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IPL 2017: Delhi Daredevils erred in dropping Shahbaz Nadeem against Kolkata Knight Riders

Ask anyone — franchise owners, players or even organizers — and they will tell you that the Indian Premier League is serious business. That it is only a six-week extravaganza perhaps adds to the significance of this tournament, in terms of results as well as revenues.

There is one entity though oblivious to this aspect — the official broadcaster, and for obvious reasons. They hold exclusive rights and they know very well that those watching do not have any other option but to tune in. Nobody can go to the stadium every game, even in their city, and watching on official streams isn’t yet the most readily acceptable option.

It allows the broadcasters to continue with their song and dance routine, or ‘cricketainment’ as they called it when the IPL was conceptualized. The thing is, however, that everyone else has moved on from the entertainment/spectacle bit of this tournament and has come to realize the gravity of these eight teams vying for that one trophy over two months. Everyone, but the broadcaster.

Zaheer Khan and Mohammed Shami of the Delhi Daredevils against Kolkata Knight Riders. Sportzpics

Zaheer Khan and Mohammed Shami of the Delhi Daredevils against Kolkata Knight Riders. Sportzpics

For the 10th year running, their pre-match shows evolve around ‘entertainment’ which includes varying degree of drum beating, dance-offs, inviting movie celebrities (both known and unknown) for a chat, and so on, spoon-feeding the same lines that were said in season one pre-game shows. It is almost like the script for the model-turned-anchors never changes, even if the sets get glitzier. Meanwhile, those watching are waiting for serious bits of news, like the playing XIs for any particular game, which are pasted on your screen a good 15 minutes after the toss (10 years running!).

Mostly, the guests on their invited panel also buy into this ‘cricketainment’, talking nonsense for long parts. In between though, when you dial down the noise, sometimes they might just drop a couple pearls of wisdom that are wholly relevant to the upcoming game. Something similar happened before the Delhi Daredevils (DD) versus Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) match.

While the panel was busy quizzing on-air (with a buzzer too) minutes after the toss, Ajay Jadeja spoke about the possible team combinations, and how both captains — Zaheer Khan and Gautam Gambhir — like to study the opposition when strategising. In a game that finished on the penultimate ball of the scheduled 40 overs, Jadeja’s keen observation — in the middle of incessant pre-show tripe — made for an interesting marker.

“Kolkata primarily have Indian batsmen who can play spin well,” he said, explaining Daredevils’ weird selection of dropping the economical Shahbaz Nadeem and bringing in Mohammed Shami. Nadeem has an economy rate of 4.9 from 10 overs in the first three matches. Just how did the Daredevils decide to drop him? Was it because he usually opens the bowling and Gambhir is a left-hander? If they did have to drop a spinner, why wasn’t Amit Mishra left out? Is the currency of a leg-spinner higher than that of an economical left-handed orthodox spinner?

The key to this game lay within the intersection of all the above answers, but it didn’t unravel until the very last over of the game. Before that though, the Daredevils made another error. It began when they were hoodwinked by their own success in the powerplay.

Sam Billings and Sanju Samson gave them another rousing start, with the latter timing the ball as beautifully as he did in Pune. They had scored 62 in the first 6 overs in that game, then 49 against Kings XI Punjab in the last match at home, and on this day, they scored another 53 runs in the powerplay. Dropping the misfiring Aditya Tare, and moving the in-form Samson to open the innings has worked for them. It has also emboldened them to stick to a one-dimensional batting plan.

For the fourth time in succession then, Rishabh Pant came out to bat at No 5. Immediately after his exploits against Royal Challengers Bangalore, it has been established that he needs to be batting higher up. With every passing game, there is more and more evidence of the same — the kid has got it. He is the real deal, at age 19, and whenever he bats, social media is abuzz, discussing his possible full-time inclusion in the Indian ODI/T20 set-up. People are busy debating who he could replace — Yuvraj Singh or MS Dhoni or both — and even if he can be slotted into the opening role, perhaps pairing with Rohit Sharma or KL Rahul (how or why is a mystery known only to Indian fans).

It cannot be doubted that Pant is a future international star. It also cannot be doubted that the Daredevils’ team management — including India-A coach Rahul Dravid — do not see how valuable and explosive Pant can be, if he is moved higher up. But here, the quintessential team-first approach comes to the fore. Pant can bat anywhere in the top five, but on current form, Karun Nair — or even Shreyas Iyer — cannot. There is no comparison between the two — the former a Test triple centurion, the latter still a fringe player. But neither has found the sweet touch of their bats yet, unlike Samson or Pant.

This, plus the absence of Corey Anderson due to sickness, cost them dear. Although it took time for the Knight Riders to get their bearings right in the powerplay overs, unlike Pune and Punjab, they didn’t bleed runs in the end overs, thus restricting Delhi to a par-score. This ploy of setting the platform and letting your big-hitters run amok in the end is a good one, when it works. In T20 cricket, it mostly does, but when it doesn’t, the middle overs become very crucial. Nair-Iyer put on 43 runs for the third wicket at 7.87 per over, a commendable effort, but it wasn’t enough to give the Daredevils enough momentum.

But Delhi have an optimal bowling attack, even if they decided not to play Nadeem, the man who makes it economical so that others can attack around him. Kolkata countered by relegating Sunil Narine to his usual lower-order role, and still it didn’t work, for Delhi had another move up their sleeve. No spinners to start with, as Zaheer, Pat Cummins and Chris Morris bowled tight, etching out three wickets in three overs.

At 21/3 in the third over, the 169-run target looked like 180, even 190. This is where Yusuf Pathan played a stellar role. On-air with Sunil Gavaskar, he spoke about how he has ‘matured with age and has changed his game’ to suit the needs of his team. He even admitted that on shorter grounds such as the Kotla, he likes to ‘bide time’ and drop anchor. The flurry of early wickets allowed him and Manish Pandey enough time to rebuild. And they never let the asking rate get away from them, which is the quintessential element of any T20 run-chase.

Pandey played an immaculate innings, really, and he is doing a wonderful job so far of re-grabbing the selectors’ attention in light of the upcoming Champions Trophy. Even so, this is not about him. This is about underlining where Delhi lost the game, and it was in their team selection. Sample this: Shami was deployed as the fifth bowler, and fourth seam option, giving away 28 runs in 3 overs. Until the last over, Mishra’s figures were 2-0-17-0.

Again then, it begs the question. Why did the Daredevils drop a spinner with an economy of 4.9? Couldn’t Nadeem have been deployed later in the innings instead of opening the bowling for once? It can be argued that the result perhaps doesn’t hinge on one bowler, especially in this format. But, make no mistake the margins are the narrowest herein.

Updated Date: Apr 18, 2017 10:11 AM

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