After their ten-wicket loss against Kings XI Punjab in Mohali, Delhi Daredevils’ coach/mentor Rahul Dravid came out for the press conference. He didn’t have much room for manoeuvring — 67 all out — is hardly a score anyone can defend in front of the media, let alone the India junior coach, himself a legendary batsman across formats.
But Dravid tried, like he did all those years whilst playing for India. “We can only go up from here. Look, we are better than what we showed today,” he said, even if Daredevils’ form these past two weeks hasn’t supported that notion.
Four matches ago, Delhi were placed in the top-four. Their ambition was a top-four slot, built on the spectacular hundred by Sanju Samson in Pune. They allowed themselves to believe that finally their belief in these young players was coming to fruition.
You cannot really blame their team management for this thought. After all, it was their conscious decision not to go in for a properly experienced Indian batsman in the last three player auctions, particularly last year when they overtook the bulk of Rajasthan Royals’ talent. ‘Buy them, back them’ has been their mantra, and Delhi are simply not budging from it.
Of course, it isn’t as if they have a choice either, for they are simply lacking in those resources (read a decently experienced, senior Indian batsman). The most experienced Indian batsman in their ranks is Karun Nair, who has played six Tests and two ODIs. We all know what he has achieved therein, and what he hasn’t done thereafter.
Nair is the quintessential player of Delhi’s youth-first policy. Imagine, you buy a young batsman and over the 10-month long off-season, he goes on to smack Indian cricket’s second triple-hundred ever. It is a jackpot moment for you — you have got the centrepiece of your franchise, someone young to shape your team’s future.
Only thing, Nair’s waning form since that triple ton is now increasingly irksome. When Virat Kohli said in Hyderabad that Ajinkya Rahane was still ahead of Nair in the pecking order, there was rank criticism in the media, both social and otherwise. Since then, Nair hasn’t even done enough to retain his Test spot. But this is about the IPL.
So, here is Nair’s return in this 2017 season: four, zero, 21, 33, five, 15 and 11 in seven innings. On first look, this string of poor scores is enough to drop him from the playing eleven, but Nair has gone the other way. He started the season batting at no 4, and then has progressed to no 3, even opened the innings in Sam Billings’ absence, before returning to no 3 against Kings XI on Sunday. The bottom-line, again, is that no top-order batsman would be able to retain his spot with these scores.
Nair’s elevation though went a step higher in Mohali. In Zaheer Khan’s absence, he was named skipper. “We decided pretty early on in the tournament that if Zaheer gets injured, Karun would be the person who will take over the captaincy. Obviously, last year’s vice-captain JP (Duminy) and Quinton de Kock weren’t here as well,” Dravid said, explaining this surprising choice.
“Look, it happens when you are out-of-form, whether you are a captain or you are a vice captain, that's not a reflection on his captaincy. He has led junior teams and led quite well. There is nothing much he can do if there are not good enough runs on the board. Obviously, he and we would like him to score a few more runs,” he added.
This is the perfect explanation of Daredevils’ malaise. It reflects amply why they are suffering. They have bought so whole-heartedly into this youth-first approach that their team management is totally blind to what is happening on the field.
Here are some questions worth pondering over. Just because it was pre-decided that Nair should lead in Khan’s absence, can that decision not be reversed in light of current form? Is there no one in this Daredevils’ squad with prior captaincy experience in international or domestic cricket?
Sure, there are Angelo Mathews and Carlos Brathwaite, but maybe the Daredevils don’t want their overseas players’ equation disturbed. Even then, nobody else can do the job?
It is not as if Nair did something different when he was captain. On the back of four consecutive losses, when the situation was begging desperately for something fresh and innovative to mix things up, simply a little difference in approach, the Daredevils went in with the same batting order as they have done throughout this season, and particularly in the previous four matches.
Did Nair not enjoy enough freedom as captain then? Or, did he just toe the management’s line and bought into their thinking and strategy? If Daredevils only wanted a robotic captain on the field, with all batting order/tactics pre-decided, they could have named even Samson or Shreyas Iyer as captain. Why not Rishabh Pant, who has recently led Delhi in the Vijay Hazare Trophy?
The underlying point isn’t to slate Nair especially when he is going through a bad patch, no.
Instead, it is about how poorly managed this Daredevils’ team is at the moment. There is no adventurism about them, they have lost all confidence, and they have simply become road-kill for the opposition. At least Royal Challengers Bangalore do something different. Skipper Virat Kohli tries different opening combinations, isn’t scared of dropping Chris Gayle, rotates batsmen and bowlers within the eleven, and even chops and changes the batting and bowling order.
Kohli does all this in hope of breaking Bangalore out of their downfall. The Daredevils though showcase none of this, doing the same thing over and over again, only to get smashed. So, the final question is, who is to blame here if not the Delhi players?
Published Date: May 01, 2017 10:29 am | Updated Date: May 01, 2017 10:31 am