Six matches into their IPL 2020 campaign, Delhi Capitals had been scoring at above nine runs per over and conceding at 7.81. Their batsmen were averaging 32, their bowlers 20. They stood ahead of the pack, comfortably, with five wins and a healthy net run rate of 1.25.
In six games since, the Capitals have scored their runs at less than eight per over and conceded them at more than nine. Their batsmen have averaged 23, their bowlers nearly 36. They’ve only added two wins to their tally – none in the last 10 days – and their net run rate has been wiped out, pretty much, to neutral.
Of course, this is a strange, strange season of the IPL, and so, points-wise, they still have a share of the top spot. But bring in their nullified NRR, and their last two opponents – Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bangalore, in that order – and a team that looked destined for topping the table even a fortnight ago, could now fail to make the playoffs altogether.
If DC do lose both their games, they will remain stranded on 14 points. Both MI and RCB will have at least 16 points. Both KXIP and KKR could finish with 16 points, too. And both SRH and RR could finish on 14 points as well, with SRH’s net run rate significantly clear of DC’s after Tuesday.
How has it gone so horrifically pear-shaped?
You could point to the first of these last six games, and talk about losing a crunch player: Rishabh Pant’s hamstring niggle meant a two-way swap was required, with Alex Carey the only other wicketkeeper in the squad, and so Carey and Ajinkya Rahane replaced Pant and Shimron Hetmyer in the XI. Not ideal, and that’s how it stayed for the next three games.
But should a side touted among the best in the league over the first three weeks of play, riding a wave of consistency since the previous edition, have been hampered by a temporary unavailability?
The odd part is that Delhi actually won two of those three games without Pant, with the only defeat a last-over finish against Mumbai Indians. Not bad at all. With seven wins in nine, in fact, it appeared almost too easy.
But the holes had begun to reveal themselves, if you were observing closely.
In those two wins, against Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings, respectively, here’s how Delhi’s batsmen fared. Shikhar Dhawan: 158/1 in 15.1 overs. Rest: 174/11 in 25 overs.
And that state of severe recession in batting returns has plagued the entire line-up, bar Dhawan, through this six-game stretch. In these six games, Dhawan has 339 runs; all other recognised DC batsmen, in 31 innings between them, have 468. Dhawan’s scored 9.64 runs per over; the rest have crawled at 6.44. Dhawan has two centuries and two half-centuries; the rest have crossed 50 once. Dhawan averages 113; the rest 15.60.
When the aforementioned ‘rest’ is a list comprising Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant, Marcus Stoinis, Shimron Hetmyer, Ajinkya Rahane, Prithvi Shaw, and Alex Carey, you know you’ve got a problem.
Still, if we were going by the early-season signals, it shouldn’t have mattered too much, because this was a team being driven by its bowlers; the golden standard for bowling attacks this IPL – Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Axar Patel, R Ashwin.
And in the wearing down of the bowling returns lies the downturn from wobbly to woeful for the Capitals.
Rabada has gone from picking a wicket every nine balls in the first six games, to one every 18 in the next six; his economy, too, has gone up, marginally, from 7.81 to 8.45.
Nortje, who conceded only 7.25 per over in the first six outings, has gone at 8.45 in the last five games he’s played.
In the absence of Ishant Sharma, Harshal Patel had done a more-than-credible job as the third seamer in the opening phase of the season – three wickets in three games at 8.83 runs per over, with two of those matches coming at the six-fest that was early-season Sharjah. One bad outing later, he was disposed off for Tushar Deshpande – and Deshpande’s three wickets in five games have cost Delhi 11.29 runs per over.
Arguably most startling, though, has been the slide of the spinners. In the Capitals’ first six matches, Axar and Ashwin combined to take 10 wickets at a jaw-dropping economy of 5.48, averaging under 15 and picking a wicket every 16 deliveries. In the next six, the duo has returned seven wickets at 8.24 per over, at an average touching 50 and a strike rate above 35.
In the corresponding period, all non-DC spin bowlers in the IPL have gone at seven runs per over and averaged 33.
If you’ve to pick one player to represent Delhi’s despairing turn of fortunes, it’s the sole all-rounder to feature in all 12 games. Marcus Stoinis enjoyed a rousing first six games of the season: 162 runs at a strike rate above 175 with two fifties, plus five wickets at 9.50 per over. In six subsequent outings, the Aussie has returned all of 75 runs (strike rate 119) and three wickets (economy 10.40).
Three defeats in a row in the penultimate week of league-stage action, typically, can prove to be crippling. Factor in the margins of defeats – 59 runs to KKR and 88 runs to SRH – and the scenario starts becoming cataclysmic. Add the last detail of the remaining fixtures – against table-toppers MI and RCB – and the picture is potentially catastrophic.
Where on one hand you have Kings XI Punjab rapidly rising on the table with a late-season surge, Delhi Capitals are in a fearsome free-fall – even if the points table might not reflect the same, as it stands.
You would’ve thought the Capitals had learned their lessons on the fine margins of this competition last time around. An 80-run hammering at Chepauk in the penultimate league game of 2019 was what pushed Delhi below Chennai Super Kings to third, with MI, CSK, and DC all finishing on 18 points. That was the difference between the cushion of the qualifier and the pressure of three knockout games in a row, and Delhi, eventually, faltered in the second (against CSK, too).
A fortnight back, perhaps even a week back, the Capitals were at the cusp of ensuring at least two bites at the final cherry. They enter the final week of the league stage unsure whether they’ll even make the playoffs at all.
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