read Morris and others), put known and respected faces in charge of the whole set-up, and voila!
With Shreyas Iyer and Mayank Agarwal continuing from last year, Delhi also brought in Sanju Samson (Rs 4.2 crore) and Karun Nair (Rs 4 crore). Together, these four youngsters are at the same pedestal in their career graphs. Seeking every possibly opportunity to impress, reeling off performances in the domestic circuit, just a couple paces off the Indian team, it is almost a race between them as to who gets to that hallowed national dressing room first.
Add three players from the Under-19 World Cup — Rishabh Pant, Mahipal Lomror and Khaleel Ahmed — and it almost feels like the entire Indian junior cricket model has been replicated at Delhi Daredevils.
For good measure then, they have positioned Rahul Dravid as team mentor. It is almost a wonder — did they plan on roping-in these youngsters first, or did they have an agreement with the legendary batsman-turned-coach in place before that, and merely followed his memo in the auctions?
Either way, it is a last throw of the dice for the Daredevils. There are no "fresh" strategies remaining after this youth-first initiative. They have invested in the desire and hunger of these rising cricketers to make a name for themselves, and the IPL is the perfect platform for that.
At the same time, while Paddy Upton will be head coach, Dravid will continue his work from the India-A and Under-19 set-up, in progressing these young talents. It is a double whammy of sorts; if the Daredevils do well, he gets the credit, and his name is already doing the rounds for the vacant national coach position. If Dravid doesn’t, and in turn the Daredevils don’t improve, it will put an obvious question mark on both their near-term and distant futures, respectively. The stakes couldn’t be higher.