Playoff spot top priority for pace-heavy Daredevils
Narbavie R • Last updated on Mon, 03 Apr, 2017, 08:29 AM
Zaheer will be leading Daredevils again this season. (Image credit – DD) © Media Release
Delhi Daredevils began their IPL journey in fine fashion by finishing in the top-four for the first two seasons. They went through a lull period in the next two before redeeming themselves in the fifth edition when they became the first team to finish the season top of the table twice. Post 2012, the slide began as they endured disappointing campaigns year after year for four successive seasons.
Chopping and changing are two words that are so synonymous with Daredevils as we have seen in recent times. With the team constantly failing to produce results, the owners have looked to shake things up in a massive way. After finishing at the bottom in 2013 and again in 2014, they managed to climb just one spot higher in 2015 despite recruiting Gary Kirsten as coach.
The rejig happened again and this time Daredevils chose a slightly different path and opted to bank on a lot of young Indian talent to do the job. And to bring the best out of them, the combo of Paddy Upton and Rahul Dravid were drafted into the coaching set up with Kirsten getting the axe. Those two were expected to do something similar to what they did with Rajasthan Royals. Captaincy switched hands from JP Duminy to Zaheer Khan as the think-tank opted for an experienced Indian skipper. They made some smart buys as well in the auction by recruiting Sanju Samson, Rishabh Pant, Karun Nair alongside Carlos Brathwaite and Chris Morris.
Following so many changes in personnel, the unit finally clicked with the veteran pacer leading them with aplomb. Zaheer received plaudits for his excellent field placements and rotation of bowlers as the Daredevils won five out of their first seven games. They were primed to make it to the playoffs finally after four years but what followed suit was something they wouldn’t have anticipated.
Over the next four games, they kept tinkering with their combination and made at least three or four changes to their XI almost every game and that disrupted their momentum. Their policy to keep chopping in order to manage the workload of certain players failed to materialise. Brathwaite was left out of the XI for the very next game after his Man of the Match exploits against Kolkata Knight Riders (34 off 11; 3-47) stunned fans and experts alike. In the end, they put themselves in a spot of bother and failed to qualify for the knockouts, finishing sixth. It will be interesting to see if they employ a similar strategy this time around or bank on a settled lineup for the majority of the games. Daredevils will have to figure out a way to enter the playoffs again after four successive failed attempts. And once they reach that stage, anything can happen.
They have plenty of variety and reliable personnel to call upon in the bowling department. Daredevils’ attack boasts of two young overseas bowlers who can bowl at extreme pace in the form of Kagiso Rabada and Pat Cummins, medium pacers Angelo Mathews, Corey Anderson and Carlos Brathwaite and then the two seamers who have the ability to deliver at any stage of the innings with their variations – Mohammad Shami and Chris Morris. Not to discount the evergreen Zaheer, even though it remains to be seen what shape he is in. In the spin department, Daredevils have the likes of Amit Mishra, Jayant Yadav, Shahbaz Nadeem and Murugan Ashwin in their ranks. For now, Mishra looks like a certain starter but the management will have a sweet headache to pick one more from the rest. But in order to include a second spinner, a bit of tinkering needs to be done with their formation.
Quinton de Kock, with the kind of form that he had been in, will prove to be irreplaceable for Daredevils right at the top of the order. De Kock’s destructiveness to go with JP Duminy’s calm presence out in the middle will be missed and now suddenly Daredevils’ top-four looks short of experience with both pulling out of the tournament. In the absence of these two, it is likely that at least three among Shreyas Iyer, Pant, Samson and Nair will be batting in the top four. They possess great talent and are among the best young batsmen in this country but sadly they couldn’t click in unison last season and would certainly not want a repeat of it this time around. The think-tank might want to throw in Sam Billings somewhere in that top four as well.
Considering the number of seam options they have, Daredevils can make use of their stock by playing on a surface that offers plenty of bounce and zip. Previously, Rajasthan Royals prepared a lively strip in Jaipur that stood out from the rest of the pitches in the IPL and made it a fortress, dismantling almost every team. If Daredevils can come up with something similar and unleash the likes of Rabada, Cummins, Morris and Shami, then they will have a great chance of blowing their opponents away at the Kotla.
With two key absentees already, Daredevils wouldn’t want to lose another batsman. They were criticised a lot for making too many changes to their lineup last season but may have to do something similar at least with the batting to ensure they don’t lose any more key players to fatigue. They have a few more fitness concerns to deal with as it is not clear yet when Mathews can join the squad. Anderson hasn’t bowled in a while since he returned after a back injury and it remains to be seen if he can be as effective as he was before. Their skipper Zaheer hasn’t played competitive cricket for almost a year and it remains to be seen what sort of an impact can he create when he steps out on the field again. He has a history of breaking down easily and if he fails to deliver, the management will have a problem choosing the next captain.
What the schedule holds
Among all teams, perhaps Daredevils have the best run-in. One of their home matches, which coincided with the municipal elections in Delhi, got rescheduled to May instead, which has ensured that Daredevils will be playing five out of their last six matches at home. If they can find form at their home venue in front of their own supporters, Daredevils will find it slightly easier than the rest to qualify for the playoffs. But it will test their endurance as well at the same time since they will be playing those six matches in a span of just 13 days.
Ideal playing XI: Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant, Karun Nair, Sam Billings, Sanju Samson (WK), Carlos Brathwaite, Chris Morris, Amit Mishra, Kagiso Rabada, Mohammad Shami, Zaheer Khan (C).