After their team finished in the bottom three for six consecutive seasons, the Delhi fans finally had something to cheer for in 2019. The top three teams in the league – Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings were the others apart from Delhi – all won nine of their 14 matches. Delhi finished behind Mumbai and Chennai only on net run rate.
Delhi then beat Sunrisers Hyderabad in a close Eliminator before going down against Chennai in Qualifier 2; behind the scenes, the person responsible for the change of name (from Daredevils to Capitals) must have been hailed as a hero.
This time, however, they will want to go a step ahead – to the final – something they have never managed before despite making it to the top three four times.
Delhi in 2019
Delhi had let go Vijay Shankar, Shahbaz Nadeem, and Abhishek Sharma to Hyderabad last season, in exchange of Shikhar Dhawan during last season’s transfers. This had paid off, for Dhawan provided much-needed experience to a dangerous but young, home-grown top order consisting of Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant, and Prithvi Shaw.
Dhawan responded by topping the runs chart for Delhi and finishing fourth across teams, while Pant’s unabashed big hitting earned him a strike rate of 163. The bowling was spearheaded by Kagiso Rabada, who held the Purple Cap till Delhi were eliminated.
Delhi’s strategy revolved around a solid Indian top-order. In Iyer, Pant, and Shaw they already had a trio who could accelerate very early in their innings. Dhawan’s acquisition added solidity to that.
They also boasted of a band of excellent Indian spinners in Amit Mishra, Rahul Tewatia, Axar Patel, Jalaj Saxena, and Jagadeesha Suchith.
With so many Indian cricketers to take care of two departments, they could afford to include a cohort of overseas middle-order batsmen, all-rounders, and fast bowlers.
However, this strategy of an all-Indian top order, while impressive, had one loophole. Almost all their batsmen played up the order, in the Powerplay or the middle overs. They were not specialists who would provide that much-needed end-of-innings extra boost.
This was applicable to the others as well – Manjot Kalra, and the two overseas batsmen, Colin Munro and Colin Ingram. Hanuma Vihari neither fitted into the role of the middle-order slogger, nor did he bowl enough to merit a place. His was a classic case of a wonderful talent in the wrong squad, one where he could not find an appropriate role.
But Delhi had planned something else, too. They had invested heavily in youth, focusing on a core team for the future, presumably another couple of years down the line. Eleven members of their squad were aged 24 (or younger) before their last match. This included Iyer, their captain. Of them, six were below 22.
Keeping all that in perspective, several of their releases and transfers make sense.
Players released: Chris Morris, Colin Ingram, Colin Munro, Jalaj Saxena, Hanuma Vihari, Manjot Kalra, Nathu Singh, Ankush Bains, Bandaru Ayyappa
Transfers: Acquired R Ashwin, Ajinkya Rahane; released Sherfane Rutherford, Rahul Tewatia, Trent Boult, Jagadeesha Suchith; acquired and released: Mayank Markande
How they shape up: Rs 27.85 crores available, 11 slots to fill (five overseas)
The Capitals released nine men, of which the three – Munro, Ingram, and Morris – are overseas cricketers. We have already seen why letting Munro, Ingram, Kalra, and Vihari go made sense.
Morris’s case is not as obvious. It may be a case of wanting to invest in strike bowlers. Jalaj was perhaps one spin-bowling all-rounder too many in the side. Boult’s release came as a surprise, given that Delhi do not have a strong pace attack.
Delhi also acquired two big names during the transfers – in Ashwin and Rahane. If Ashwin and Axar both play and Delhi can find a third bowler who can bat, they may even consider playing five specialist bowlers without requiring batting all-rounders to step in.
Rahane’s case is not as clear as Ashwin’s, more so because the former came with a 31 percent salary raise. The only role he can fit into is a top-order batsman – a role already filled by four Indians. No. 5 will be too low a position for him.
Perhaps he may bat in the top three, with Pant and Iyer moving one slot down, though that may not turn out to be the best strategy. Rahane may have to spend part of this season in the reserves.
Major holes to plug
As mentioned, the all-Indian Delhi top order is not followed by a comparable middle-order, which had hampered their slog-over batting in the previous edition. They will need several of these. They have No. 5 to 6 (preferably 5 to 7) to fill with a backup or two. Given the number of Indians in their squad, they may accommodate several overseas cricketers in this slot.
Harshal Patel’s excellent form in this season’s Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy has been reassuring (fourth on runs charts, strike rate 165, joint second on wickets chart, economy rate 7.04). However, the IPL is another story altogether. If Harshal comes off, he will be ideal for the balance of the side.
Let us assess the bowlers now. The spin department – Ashwin, Axar, Mishra, Sandeep Lamichhane – seems sorted in comparison, but what about pace?
Despite Rabada, Delhi do not have a world-class attack. In fact, Rabada picked up as many wickets in the 2019 edition as their next two wicket-takers – Morris and Ishant Sharma – managed between them.
Ishant impressed in bursts last time, but he has not been a champion of the format, while Avesh Khan has not replicated his performance in long-form cricket to the shorter versions. They need at least two more fast bowlers.
On the radar
Who else but Maxwell? Delhi need middle-order batsmen to continue with onslaught provided by their top four. With a strike rate in excess of 150, a terrific IPL record, familiarity with the conditions thanks to his experience here, and the ability to send down a couple of overs (or even a full quota), Maxwell is the ideal man to plug the middle-order hole.
He had visited India earlier this year. He top-scored with a “sedate” (by his standards) 43-ball 56 in the first T20I, where Australia had to chase 127. They won by three wickets, off the last ball. In the second T20I he came to his own, slamming a 55-ball 113 not out to make a chase of 191 look easy.
Perhaps the man Delhi would want to invest a chunk of their purse in.
It is always nice to have the most recent World Cup-winning captain as part of your squad, more so for his ability to cut loose as the innings progresses. Morgan had gone unsold last season, but there has been a significant entry to his already impressive CV this year. He followed that with a series win in New Zealand despite the absence of several key players.
The Delhi top four, followed by Morgan and Maxwell, may be the most explosive batting order in the tournament.
Jacks was one of the 24 cricketers added to the roster on request, and rightly so. He had debuted last summer, and in his brief T20 career he has struck at 149 and hit a six every 9.6 balls. Of all Surrey batsmen in this year’s Vitality Blast, Jacks’ strike rate (152) was next to only Aaron Finch’s.
Jacks may not be an obvious choice, but on the flip side, he will not be expensive either. Delhi may want to go for him if they want to save their budget for the fast bowlers.
Having risen swiftly to the top spot in the ICC Rankings for Test bowlers, Cummins shifted his focus to the shortest format. In the five T20Is at home this Antipodean summer – against Sri Lanka and Pakistan – he picked up seven wickets while conceding under six an over.
There is likely to be frantic bidding over Cummins, but Delhi may want to stay in the battle longer. Who would not want Rabada and Cummins open bowling for their franchise?
Mithun is suddenly back into the headlines with ten wickets in two crunch matches. He took five wickets in an over in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy semi-final last month. A month before that he had taken five wickets – including a hat-trick – in the Vijay Hazare Trophy final.
An in-form Indian seamer may help Delhi to strike a balance in case they want to play an extra overseas cricketer somewhere.
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