Let us start with an obvious question. By changing the name of their franchise, what were Delhi trying to achieve? Well, first, they wanted to push into oblivion everything that had become synonymous with the Daredevils. The franchise was in a quagmire, of failure no less and come what may, they were simply unable to lift themselves up from the bottom half of the IPL's annual points' table.
In Delhi Capitals, the franchise management sought a new identity. Don't bother about the name for it was only a fresh start envisaged when JSW Group bought a 50 per cent stake. Think bigger in the short term, but aim high in the longer term as well – it was the mantra for the newly badged Delhi franchise. Have they delivered in their inaugural season?
Yes, indeed. By entering the IPL knockouts for the first time in seven years, Delhi Capitals have rewritten their own history books. Turn back the pages of time and back in 2012 when the erstwhile Delhi Daredevils finished third, it was arguably the strongest-ever squad seen at the Feroz Shah Kotla. Virender Sehwag, David Warner, Kevin Pietersen, Mahela Jayawardene, Aaron Finch, Ross Taylor, Glenn Maxwell, Andre Russell, Morne Morkel, Umesh Yadav – it was a star-studded first-choice eleven. Did Delhi build on that season though?
Disappointingly, they did not. It is why this success – of breaking into the knockouts – is so vital for this franchise. Back then, that partially successful Delhi team had to be disbanded for a variety of reasons ranging from team balance, fresh auctions, retirements, etc. Seven years later, there is no such reasoning. This Delhi team has a backbone of the future, one that pertains not only to IPL but also Indian cricket.
Rishabh Pant and Prithvi Shaw are the undoubted superstars of the future and it is very possible that Shreyas Iyer will lead team India one day. All of it may transpire five to seven years down the line, but when it does, there needs to be a remembrance of the first seeds implanted during the 2019 IPL season. Starting as underdogs, these youngsters — backed by a balance of experience with both bat and ball – have set a marker for their collective and individual success in the future.
The key for Delhi Capitals' season were two runs of three wins each that saw them garner 12 out of their 18 points. The first run was more impressive as it came in a run of three away games – beating Royal Challengers Bangalore by 4 wickets, beating Kolkata Knight Riders by 4 wickets and beating Sunrisers Hyderabad by 39 runs. It helped that two of these three teams – Kolkata and Hyderabad – were competitors for the knockouts' spots.
This run also proved a key point – on good T20 surfaces with true bounce, Delhi Capitals' batting line-up found the sweet spot. Shikhar Dhawan, Iyer and Pant are all proper hitters of the ball and each of them contributed in these three wins. The other impact came from Kagiso Rabada, who picked 10 wickets during these three matches, including two four-wicket hauls.
Rabada (25 wickets from 12 matches) is one of the dominant young bowlers of world cricket across all formats. Dhawan (486 runs from 14 matches) has bags of experience under his belt. In a way, these two bookended Delhi Capitals' young stars and encapsulated their performances, especially in these two surges of three wins each. In fact, bartering Dhawan from Sunrisers Hyderabad has gone down as the shrewdest piece of business in the 2019 IPL.
Simply put, it provided a balance previously unknown to the Delhi top-order. The team management had adopted a youth-first policy a few seasons back, but it came to nought because they didn't have a senior presence to guide the batting line-up. In Dhawan, Colin Munro and Colin Ingram, Delhi were able to find the perfect balance of youth and experience.
In fact, it is how their season ought to be remembered. No one batsman stood out – there is no batsman in the top-five run-getters, but there were impactful knocks all over the place. Shaw did his bit with two sterling half-centuries; Pant made a case for inclusion in the World Cup squad, Munro and Ingram put in cameos when needed, while Dhawan and Iyer went on impressive runs.
Rabada stood out with the ball and barring a late surge from Imran Tahir, he should finish with the Purple Cap. In the bowling department too though, the key for Delhi was finding that sweet spot. The experience of Ishant Sharma, Chris Morris and Trent Boult gave them enough options in the pace department, whilst Axar Patel, Amit Mishra and Sandeep Lamichhane held fort in the spin department.
Perhaps half the battle was won for Delhi Capitals when they had Sourav Ganguly coming in as their mentor/adviser with Ricky Ponting coaching the young side. Together they were captains of fine Indian and Australian teams in the golden era of international cricket. And the challenge before them was to harness individual and collective talent from this bunch of players. Faced with unique situations, they succeeded to a large extent.
Take the case of Pant, for example. Going to the World Cup was all over his mind and he failed to make the cut. The key was in harnessing his potential without the matter of selection affecting his mindset. Sure, Pant was inconsistent as he usually is, but mostly that is down to the format. Look beyond it though and he set the stage alight with some sumptuous knocks. Wankhede, anyone?
Even so, the surprised emanated from elsewhere. Taking over from Gautam Gambhir last season wasn't easy. This time around Iyer seemed more ready for the job. At 24, he is among the youngest captains to take charge of an IPL franchise, comparable perhaps only to Virat Kohli when he took over reins at Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2013. That elevation did wonders for Kohli personally and maybe it will spark a similar renaissance for Iyer, who is struggling to make it through to the international scene despite an impressive debut in 2018-19. Ganguly's presence in the dressing room and at the dugout only underlines this further.
With 400-plus runs each, both Iyer and Pant have enjoyed breakthrough seasons. Dhawan has been ever consistent as is his wont through any IPL season. So much so, their progression through the second half of this season helped them tide over a sensational collapse against Kings XI Punjab.
Will this consistent run be enough to send them through to the second qualifier and maybe even the final? Can Delhi Capitals build on their good season and make it spectacular by lifting the trophy?
Well, it is a tough ask, but it can be done. First up, they need to compensate for the absence of Rabada who returned home to recuperate from a back injury. In the last two games, they used two different combinations of pacers, trying to rebuild the attack around Boult. They need to decide whether they can rely on Ishant and if so, they must use him for all four overs at a stretch. Every pace bowler is a rhythm bowler, but a shorter, continued spell becomes vital for someone like Ishant who is now predominantly a long-format bowler.
The most obvious task for the Delhi Capitals' management is to get the balance right in their playing eleven. Any balanced side doesn't depend on one or two players but instead gels together as a unit. This has been the story for Delhi for a majority of their season; when different factors have all clicked for them together, they have won easily. On off days, they have collapsed easily too.
Against Sunrisers Hyderabad on Wednesday (and possibly against Chennai Super Kings on Friday), Delhi Capitals will be playing on fresh wickets at Visakhapatnam, unused in this IPL season. Can their free stroking and attacking batsmen make it work to their advantage?