At the end of the 2018 season of the IPL, Delhi had it as bad as it could get. They had finished bottom of the table, and were struggling for answers. And there were answers needed, for there was new management taking over.
The story goes that there was a WhatsApp conversation between certain members of the team management and head coach Ricky Ponting. Plenty of honest opinions were exchanged about what was going wrong, which included confronting uncomfortable truths about the attitude in the backrooms.
Ponting, appreciative of the honesty, assembled a group of his trusted personnel to have a meeting with the owners, who in turn were convinced of the vision presented. The result was a revamped backroom staff, working towards the plans envisioned.
Chief amongst those was retaining Shreyas Iyer as captain and adding more key personnel through trades and auctions. Shikhar Dhawan and Ishant Sharma provided some much-needed impact, to go with Rishabh Pant’s consistent fireworks. The franchise used right-to-match option for Kagiso Rabada, who missed the 2018 season through injury but bounced back with 25 wickets in 2019 – second best only to Imran Tahir’s 26.
The result was a push to third spot in the 2019 edition. And ahead of a fresh season, there have been a few more changes, potentially to bridge gaps.
In Shimron Hetmyer, they have a better bet against spin than Sherfane Rutherford. In R Ashwin, they have a strike-spinner of repute. In Ajinkya Rahane, they have a potential problem of plenty at the top, in Daniel Sams they have a left-arm pace gap plugged with Jason Roy choosing to sit out. They also have interesting additions in the likes of Marcus Stoinis and Alex Carey, who are both options for both top and lower order. In Shaw and Pant they still possess the most enviable next-gen Indian batting talent while the wait continues to see if Iyer takes the next step-up in pedigree.
But just like all the other teams, the challenge of shaping a team for performances in conditions unknown will be a challenge. If the pitches do prove to be sluggish as is widely expected thanks to the sheer amount of games in play, then it could work to Delhi’s advantage. They’ve had prior experience of handling such conditions at FerozShah Kotla.
What’s their best eleven and why?
Likely XI: Shikhar Dhawan, Prithvi Shaw, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant, Shimron Hetmyer, Marcus Stoinis, Axar Patel, Ravichandran Ashwin, Daniel Sams, Ishant Sharma, Kagiso Rabada
The presence of as many as seven current India internationals is an advantage that not many teams in the IPL can boast of. This lends them the option of experimenting with their overseas options. Dhawan is expected to still start ahead of Rahane as the first choice opener but could be an ideal back-up if the pitches require his style of cautious batting over Shaw’s bluster.
Iyer can be the fulcrum of the middle order and his prowess against spin will be handy. Pant can be #4 with two overseas batsmen to follow at #5 and #6, providing the firepower. Rabada and Ishant are sure starters among pacers with Sams/Paul/Nortje playing as the third seamer. If Mishra fails to deliver wickets in the middle overs, the option of Lamichanne exists
What works to their advantage?
The sheer variety available in both spin and pace – Ishant is the new-ball specialist (eight wickets in PP in IPL 2019 and bowled 75% of his overs in this phase) while Sams is known for death overs skills in BBL where he has picked 50% of his wickets (26/52). Rabada can bowl in any of the three phases (his 19 wickets was the most by any bowler in death overs in IPL 2019) and he along with Nortje provide the much-needed velocity. Keemo Paul’s slow balls and cutters would be useful on two-paced tracks of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
In the spin department, Lamichanne and Mishra provide leg-spin options while Axar is a useful defensive option in Powerplay with his slow left-arm. Ashwin can spin the ball both ways and will be a valuable matchup against lefty-heavy line-ups. Lamichanne picked 12 wickets in CPL 2020 at an ER of 5.28.
In addition, a good mix of right and left-handed batsmen in the top six to cover matchups against the opposition spinners.
What doesn’t work to their advantage?
The lack of a quality all-rounder in the top six is a concern. None of the top five provide bowling options which means they need to play five specialist bowlers plus the sixth option in Stoinis.
This runs the risk of lower-order slip-ups like in 2019 where they lost most wickets in death overs in (50) and scored at 9.60 per over, well below the tournament run rate of 10.17 in the final five overs.
Is there an opportunity?
The presence of Hetmyer and Stoinis in the middle order could free up Pant in the death overs. Pant’s SR of 226 in the last five overs is only eclipsed by AB de Villiers (252) in the last four years (100+ balls). And likewise this presents Iyer a chance to step up the ladder, as batsman and as captain.