Some have Virat Kohli, some have MS Dhoni, and some rely on the team balance. Some have consecutive titles, and some have a project underway in search of the first elusive Indian Premier League (IPL) title.
Delhi Capitals (DC) for long were a team that season after season failed to live up to the expectations. They always had stars - Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Kevin Pietersen, AB de Villiers, and David Warner. But no star power was ever enough to convert DC from an also-ran to title contenders.
It was in 2018 that the franchise decided to take a detour. Australian great Ricky Ponting came in as coach with new ideas and methods. At the very first opportunity, Ponting appointed a very young Shreyas Iyer the captain. The management had long-term goals in their sights. There was a conscious move away from star power to team balance. Results since then have been a testament to Ponting's project.
In 2019, they reached playoffs after seven years. In 2020, they were the losing finalist. And the fact that they became Capitals from Daredevils had almost nothing to do with it.
It's this focus on the overall strength of the team that once again makes DC, along with Mumbai Indians, the favourites to win the title in 2021, despite a shoulder injury ruling Iyer out of the tournament.
Iyer suffered the injury during the ODIs against England, and Rishabh Pant has been made captain for the season. It wouldn't be wrong to say that Pant has been the undisputed cricketing superhero of 2021 so far. We will talk more about him in a while, but first, let's take a look at DC's strengths and weaknesses.
Rishabh Pant will be our Captain for #IPL2021 ✨@ShreyasIyer15 has been ruled out of the upcoming season following his injury in the #INDvENG series and @RishabhPant17 will lead the team in his absence #YehHaiNayiDilli
— Delhi Capitals (@DelhiCapitals) March 30, 2021
Strengths The team balance is DC's biggest strength. From able batsmen for every position to a fear-inducing bowling attack, Ponting and Co have ticked all the boxes. Shikhar Dhawan with 618 runs was the second-highest run-getter last season. He got those runs at a strike rate of over 144. This time he has the extra motivation of fighting for the opener's slot in India's squad for the T20 World Cup. His partner Prithvi Shaw is coming fresh from the Vijay Hazare Trophy where he scored a record 827 runs, with four centuries including a double ton. Iyer's absence has vacated the No 3 spot, but the franchise has the experienced Ajinkya Rahane who will help them not alter the top four foreign picks. If he doesn't deliver then the team can look up to Steve Smith. Pant, Shimron Hetmyer, and Marcus Stoinis in the succeeding slots make the batting unit one of the most formidable ones in the IPL.
Happiness for @RishabhPant17 Ongoing battle with @MishiAmit | Hettie was already having a good time as he spoke to us on his return to the DC camp #YehHaiNayiDilli #DCAllAccess @SHetmyer @OctaFX pic.twitter.com/90JlvBTCxL — Delhi Capitals (@DelhiCapitals) April 6, 2021
The bowling attack looks even more daunting. Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Ravichandran Ashwin, Amit Mishra, and Axar Patel are all top international performers. The duo of Rabada and Nortje combined for 52 wickets last season as DC pacers made life difficult for opposition batters. The one area of concern was the lack of a third pacer as Ishant Sharma got injured after just one match in 2020.
The Indian warhorse is back fit and fuming. There's also Umesh Yadav, another long-time international performer. If Rabada or Nortje fail to deliver, there's also the mighty impressive Chris Woakes.
Ashwin and Patel are wily T20 bowlers and can also contribute with the bat. Mishra is a seasoned pro who could come in handy on slow pitches.
Runs are runs and Iyer got 519 of them last season. An Indian batsman giving you 500+ plus runs is akin to goldmine in IPL, and DC need to ensure that Iyer, the batsman, is not missed much.
Both Rahane and Smith had average seasons last time around. Rahane could only manage 113 runs in nine games while Smith scored 311 in 14 games. The No 3 spot is a glue in cricket that not only sticks the batting unit together but also has to provide the platform for the lower-order and firepower to the innings.
Rahane being an Indian batsman should be the first pick which allows DC to play Hetmyer who provides hard-hitting option and adds variety with his left-hand batting. Smith's inclusion will force DC to change their combination of foreign players from last year, but if the Australian provides runs, the franchise wouldn't mind.
DC have some more good players in their squad, namely Sam Billings and Tom Curran. However, they look a bit thin when it comes to like-for-like replacements. It's not just an issue for DC. The competition for competent personnel is intense in IPL and if you are good, there's very little chance you would warm the bench at a franchise rather than playing for another one. This definitely puts pressure on DC's first-choice players who need to be at the top of their game for DC to have another great season.
Not long ago he was struggling for a spot in the Indian team, but at the moment he's the toast of the cricketing world. His fearless batting helped India beat Australia in Australia and Pant has been scoring runs consistently ever since.
As flamboyant as he is, Pant over the last few series has shown that he could also be calculative and resilient. He's a serial match-winner who is currently in top form and DC could not have asked for more.
It will be interesting to see how Pant reacts to the added responsibility of captaincy. Will he succumb to the pressure or will the new role bring the best out of him? Going by recent evidence, one would feel the captaincy will only help him find a new gear in his cricket. The presence of Ponting in the dressing room is also going to be vital.
Full Squad: Rishabh Pant (capt and wicketkeeper), Shikhar Dhawan, Prithvi Shaw, Ajinkya Rahane, Shimron Hetmyer, Marcus Stoinis, Chris Woakes, R Ashwin, Axar Patel, Amit Mishra, Lalit Yadav, Pravin Dubey, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Ishant Sharma, Avesh Khan, Steve Smith, Umesh Yadav, Ripal Patel, Vishnu Vinod, Lukman Meriwala, M Siddarth, Tom Curran, Sam Billings.
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Pant was named the captain of Delhi Capitals for the upcoming IPL after regular skipper Shreyas Iyer was ruled out of the tournament after he injured his left shoulder during the recently-concluded England's tour of India.
"I am working on my batting. The coaches have also told me to keep practicing my batting as there might be situations in matches when I will have to string partnerships of 25-30 runs," Amit Mishra said.
The 31-year-old, who was released by Rajasthan Royals, was acquired by Delhi Capitals for Rs 2.2 crore at the IPL auctions in February.