Imagine when you buy a fancy new toy. Everyone knows you have overpaid for that shiny thing, and they tell you to be careful about how you use it. But you pay no heed. There is certain eagerness to unwrap and get it out in the open, hoping for the magic in full, as advertised.
What if the shiny, new, expensive plaything turns out to be a fizzle? Imagine your consternation at that precise moment. That is how Delhi Daredevils’ fans must have felt when Pawan Negi walked in to bat at number six at the Eden Gardens against Kolkata Knight Riders on Sunday evening.
It isn’t his fault that the Rs. 8.5 crore tag was slapped on his forehead, but Negi now has an intense spotlight shining on him every time he dons the Daredevils’ jersey. There is this expectation that he will surpass whatever he has achieved yet, whether playing Ranji cricket for Delhi, or his exploits earlier with the Chennai Super Kings, never mind his solitary appearance as a back-up player for the national team against UAE in the Asia Cup.
The question here then is, if this absurd price – and concealed expectation from the team management itself – triggered his selection as the number six batsman in their playing eleven? He was picked in that slot ahead of JP Duminy, and indeed came out to bat ahead of the big-hitting Carlos Brathwaite. To say those watching were left bewildered is an understatement.
There is some suggestion that the South African had been injured or was unwell, thus not available for selection, although he was fine when the team practiced in Delhi and left for Kolkata on the weekend. Even so, shine the light brighter on their team sheets: if Duminy is indeed ruled out for a string of games, is there anyone else to lend an experienced hand to this lightweight Daredevils’ side?
Look up their squad list; the answer is no.
Negi scored 11 off 19 balls, inclusive of a six, in his team’s hapless total of 98 all out. Then, he wasn’t even brought on to bowl as the Knight Riders chased it down in a canter.
No, this isn’t about picking on the young left-arm bit-batsman, bit-bowler. Instead, this is to highlight how badly the Delhi Daredevils have gotten it wrong once again.
That phrase ‘bit batsman, bit bowler’ underlines Negi’s utility in the limited-overs’ format, and even Indian skipper MS Dhoni knows it fully well. To say that the Daredevils unearthed more in him so quickly would be astonishing. Truth be told, they were sucked in by the hype generated from that immense price tag and attempted to make a pivotal player out of him on the first opportunity afforded.
Now, there is nothing wrong with such experimentation and he might come to be a useful lower-order batsman-cum-bowler for them as the season progresses. But this move had a better chance of working if their batting order was laden with batting heavyweights, when the likes of Virender Sehwag, Mahela Jayawardene and David Warner graced their line-up. That was a couple years ago, however.
In comparison, the Daredevils have willingly adopted a youth-first policy from this season, despite a wholesome purse available to them in the players’ auctions. That is where Negi found his riches, as also the likes of Sanju Samson and Karun Nair were brought in to aid Shreyas Iyer and Mayank Agarwal.
And here is the pickle that Zaheer Khan, Paddy Upton and the rest of Daredevils’ team management didn’t consider. Quinton de Kock, Agarwal, Iyer, Samson and Nair make up for certainly the youngest and arguably the most inexperienced top-middle order batting line-up in this Indian Premier League season. You will struggle to find another such in any recent seasons too.
The fact that they went in with such young names, betting big on their ability from the first match itself, shows how the Daredevils firmly believe in this strategy. Yet, their shot selection was poor on a pitch that was helping the bowlers a bit. Unsurprisingly they came up short against the collective guile of Andre Russell, John Hastings, Brad Hogg and Piyush Chawla, backed by a thinking leader in Gautam Gambhir.
It was a gutsy move to send them out against two-time champions and they failed, but they will learn. That’s how this process is going to be and precisely why Rahul Dravid is sitting on that Delhi bench. But plain adventurism doesn’t alone win you the IPL. If so, Royal Challengers Bangalore would be multiple-time winners.
Instead, it is experience that counts as proven by the Chennai Super Kings’ track record, and now again in the manner Dhoni’s Rising Pune Supergiants as well as the Knight Riders have started this season.
And so, the obvious question; where is the experience to back up the youthful squad? Therein, lies the major oversight in the Daredevils’ strategy and to their dismay, it was shown up by a superbly stable and carefully built-up opponent in their opening match of the season.
“I really felt the boys showed the intent on the field that was required. It’s just the beginning of the season. It was a tough day for us and we accept that and move on. It was our one bad day of the season,” said skipper Zaheer Khan, after the nine-wicket defeat.
Indeed, this unbalance needs to be sorted in terms of team selection. Mohammad Shami is sitting out, and he can be brought in place of Chris Morris or Nathan Coulter-Nile to balance the books, thus allowing Duminy into the eleven.
Otherwise, Zaheer might quickly find out that this ‘one bad day’ resembles the Daredevils’ recent poor history.