The disappointment of finishing with the wooden spoon in their hand is a feeling that the Delhi Daredevils are all too familiar with. The side has, over the years, built a reputation for themselves, that of being perennial underachievers, and the Daredevils were, after all, the only franchise from the eight teams playing this year's edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) to never make it to the final.
That was expected to change for them with the appointment of local boy Gautam Gambhir as the captain and Ricky Ponting as the head coach, as well as the purchase of high-profile players such as Glenn Maxwell, Trent Boult, Colin Munro, etc. Gambhir's return to the Daredevils unit after seven years – having led Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) to two titles in between – was labelled a 'homecoming' of sorts, and carried with it was the immense promise of turning DD's fortunes around this season.
Instead, the team found themselves going through a period of turmoil just six matches into the group stage, with Gambhir stepping down as the skipper after his team had suffered five losses in that period. Almost as if the team's curse ended up affecting Gambhir's leadership skills too, their fans would've lost hope of the side achieving much for the remainder of the tournament with Shreyas Iyer, an individual with little experience of leading at this level, as their new captain.
Iyer, who is still finding his feet in the Indian limited-overs team, could not quite pull off a miracle to guide his side into the knockout stage of the tournament. Delhi went on to lose nine of their 14 matches to bow out before the playoffs for a sixth season running. The Mumbaikar however, did restore some respect in the Delhi dressing room with some damage control, collecting four wins and as many losses, including wins over Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Mumbai Indians (MI) in their last two encounters.
What went wrong?
While the team had a number of individual success stories over the season, the fact that the side failed to click together as a unit is what might have cost them their campaign. Every now and then, there would be a cameo from the likes of Rishabh Pant, or a fine bowling performance from Boult, but the fact that the team couldn't quite build around these contributions of importance, coupled by the fielding lapses throughout the tournament barring the last two games, is what the team will have to ponder over and rectify going forward.
Getting off to a good start is one of the most crucial aspects in the shortest format, with a major credit behind KKR's road to the playoffs this season being the success of Sunil Narine as an opener alongside Chris Lynn. While Prithvi Shaw got off to a quick start on many an occasion and cemented the spot for himself after making his debut, the Delhi team management couldn't quite zero down on his long-term partner. Once Gambhir lost his place in the team, the side shuffled around on a constant basis with Munro, Jason Roy, Maxwell and even Iyer.
Losing red-hot pacer Kagiso Rabada to injury would've been a massive blow to the team's morale ahead of the tournament. Rabada, a hot property who bowled one memorable spell after another in the recently-concluded season, would perhaps have made for a fearsome pair alongside Boult, and the two might have scripted a much better bowling performance from Delhi, if not guaranteeing more wins.
Turning point of the season
Gambhir's resignation as skipper only created further chaos in the Delhi dressing room. The team was already in the doldrums after a string of losses, and a development as big as this at the halfway stage in the tournament generally doesn't bode well for a team (unless you're Rohit Sharma, who led Mumbai Indians to their maiden title after taking over midway in 2013).
While Iyer collected his first win as captain in his second game in charge, it took a while for him to bring about a change in the dynamics in the side, by which time it was already too late.
Perhaps Delhi's biggest takeaway from this season would be the rise of the youngsters from within the ranks. Wicket-keeper batsman Pant was wearing the Orange Cap at the end of the league stage with 684 runs at an average of 52.61, making him the keeper with most runs in a single edition of the IPL. U-19 World Cup-winning captain Shaw turned out to be an instant hit at the opener's slot, collecting two half-centuries from nine matches, his clean hitting with a Lara-esque backlift not going unnoticed by pundits and fans alike.
Iyer too came good for the team with the bat, showing the ability to launch a counter-attack from the word go, and forming crucial partnerships with Pant in the middle order more often than not. While Iyer's batting credentials wouldn't have been questioned at any stage, it was noteworthy to witness him mature as a captain over the course of the second half of Delhi's campaign. Towards the end of the league stage, Iyer appeared a more confident and smart leader, whether in terms of the fields set or the energy shown on the field to inspire his teammates.
The middle order had its own share of problems, especially with the random shuffling around of Maxwell among others. However, Delhi discovered hidden gems in Vijay Shankar and Harshal Patel, both of whom exhibited the ability to chip in with useful cameos in the slog overs of the innings, with Patel's level-headed approach with the ball in the death overs earning him additional plaudits.
Last, but not the least, Delhi unearthed a potential match-winning leg-spin pair in Sandeep Lamichhane and Amit Mishra that could bode well for them in the future. Lamichhane – the first Nepalese cricketer to play in the league – has been a success story in this edition of the league, and his rapid progress will only serve as an inspiration for more youngsters back in the mountainous nation to ply their trade in the tournament in the coming years.
Mishra, nearly twice the age of Lamichhane, combined his guile with his treasure of experience to bamboozle the opposition batsmen. The decision to bring the two into the attack in tandem, especially after the Powerplay, turned out to be a Iyer's 'Nayi Soch', and makes us wonder if the team management were a bit late in using the strategy.
Perhaps two of the biggest disappointments of the tournament for the Daredevils were Gambhir and Maxwell — the former being brought back as captain, with the latter being purchased for a handsome figure of Rs 9 crore from Kings XI Punjab (KXIP).
Gambhir got off to a fine start in the tournament with the bat, bringing up a half-century in the side's opening game against KXIP, before suffering a horrible loss of form that saw him collect just 30 runs off the next four innings. His four off 13 balls against KXIP in the side's first home fixture proved to be the last straw, and he wasn't given another chance for the remainder of the tournament. Gambhir's brand value has suffered a dent after a forgettable season, puts a big question mark over his future both in the franchise as well as in the league.
Maxwell, who was expected to be a showstopper with the bat for his new franchise, was bestowed upon with one opportunity after another, almost as if he were Ponting's blue-eyed pupil. The 'Big Show', who played a central role with the bat in KXIP's run to the final in the 2014 edition, finished with a mere 169 runs at an average of 14.08 to go with the five wickets that he collected with his off-spin, the figures of which would make him eligible to get the all-rounder's spot in the tournament's 'Flop XI'.
What's next for them
Despite finishing eighth, Delhi Daredevils's journey in IPL 2018 ended on a happy note as they toppled two of the most successful teams in the history of the league with hard-fought victories. The team might not have got the desired results, but the sheer talent in the ranks that was on display in the form of individual performances is one that will please many a Delhi supporter.
Over the years, teams such as MI and CSK have built their sides around a core that comprises of a few key performers. As far as the Delhi side is concerned, Iyer would've marked his players out in the matches that he captained in, and will likely back a lot the younger players in the side such as Pant, Shaw, Lamichchane, as well as seniors such as Boult and Mishra, among others. The lack of results will also mean the rolling of a few heads, and the future of veterans such as Gambhir, Maxwell, etc is under serious doubt following their underwhelming performances.
All that the side needs as they plan for the next year is some inspirational leadership, the signs of which have already been on display in the recent weeks. And maybe a dash of luck to go with that.