Chasing Delhi Daredevils' score of 160 in Friday's game, 5.3 overs in, Kolkata Knight Riders' Robin Uthappa hit a skier so high that there was enough time for two fielders to converge for the catch. In the end, neither Amit Mishra nor Sanju Samson called for it, and let the ball drop to the ground. Then, Mishra stared long and hard at his young teammate who simply turned and walked off in a huff.
It is not tough to assume that there were a few stares/walks in a huff in the Daredevils’ dressing room. The team lost its fourth match in succession, as Uthappa made good on that chance and stroked his second successive half-century, reaffirming Kolkata's position at the top of the table. Daredevils, meanwhile, continued their free-fall towards the bottom of the standings, with only four points in seven games played till now.
It is almost too easy to narrate what happened in the game, for it isn’t a new story. Kolkata won the toss and opted to bowl first – it is their strength, and batting first is the Daredevils’. Yet, it isn’t simply about winning the toss and getting to do what you want. It is more about executing plans, and there is a reason why Kolkata are currently at the top of the table.
In their last two games, against Royal Challengers Bangalore and Rising Pune Supergiant, the Knight Riders have been able to showcase as much. Against Bangalore, their bowling worked to the point, not giving anything to punish to batsmen of the calibre of Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers. Against Pune, when normalcy was restored and they faced a challenging 183-run target, their batting plans came to the fore.
A pertinent example herein is their top order. They have taken a calculated gamble on opening with Sunil Narine; it doesn’t disturb the remainder of the batting line-up and everyone bats as per their comfort zones, knowing fully well what is expected of them. Simply put, executing your plans is a vital aspect of professional cricket, and in the current competition, there is no team out there doing it better than Kolkata at this moment.
However, the basic principle of executing your plans properly is to get the planning right. It is easy to see which teams are failing in doing so – Bangalore, Gujarat Lions and Daredevils, all of them seriously vying for the last spots on the table.
All three sides are suffering from a peculiar imbalance. In Bangalore’s case, it is too much batting firepower and they don’t know which bowlers to choose thereafter. In Gujarat’s case, they simply don’t know which four overseas players to pick. This problem for both of them is one of their own doing, by faring poorly in the players’ auctions.
The Daredevils are unique in that case. They didn’t make this problem of team imbalance, injuries did. The team management bought well in February during the auction and solidified the middle order with firepower.
But then, both JP Duminy and Quinton de Kock were ruled out of the entire tournament, and Delhi was left severely short-changed in foreign batting reserves. The absence of both South African batsmen is hitting them hard, and it is getting more apparent with each passing game.
There is simply no senior batsman available to them, who can guide this young top-order, purely on the basis of his international experience. Rahul Dravid, you say? Well, as expansive as his career has been (across formats), he is not an active cricketer anymore.
He is restricted to that aforementioned planning stage, and the Daredevils’ lineup is currently lacking someone who can hold these youngsters’ hands on the field of play, during the game, and shepherd the innings, help them execute Dravid’s plans.
The game against Mumbai Indians showed how lightweight this Daredevils’ top-order is. At the Wankhede, all they needed to do was play for time; instead, they were reduced to 24/6. Against Kolkata, they did get going again, reaching 53/1 at the end of the powerplay.
But the typical Delhi malaise set in once again, and they scored only 55 runs in the next seven, reaching 108/1 in 13 overs. That is simply not good enough in T20 cricket, and it leaves the lower-middle order – inclusive of big-hitters like Chris Morris and Corey Anderson – with too much to do.
The one-dimensional thinking becomes crystal clear here – stack the youngsters up top, get the big-hitters thereafter. It leaves the fans as well as neutrals aghast at the lack of imagination in the Daredevils’ think-tank.
It is clear that they deem pace to be their main strength, with all their four overseas picks classified as proper pace bowlers. This has obviously meant that Sam Billings is benched – inexplicably after he developed an in-form opening partnership with Sanju Samson.
It can be compared to the unreasonable dropping of Shahbaz Nadeem, who continues to twiddle thumbs in the dugout. So much so, his economical bowling figures have now almost been forgotten in the Daredevils’ downward slide, and his non-inclusion has become a debate of the past.
Again, it isn’t as if the team management isn’t trying different things, but they are too restrictive in their tactics, seemingly only for one batsman. Karun Nair (who has one score of 30-plus since his triple hundred in December) ought to have been dropped by now. But not only is he being persisted with, the Daredevils are finding new batting slots for him. He has gone from number four to number three to opening the innings now, and yet this move to accommodate him hasn’t worked repeatedly.
Why this stubbornness to back one player, whilst leaving a couple others out in the cold? Sure, the Knight Riders have shown that backing one particular strategy pays rich dividends, but only if certifiable planning is backed by exemplary execution. An exhaustive tournament such as this even allows for out-of-form players to buy time and get going again.
But if the team – with a unilateral attitude – has lost four games on the trot, it is time for some serious reconsideration. Say, asking Rishabh Pant to open, or moving Anderson up to number three (if you must play four overseas bowlers), even dropping Mishra in favour of Nadeem.
The Daredevils need a drastic rethink of their plans going ahead. A repeat strategy from these four games will only be a befuddling, unimaginative approach to T20 cricket, one that is unlikely to stop this rot.
Updated Date: Apr 29, 2017 10:25 AM