Doesn't bat, doesn't bowl: Is Pawan Negi part of Delhi Daredevils only to justify price tag?
Has the skipper lost faith in his most talked about recruit? Or is the team pushing for his inclusion in the XI, hoping the hefty price tag will be justified?
Success brings in a certain measure of confidence. It could take the form of a comfort zone, particularly in a tournament like the Indian Premier League. Often, teams go on a winning spree, combined with a fixture list that sees a run of home games strung together. Herein, experimentation becomes vital.
Just 55 runs in four matches: That was the sum total of the opening stands thus far for the Delhi Daredevils, and it was obvious that they would look to make a change. With scores of 0, 3, 0 and 19, Shreyas Iyer has been a ghost of the run-scoring machine he was just months ago in the Ranji Trophy.
Surprisingly though, they didn't choose to bring back Mayank Agarwal, who had put up their highest opening stand of 24 with Quinton de Kock against Kolkata Knight Riders. Instead, they opted for middle-order batsman Rishabh Pant, and promoted Sanju Samson to open the innings. The result: Another failed opening stand, this time for just 2 runs.
Just why did they shuffle Samson around just when the youngster was starting to look good with scores of 33 and 90 in two of his last three innings? Their line of thinking behind this move is a bit of mystery. However, consider the experimentation in bowling personnel as per the opposition and the ever-lengthening tail, and this situation finally adds up.
In their last game against Mumbai Indians, Imran Tahir was brought into the XI and the move paid dividends on a slow Kotla pitch. This time around, against Gujarat Lions, they added Shabaz Nadeem to the mix in a bid to upstage the two marauding right-handed batsmen: Brendon McCullum and Dwayne Smith. It didn't work, and this is where the underlying question emanates from.
With Pawan Negi already in the eleven, what was the need to introduce another left-arm spinner? Furthermore, Nadeem opened the bowling with Zaheer Khan and Negi didn't even bowl a single over. In fact, he has bowled only five overs in the previous four matches. Negi is yet to take a wicket in this tournament and his economy reads 11.00 per over.
Thus the follow-up questions arise: Has the skipper lost faith in his most talked-about recruit? Or is the team management pushing for his inclusion in the side, hoping that the hefty price tag will be justified? Maybe it could be if he was scoring big at number six, but the runs haven't flowed either. He scored 11 against the Knight Riders when the team needed him the most, and has since got unbeaten innings of 8 and 10 in subsequent games as others came good.
On Wednesday then, when the Daredevils' batting line-up faltered once again, he wasn't even sent in at number six, with Chris Morris given that vital role against Gujarat. With runs drying up in the middle-order, it puts the spotlight firmly on their team selection. Even in the last match, Delhi missed Carlos Brathwaite's big-hitting ability once Samson and JP Duminy had given them the platform. True, the foreigner equation comes into play, but there is no denying that the team is carrying Negi at the moment.
Meanwhile, his position is coming under intense scrutiny, perhaps even hampering his style of play. It cannot be easy getting that fat pay cheque and then not measuring up to expectations, through no fault of your own. And yet, that is what cricket at such an intense stage demands from players, young or old. Truth be told, Negi, at the moment, is coming up way short. More importantly, this situation is denying the team management a chance to balance out their lower order and bring more balance to the side. Surely an extra batsman — Indian or foreigner, depending on the team combination — is always helpful in T20 cricket. Particularly, when the margin to victory is a mere solitary run.
It could be labelled the game of the season so far, given how it see-sawed throughout different phases, particularly towards the end. And Morris came up with a blinder in a faltering chase. He has done so with aplomb in the past, most recently for South Africa against Australia in the build-up to the 2016 World T20. And that's why the Daredevils paid good money for his services.
You want to see such investment bearing fruit, and despite the loss, it did. Furthermore, the fight put up — in both innings — showed that the Daredevils aren't just playing for survival this year. A good start to the season had allowed them a cushion of comfort, and with a string of home games lined up together, they are looking to press home the advantage, never mind this close defeat.
But, can they make that tough call regarding team composition to get out of their comfort zone and push the envelope further?
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