36 games into IPL 2020, with each team having played nine times, Delhi Capitals sat on top of the table. They were two points clear of Mumbai Indians. They were the tournament’s best bowling unit. They were only marginally behind MI on run-scoring too.
This isn’t a piece on how their seemingly dreamy campaign slipped into the abyss – enough has already been said about how they went from being unstoppable to unconvincing.
By virtue of their second-placed finish – in the playoffs, as indeed the league stage – the Capitals will be labelled the ‘best among the rest’. Is that, really, what they set out to do? Is that, by any stretch, their ceiling?
Because while there’s absolutely no shame in being second to the majestic machinery that is Mumbai Indians, a side possessing the ammunition that DC does will surely be smarting at the gulf between them and the summit-holders.
MI went about their scoring at 9.08 runs per over, and 36.95 runs per wicket; DC’s run rate was 8.22, and average 26.44. MI also hit nearly 50 more sixes than DC through the season. MI conceded 7.94 per over, and each wicket cost them 25.36 runs (second on both counts to SRH); DC, meanwhile, averaged 27.45 with the ball, but slipped badly enough in the back-end to have an economy of 8.45 (third-worst in the tournament).
That’s a gulf about as wide as the desert that surrounded the playgrounds of IPL 2020. And that will concern the Capitals – almost as much as the fortunes of two stars they marked out for the future.
At the heart of the ‘Capital’ rebrand was their possession of three batsmen seemingly set to be the future of Indian cricket: Prithvi Shaw, Shreyas Iyer, and Rishabh Pant. Two out of those three will want to forget that this season ever happened.
It actually started so well for Shaw. He blazed away to 179 runs in the first five games, scoring at nearly nine per over and crossing 40 thrice – each of those three being a tone-setting knock in a winning cause. And then, everything deserted him: 49 runs in his last eight outings, enough to find himself on the bench for the two most important games of the season.
As for Pant… how has it all gone so pear-shaped, so quickly? In 14 innings, he crossed 40 only once and he scored at a strike rate above 150 only one time. This is the same player who had 13 scores above 40 and 15 knocks striking above 150 in 30 innings over the past two editions of the IPL. During the season, he also found out that he wasn’t, for the time being at least, part of India’s limited-overs plans.
The third of those names, by conventional metrics, has had a campaign to remember: the first man to lead Delhi into an IPL final, and one of only six batsmen to score 500 runs this season. But how much did Shreyas Iyer the batsman really contribute to his team’s cause?
Don’t get startled. Out of 20 batsmen who surpassed 350 runs in IPL 2020, only two had a lower strike rate than Iyer’s 123.27 – Shubman Gill (117.96) and Virat Kohli (121.35). Gill was an opener in a team of attack-heavy options; Kohli, well, let’s face the fact that he didn’t cover himself in glory this year for RCB.
Let’s stretch the ambit a little further. There have been 57 instances of batsmen making 500+ runs in an IPL season. Only six entries on the list had lower strike rates than Iyer’s in 2020 – five of them, again, were opening batsmen; the sixth, again, was Kohli, but a Kohli who was aiding a peak-Chris Gayle (608 runs, strike rate 183).
If Iyer wants to take the role of DC’s anchor, that’s good. He does have the game for it. But he can’t be doing it from number four or below – which is where he batted nine times out of 17 this season.
As the evidence from their chosen trio points out, the Capitals didn’t quite find the levers with the bat – they hit barely five sixes per game, third-lowest in the tournament. They were fortunate that Shikhar Dhawan’s most prolific-ever season in the IPL (618 runs) was also his most fluent one, with his runs coming at 144.73 – a considerable climb for someone with a T20 career strike below 125 before this season.
In the first half of their stint in the UAE, Delhi also had their pace-setting bowlers making life easier for their batsmen. As the bowling returns dwindled, Delhi were derailed.
From a league-leading economy of 7.96 nine games in, DC leaked 9.02 per over in their last eight games – the next-worst team in this phase, Rajasthan Royals, went at 8.67; no other team conceded more than eight per over. From a wicket every 17 balls, Delhi dropped to a wicket every 23 balls towards the business end of the competition.
It coincided with a dip in the form of their most lethal weapon. Kagiso Rabada’s returns in the first nine matches were 19 wickets at an economy of 7.68, an average of 14.42 and a strike rate of 11.2. In the last eight games, that fell to 11 wickets, with corresponding figures of 9.13, 24.91 and 16.4, respectively.
Still, even in the midst of what could only be called a relative ‘dip’, Rabada produced the goods on the second-most important day of the season – booking Delhi’s berth in a maiden IPL final with 4/29 in the second qualifier against Sunrisers Hyderabad, including the scalp of David Warner with his first ball. That was one of the rare good bowling days for the Capitals in the back-half of IPL 2020.
And therein lies the problem: when Rabada goes missing, Delhi Capitals go missing.
Which is why even the breathtaking haul of 30 wickets – there’s only been one more productive campaign ever in the IPL, and Dwayne Bravo did play one extra game for his 32 wickets – couldn’t quite cut it for DC. One-man shows, with bat or ball, can’t win you championships.
Alright, enough with the doom and gloom. It wasn’t a campaign without its discoveries – it can’t be, when you make the final of the IPL – and here’s what Delhi have to build upon, in the quick turnaround between 2020 and 2021.
Arguably the best find was Anrich Nortje; Rabada and Nortje may have fizzled towards the end, but their partnership sizzled enough to finish with a tournament tally of 52 wickets – that’s the same as the MVP pairing of Jasprit Bumrah and Trent Boult. Importantly, it provides the Capitals with two high-quality, high-speed overseas options: a template that has worked like a dream for Mumbai Indians through their five title-winning seasons in the last eight.
Possibly as important an addition, if not a find given his proven merit in the format, was Marcus Stoinis. Stoinis became only the tenth man to do the double of 350+ runs and 10+ wickets in an IPL season. Previous names on that list include Shane Watson, Jacques Kallis, Kieron Pollard, Sunil Narine, Hardik Pandya and Andre Russell. That is elite stuff.
In Axar Patel, you have a serious contender for the most severely underrated player of the tournament. Only three batsmen coming in at number seven or below faced more than 30 balls with a better strike rate than Patel’s 137.64: Kieron Pollard, Jofra Archer and Tom Curran. And only two bowlers to deliver more than 15 overs finished with a better economy than Patel’s 6.41: Rashid Khan and Washington Sundar.
Additionally, let it not be forgotten that Delhi Capitals did play almost the entire season without their two most seasoned bowlers: Ishant Sharma and Amit Mishra. Mishra is still the most successful Indian bowler in this competition, and Sharma, in his more-defined role as a Powerplay weapon, had enjoyed his best season in a decade last year.
A gifted, all-Indian top-order; two performing all-rounders; two top-class pacers; a wealth of spin-bowling options. As far as squad compositions go, the Capitals are probably one firebrand finisher and one fit Indian pacer away from being genuine challengers to the all-conquering MI and their throne.
And let’s not lose sight of the larger picture. For a team that had suffered six straight years of nothing but gloom, this is one heck of a galvanised unit post its ‘rebirth’.
Delhi hadn’t made it to the playoffs since 2012; they did it in 2019. They hadn’t made it to a final, ever; they did it in 2020.
2021? Well, it’s coming soon!
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