Dilli hain dilwalo ki (Delhi belongs to large-hearted).
Being true to the motto of the city, Delhi Capitals (DC) have also been quite kind-hearted to their opponents in the Indian Premier League (IPL) over the years. In the last decade, DC managed to reach the playoffs only twice besides finishing at the bottom of the table on four occasions, the most by any team.
The first time they reached the playoffs in the previous decade was in 2012, the second time was after a gap of seven years in 2019. Over the years, the franchise from the national capital has invested heavily in top names — Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Kevin Pietersen — in search of the elusive title but what seems to be now finally working in their favour is an investment in youth with the right mix of experience.
They still remain the only IPL side who haven’t made it to the final of the cash-rich T20 league. But last year, after six seasons of disappointment, they not only reached the knockouts but appeared to have created an identity of their own. May be all they needed was some ruthlessness in decision-making and planning, and that was provided by the Australian great Ricky Ponting. As a coach, punter Ponting has put his money in youth, especially Indian talent.
India cricketer Shreyas Iyer took over the captaincy reins midway through the 2018 season after Gambhir stepped down due to poor form. Iyer has since grown as a leader and player, and that progress has reflected in his performance on the field for DC. Last year, the skipper played a vital role with the bat in DC’s deep run in the tournament, he was their third highest-run getter, only 58 runs short of the highest run-scorer. He has also come across as a very mature leader, handling a team full of seniors and juniors with the utmost ease.
But will they continue their good run from last season or will go back to being large-hearted? Let’s do an analysis of the squad to try and predict what the 13th edition of the T20 league holds for DC.
The strongest aspect of DC’s squad is its core of Indian players. The experienced and flamboyant Shikhar Dhawan smashed 521 runs last season and was ably assisted by Rishabh Pant (468), Prithvi Shaw (353), and Iyer as they together did the bulk of scoring for the team. The highest batting contribution for the season from an overseas player was 184 runs. DC would once again rely on their India international contingent to set steep targets for their opponents.
Moreover, DC have also added Ajinkya Rahane and R Ashwin to their squad for this season. Both veterans of IPL and international cricket, have the ability to be the match-winner on their own on a given day. While Ashwin can be an effective bowler in the powerplay, Rahane can be the cog around which the batting would revolve, especially on slow pitches in UAE where strokemakers may struggle.
They have the consistent leg-spinner, Amit Mishra, to spearhead their bowling department; the experienced Ishant Sharma, and effective all-rounder Axar Patel. Uncapped player Harshal Patel had an impressive domestic season in 2019-20 while Tushar Deshpande brings express pace to the table. Last but not the least, Mohit Sharma has all the know-how and could be immensely effective on slow pitches in UAE.
The overseas contingent is in complete contrast to the Indian unit of DC. Kagiso Rabada who took 25 wickets last season appears to be one of the only two match-winners as far as foreign players are concerned, along with wrist-spinner Sandeep Lamichhane, who has a fantastic record in franchise cricket. Shimron Hetmyer, Marcus Stoinins, Alex Carey all come with some reputation but there’s a big question mark over their consistency.
DC did bring in ODI World Cup-winners Jason Roy and Chris Woakes after releasing Chirs Morris and Trent Boult but the English players have withdrawn from the tournament since then. Anrich Nortje and Daniel Sams have come in as their replacements.
In IPL, you can only play four overseas players. Generally, teams have used these four slots to include game-changing players but in DC’s case, they may struggle with the selection of their foreign players and their returns.
DC have played three spinners at times at the slow-paced Arun Jaitley Stadium and in UAE they can do that full-time. They are blessed with a contingent of world-class spinners who can make most of the conditions on offer for the 2020 edition. Ashwin, Mishra, and Lamichhane together would make for a nightmare for opposing batsmen, however, we could see (Axar) Patel sneaking in due to his all-round ability.
Whatever be the combination, DC are well fortified in that department and it should emerge as one of their strengths in the 13th edition of the league. Stoinis, Keemo Paul would pitch in as the back-up pacers if DC decide to play with only one recognised pacer.
Besides a weak overseas contingent, what could derail DC’s campaign is the lack of an obvious finisher in the team. They seem to be a very top-heavy team as was the case last season. Dhawan, Shaw, Iyer and Pant should occupy the first four batting slots and it’s a no brainer, you want your best players to play most of the overs but the big question who should follow after them?
Rahane’s limited attacking prowess rules him out from playing the role of a finisher. It could happen that depending on situations/opponent, DC might use him at No 3 and push Pant down the order. But given the swashbuckling playing style of Pant, you would always want the Delhi lad to come in early, face as many balls as possible to get himself set and make maximum use of the player.
They certainly have Stoinis in their ranks, who had a historic Big Bash League (BBL) early this year with 705 runs in 17 matches and is being fashioned into being a finisher by the Australian team, but his runs came at the top of the order. His weakness against spinners could also make him ineffective for the role or for that matter at any position. Hetmyer would be coming in after an impressive (Caribbean Premier League) CPL but he also did struggle against spinners and got his runs from the No 3 spot.
Paul is a good utility player but it would be a little too much to expect him to shoulder all the responsibility. DC’s middle and lower-order definitely looks a bit vulnerable. They could look at Ponting’s compatriot Carey to fill in the role of a finisher. He would be playing in his first IPL but the Australian has impressed at the international level with his temperament, batting in the lower-order. He also had a decent BBL and if trusted, could prove to be the solution to DC’s ailment.
Isn’t he always the player to watch out for? It was a terrific IPL in 2018 which helped Pant cement a place in the India team across the formats. He had a very good IPL last season as well but his international fortunes have witnessed a dip in the last year. His batting slot — No 4 or 5 — makes him the most crucial player in DC’s batting lineup. He doesn’t necessarily need to have a 500+ runs IPL but even a 350+ runs season with consistent scores could prove to be a major difference and should also allow DC to mask the obvious weakness of having a vulnerable middle and lower-order. He also has the added motivation to regain his slot in India’s T20 side which has lately been held by KL Rahul.
If the top-order fires consistently and bowlers perform to their potential then DC should be looking at a repeat of last season’s performance. Can they win the title? Their first aim should be to reach the summit clash. Defending champions Mumbai Indians (MI) look the obvious choice as far as the favourites for the title is concerned. One can never discount Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH), Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) are going to be tough challengers.
Predicted Playing XI
The following lineup is not necessarily the one DC would pick in their first match but a prediction of their best combination.
Shikhar Dhawan, Prithvi Shaw, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant, Shimron Hetmyer, Alex Carey, Axar Patel, R Ashwin, Sandeep Lamichhane, Kagiso Rabada, Ishant Sharma/Mohit Sharma.
Indian players – Ajinkya Rahane, Prithvi Shaw, Shikhar Dhawan, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant, Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, Lalit Yadav, Amit Mishra, Avesh Khan, Harshal Patel, Ishant Sharma, Mohit Sharma, Tushar Deshpande
Foreign players – Shimron Hetmyer, Daniel Sams, Keemo Paul, Marcus Stoinis, Alex Carey, Anrich Nortje, Kagiso Rabada, Sandeep Lamichhane