IPL 2016: Confused team selection, experimentation punctured Daredevils' momentum

We are just past the halfway mark of this IPL season, and it's a good time to take stock of things. The best indicator is the points table. One look, and certain conclusions can be drawn instantly. Like Rising Pune Supergiants and MS Dhoni are almost certain to miss out on the knock-outs, given that 16 is usually the magic number and they don't have enough games left. It also tells you that Kings XI Punjab and Royal Challengers Bangalore are in a dire situation, and they need to get on a winning roll to avoid early expulsion too. Delhi Daredevils, Sunrisers Hyderabad and Mumbai Indians are in a mini-league of their own; all three teams locked at 10 points, with Delhi and Mumbai playing nine matches each and Sunrisers having a game in hand.

This three-way contest will potentially become interesting in the coming week or so. Mumbai are known to make a late surge every season, while Hyderabad are on a winning juggernaut. As for Delhi, well, their latest loss in Mohali suggests that their early momentum has fizzled out.

At the halfway mark on Saturday night, Daredevils were ahead of the curve, placed at 91 for one. And yet, they went on to lose the game by nine runs. A chase that should have been a simple job became a complicated one as Kings XI Punjab turned the screws with some tight bowling in the death. Beyond this simple fact, there were two particular reasons why Delhi lost this game.

Delhi's fielding in their last match against KXIP was sloppy. BCCI

Delhi's fielding in their last match against KXIP was sloppy. BCCI

Firstly, their fielding was nightmarish. Here's a small example. Hashim Amla and Marcus Stoinis had zero communication between them, and in the space of five deliveries, there were three chances to run either of them out. Delhi missed out on Stoinis, but got Amla, again on the second attempt. The Australian went on to score a winning half-century. It isn't about the runs scored, but the effort in the field that stands out. On such a stage, you simply need to take your chances, and the Daredevils failed to latch on.

Nevermind the run-outs, they were lax in the field on other occasions as well. This is a youthful side, deemed as the Indian Under-25 by many, and to see them fail collectively in the field was surprising to say the least. That their efforts were a mockery even by the usual poor fielding standards in the IPL seasons gone by, and this says everything you need to know about the Daredevils. And this fact is not lost on them.

"We gave away too many runs, given that they finished at 180-plus," said Quinton de Kock after the game. "It wasn't really the bowling that had an impact but the fielding. We were a bit sloppy in the field, and it was a good wicket to bat on. I could count at least three key mistakes, especially the run-out, so it wasn't a good showing in the field."

The second obvious point is regarding the team changes. To compensate for the four changes — and the loss — in their previous game against Pune, they made four changes again. When talking about this aspect of their team combination, de Kock pointed out in Mohali that many players have been playing non-stop cricket for the past couple months and it was a chance to rejuvenate and recover mid-season.

He has a point. The IPL is an unnecessarily long tournament, and it tests the international cricketers — both Indian and overseas — with its never-ending schedule and extreme summer conditions. It forces the franchises to employ a big squad as well. At the same time, they also need to balance rest with performance, while playing in accordance with the four overseas players rule. This last point is where the Daredevils went wrong in their previous game, and consequently against Punjab as well.

The proper way would have been to rotate the squad a couple players at a time, and not make wholesale changes to the team two games in a row. Moreover, some of the changes made were ill-advised and had a reverse effect on the team’s performance. Pawan Negi is way short on confidence, never mind his price tag, and playing one-off matches will not help him. Punting Rishabh Pant up and down the order will not help him settle in one role either, and then there is the matter of keeping Zaheer Khan fit for the entire season.

The underlying point here is that ringing in these changes have cost the Daredevils their momentum gained earlier in the season. New players coming in and going out mean different roles for different players in different matches. While adaptability is key in T20 cricket, not everyone can do it over two matches in three days, and it clearly shows up in the botched fielding as well as the successive losses.

The Daredevils' management has been showered with plaudits for their good first half of the season. But now they need to shoulder the blame for puncturing their own momentum and have to regroup in order to push for the knockouts. Their real work begins now.

Updated Date: May 08, 2016 14:47 PM

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