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IPL 2017: Delhi Daredevils' abject season down to unimaginative thinking and stubbornness

If this 2017 Indian Premier League (IPL) season was a musical instrument, then Delhi Daredevils (DD) failed to hit more than one note right. At the start of the league stage, the Daredevils lost to Royal Challengers Bangalore away, fluffing a 158-run chase at the Chinnaswamy Stadium.

It was the first game for both teams, and nobody knew then that it would be a marker for low scores and poor form at Bangalore. For Delhi, it was a humongous opportunity lost, and their season came full circle on Sunday night, when they lost to the Royal Challengers again, this time fluffing a 162-run chase at home.

Delhi Daredevils finished an abject sixth in the IPL 2017 season. AFP

Delhi Daredevils finished an abject sixth in the IPL 2017 season. AFP

The Kotla had witnessed some tall scores this season, and it was a less-than-par target for the Daredevils. Instead of closing out their campaign with victory, they ended up becoming the only team to lose twice to this hapless Bangalore team. That alone takes some doing!

Sunday’s game was a microcosm of the Daredevils’ season. It was reflective of their inept strategic thinking, the malaise in their batting lineup, and the lack of intent on rectifying this problem. There was a general stubbornness with which they approached different games and situations, never venturing from the beaten path in their plans, almost as if afraid of experimenting. For a fast-moving format, their thinking was largely unimaginative.

The problem for the Daredevils was perhaps two-fold. There can be no doubt that Rahul Dravid and Zaheer Khan pulled the strings, with Paddy Upton playing the support role. Pointedly, the franchise’s approach towards both batting and bowling indicated as much, with their strategies often reflective of how the two legendary Indian cricketers would approach things on the international arena.

Let us talk about the bowling first, for it was the one bright spark of their season. It can be argued that the Daredevils boasted the best bowling lineup in the 2017 IPL, an opinion that could be formed early in the year when they had a fairly impressive auction. They brought in Corey Anderson, Angelo Mathews, Pat Cummins and Khagiso Rabada, with at least three of them getting a consistent run through the season.

It allowed them innumerable options in their pace attack, and at different stages in the tournament, the Daredevils played around with the combination. Mostly, it was about Zaheer leading the charge with Cummins and Rabada/Chris Morris, with Anderson for back up. Mohammed Shami alternated with Zaheer, with the two playing together only towards the end of the season after South African players left. Delhi’s spin options though left a lot to be desired.

In the off-season, they had let Imran Tahir go. In a way, it was an oversight but still understandable. Delhi were putting their eggs in the pace basket, and banking on Amit Mishra to be the lead spinner. Shahbaz Nadeem and Jayant Yadav were thought to be additional cover. The handling of the latter two left a lot to be desired, seen especially in Nadeem’s case. The left-arm spinner was very impressive in the first few games, and then dropped abruptly to suit a change in batting strategy.

The Daredevils’ bowling performance against Mumbai Indians (on 22 April) was arguably one of the best outings for a unit in this season. There was a concentrated effort from their bowlers to hold things tight, given the circumstances of their losing run. Yet, the fact that they couldn’t win that game underlined the basic fault in their thinking. Unlike Tests and to a large extent in ODIs, in this shortest format, it is batsmen who win you games and not bowlers.

This perhaps pinpointed where Zaheer’s leadership — a signature of his bowling style — went off track, and puts the other aspect in the spotlight. Herein, Dravid takes centre-stage because the Daredevils banked upon a youth-first policy that has failed to reap dividends in two seasons. If 2016’s sixth-placed finish could be forgiven for it was an incubation period for this young batting lineup, how would you qualify another sixth-placed finish in 2017?

Failure, of course, for the margin in T20 cricket is fairly small. One misstep and you are out of sync with purported plans, and the Daredevils have had many such instances. For example, they hit upon a good opening pairing between Sanju Samson and Sam Billings, but couldn’t continue with it in the long term for they had to balance their bowling attack with overseas players. It also puts in perspective as to why they didn’t go for timely replacements for Quinton de Kock and JP Duminy, both ruled out of the tournament in March. Marlon Samuels arrived too late on the scene, and batted too deep again, to affect any changes.

‘Batted too deep’ is an incriminating phrase for the Daredevils’ think-tank. It wasn’t to do with Samuels alone, but with Anderson and Morris as well. These are hard-hitting all-rounders who can turn the game at any stage, and yet they were never allowed to bat up top. In fact, their loss against Sunrisers Hyderabad (on 19 April) highlighted this problem in bold — Morris didn’t face a single delivery as Delhi lost by 15 runs in a 191-run chase.

The Daredevils’ strategy — and Dravid’s input is visible herein completely — was totally pivoted on their young batting lineup coming good. They bet heavily on the likes of Samson (386 runs in 14 innings with one hundred and two fifties), Karun Nair (281 runs in 13 innings with one fifty), Shreyas Iyer (338 runs in 12 innings with two fifties), and Rishabh Pant (366 runs in 14 innings with two fifties), affording them season-long stints in the top order. The returns, in exchange for this unwavering confidence, are quite paltry.

Sample this. That superlative 209-run win over Gujarat Lions was the only instance when these young batsmen had more than one half-century (Pant and Samson) in the same innings. Nair couldn’t get a half-century until the penultimate innings of the season, despite batting in the top four throughout. Despite his early push with a maiden IPL hundred, Samson didn’t pick up the momentum and could only finish tied on runs with Robin Uthappa (Kolkata Knight Riders) and Pant in the top scorers’ list. All of it indicates to a lack of maturity in this batting lineup, despite the team managements’ heavy punt on them.

The bigger share of the blame though does lay at the management’s door, still. When they failed collectively, and on an individual level as well, there was simply no plan B. That loss in Hyderabad happened quite early in the season – it was Delhi’s only fifth game, and yet they didn’t change their ways (read promote Anderson and Morris in the line-up). In fact, it took them nine matches to move Pant to no.3, an obvious enough conclusion since his brilliant half-century in the opening match in Bangalore.

So, the obvious question is this — where do Delhi Daredevils go from here? In 2018, all players will go back in the auction pool as teams are reset. There is every possibility though that there will be some retention of players. Given their poor history, and even poorer track record of execution of on-field plans, this franchise is caught at crossroads with no inkling of their final destination.


Published Date: May 15, 2017 14:00 PM | Updated Date: May 15, 2017 14:03 PM

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