Delhi Capitals 80/5. Chris Morris comes to bat and attempts a slog against Rashid Khan straightaway. Morris was two balls old on the slow pitch at Feroz Shah Kotla. His team had scored just 80 runs in almost 15 overs and lost five wickets. Yet the all-rounder took on arguably one of the best three spinners in not just IPL but in T20 cricket.
There were two things that Delhi Capitals did wrong in Thursday's clash against Sunrisers Hyderabad. One, as head coach Ricky Ponting admitted in the post-match conference, they did not read the pitch right. Ponting said that the curator had told them that this is the best pitch he has prepared so far in the tournament but it turned out to be the worst one. However, there lies their second fault. Despite the team not starting well and the top order getting out playing silly shots, Capitals went on with their Plan A, which as suggested by their constant willingness to play strokes. As a result, the team managed a paltry 129/6 in their allotted 20 overs.
Decoding it further, the second error in Thursday's game reflects the lack of leadership in Capitals' batting and bowling fronts. With a lot of youth exuberance in the XI, one can't say that the line-up lacks experience. Shikhar Dhawan, captain Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant have been playing IPL for a long time now. Even someone like Colin Ingram has been playing the game for some time now. However, the absence of players who are ready to take the responsibility on their shoulders to win matches for the franchise from any position has been a consistent struggle for this team, the old or new. Delhi's habit of changing and chopping the team over the last five years has certainly not helped the fact that, unlike most of the successful teams in the tournament, they don't have a nucleus around which a team is built.
The two games that they have won in the tournament have come on the back of two exemplary performances, both by two young guns in the team – Rishabh Pant and Prithvi Shaw. Pant smashed the Mumbai Indians bowlers all over the park in their own homeground. Shaw showed why he is rated so highly by everyone against Kolkata Knight Riders when he stormed his way to 99. These were two extraordinary efforts that lifted the spirits of the team. On both these occasions, the two batsmen attacked from the outset and played their natural game. But on pitches where playing shots freely does not guarantee you runs, do they have the ability to switch the plan and play according to the situation? More importantly, do they have someone in their ranks who is ready to understand such situations? Chennai Super Kings, a few days back against Rajasthan Royals, were in a similar situation on a slow surface at Chepauk. At 27/3, MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina got together and weaved a 61-run stand in 53 balls – not an ideal T20 run-scoring example by any means. Raina departed but Dhoni occupied his crease from one end and smashed 19 runs off the 28 that came in the last over. CSK ended up with 175/5 on that slow pitch.
This is why IPL veterans like Shikhar Dhawan playing foul shots to get dismissed early and Morris, trying to break shackles against Rashid on just his third ball of the innings, asks for an immediate scrutiny by Ponting. On days when the youth exuberance fails to convert into performances, who guides the team home? The five-wicket loss against Hyderabad is a case in point.
Even with the ball in hand, Delhi did not seem to have a plan in place. Iyer kept on bringing a new bowler in and all of them were smashed for runs by Jonny Bairstow, who is in such red hot form that he made his opening partner – a certain David Warner – look like a mere spectator in the match, accumulating 48 runs in the 64-run opening stand. Rahul Tewatia helped Capitals stage a comeback in the match with the wicket of Bairstow and there was a phase in the game when Hyderabad's wickets fell in abundance, yet it was too late for Capitals to pull off a win after those blistering six overs.
There was no process or formula in Delhi's bowling, unlike Hyderabad, who brought in Mohammad Nabi to bowl the second over, to keep left-handed Shikhar Dhawan on back-foot. With as many as four left-handers in Delhi's top six, Nabi played an essential role in building pressure from one end, bowling tight line and lengths. He did mention later on after the match that his job was to bowl as many dots as possible. When Delhi bowled, it seemed as if everyone wanted to end up with a five-wicket haul in a T20 game.
It's still not the end of the road for Delhi Capitals in IPL 2019. There are still nine matches left to rectify mistakes and move to winning ways. However, if they don't get players who are assigned leadership roles in batting and bowling departments, they will always be lost in the way, with this name or the old one. A great knock here and there and a toe-crushing yorker may help them win a few games, but it won't win them the tournament.