Zaheer Khan is a funny bloke. He probably doesn’t know it, though. Sample this statement from the Delhi Daredevils’ skipper after their seven-run win over Rising Pune Supergiant on Friday night.
“It was important to keep winning. We wanted to put up a good show and win. It is always good to win, as simple as that,” Khan said after the team’s sixth win in the 2017 IPL season. For a team that lost all steam thanks to never-ending losses, oddly enough it will put them within two points of Kings XI Punjab as both teams will play their last games on Sunday.
So, if things do go Delhi’s way, they might end up on equal points with Punjab, beaten in the league table only on run-rate. And yet, Delhi have not been in contention for the playoffs since the final week of the league stage began. Meanwhile, Punjab’s match on Sunday against Pune is a potential knockout for the final playoff spot.
It can be argued that Punjab played fewer games until the final week of this season. But random scheduling is not the best argument for any franchise in the IPL, a six-week crammed tournament wherein there is no definitive fixture list. Delhi’s failure to qualify for the playoffs, or even stay in contention in the end, is the result of their own fallacies. They could not sustain initial momentum, were unable to overturn their losing run in time and then just fizzled out in the face of back-to-back 200-plus chases.
Since then, they have put on consistent, more confident displays in their last two games. Their win against Gujarat Lions (at Kanpur) and now against Pune are in stark contrast to what they did earlier in the tournament, especially in face of five consecutive losses. It is reflected in their strategy to counter these two opponents in particular.
For example, they have an identified batting order now, and they have stuck to it. It is perhaps helped that Marlon Samuels is available to anchor the innings should there be a top-order collapse. His mere presence allows Delhi to envisage different scenarios and plan accordingly. The question to ask here is, what delayed their decision to get him on board since they knew before the season began that both Quinton de Kock and JP Duminy were unavailable?
It points to the stubbornness of the team management and the rigidity of their thinking, as they put all eggs in the ‘youth policy’ basket. It didn’t work out for the Daredevils as planned, and Karun Nair is the obvious pointer of this failure, never mind his 45-ball 64-run effort. Suffering from a lack of confidence (or over-confidence?) since his triple hundred, the young batsman had failed to cross the 40-mark in this IPL before this penultimate game against Pune.
On Friday night then, as he stroked his way to a first half-century of the season, there was this one moment when the television commentators talked up his form. It was a stunning remark to claim on air that the Karnataka batsman had been in the thick of things before this game, and there are statistics to back this up. As previously mentioned, he had failed to cross 40 thus far and the more surprising aspect herein is that he has only batted in the top-order throughout this season. After the first couple games, he has not batted lower than the top three, and ever since Sam Billings was left out for more ‘overseas’ balance in the bowling, Nair has been opening the innings for Delhi.
T20 cricket lays a premium on opening batsmen, for the truncated game time makes it imperative for the top-three batsmen to contribute continuously. For Nair to bat in the top three for a majority of the season, and contribute only one fifty so far showcases both his failure as well as the team management’s to do something about it. Now, if you look up the highest run-getters’ chart from this season, eight of the top 10 batsmen — from David Warner until Robin Uthappa — bat in the top three (with Manish Pandey and Dinesh Karthik at No 4 or lower).
Sunrisers Hyderabad have two batsmen (Shikhar Dhawan the other) in this ranking, while Kolkata Knight Riders have three (Gautam Gambhir with the aforementioned two). Even Gujarat Lions, replete with their floundering fortunes, have Suresh Raina and Karthik holding fort. While Punjab have stayed afloat mainly due to improper scheduling and Hashim Amla, Pune have had major contributions from other players apart from Steve Smith to have kept them in the run (read Ben Stokes — what a player!). Surprisingly enough, Mumbai Indians do not have a single player in the top runs’ list, with Kieron Pollard their highest entry at 12th.
It puts the focus on the other aspect that went missing from Delhi’s arsenal earlier in the season, but found its way back in these last two wins when the pressure has gone away. Consistency has been key in Mumbai’s success this year. Until the first third of their games, they didn’t even use any new players acquired in the 2017 auction. Thereafter, they have made changes to counter opponents as per the demand of arising situations.
Look at the Daredevils in these last two matches. They have been shorn of a couple overseas players who have returned for international duty. They brought in Carlos Brathwaite for Kagiso Rabada, firming up their all-round balance in Kanpur. Then, in the last game, they brought back Shahbaz Nadeem in place of Brathwaite. The rest of the line-up stayed the same, and learning from their past mistakes in the season, they were able to impress as a bunch.
It is akin to finding form in the last throes of a season, the final push if you may, like Arsenal thrusting forward for that fourth place and the FA Cup to save their beleaguered season. At least for Arsene Wenger’s side, they might still end up with a trophy — real or make-believe. Unfortunately, for the Daredevils, it is too little too late.
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Updated Date: May 13, 2017 12:24:54 IST