Playoff spot top priority for pace-heavy Daredevils

IPL 2017

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).

© Cricbuzz




RIP, Detroit Red Wings playoff streak

It began on April 4, 1991, in St. Louis against the Detroit Red Wings’ Norris Division rival Blues.

It was a victory, as so many playoff games over the next 25 seasons would be for Detroit. Steve Yzerman had a hat trick. Brett Hull had three points for the Blues.

And Dylan Larkin was over five years away from being born.

I thought a lot about Larkin this week, as the Red Wings’ 25-year playoff streak officially ended on Tuesday night when their tragic number hit zero, via a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.

Larkin is 20 years old. He grew up in Waterford, Michigan. The only Detroit Red Wings he knows are the Detroit Red Wings of annual playoff appearances and four Stanley Cups. Not ones that had two playoff appearance in 17 years from 1966-1983, featuring 15 different head coaches. The ones that had 25 straight playoff appearances from 1991-2016, and had a grand total of six coaches during the stretch, if you count Barry Smith’s five games in the interim in 1998-99.

So this is new to Larkin, this notion that the Stanley Cup Playoffs are sometimes held without the Detroit Red Wings in them.

It’s new to a lot of us.

But of course it had to happen now.

The narrative is as obvious as the coffee stains on any hack writer’s pants, this one included: We lost Gordie. We lost Mike Ilitch. The Joe closes its doors on decades of Hockeytown history.

All of this happens as the Red Wings’ historic streak comes skidding to a halt, thanks to a porous defense (2.95 GAA) and a generation of potential Next Great Red Wings that are either still too green or, in some cases, may never achieve that greatness. So, in the grand scheme, there’s no other time the streak could end than now.

That’s underscored by the fact that the Red Wings are down to their last living legend on the roster: Henrik Zetterberg, who did everything his 36-year-old body allowed him to do in an effort to carry this team to the playoffs. But after Pavel Datsyuk went back to Russia (while his contract enjoys the weather in Glendale), Zetterberg was alone among a generation of underwhelming talents, desperate free-agent signings and guys like Larkin who just weren’t read to lift Mjolnir yet.

Datsyuk was just the latest piece of the team’s heart to wither away. From that 2008 Stanley Cup team you had Nicklas Lidstrom, the backbone of the streak from 1991-2012; Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen, Zetterberg’s countrymen who were immovable objects in the offensive zone; Chris Osgood, whose legacy can be debated but whose results aren’t debatable; and the grunts that lingered from the Yzerman years in Kris Draper, Darren McCarty and Kirk Maltby.

The 2016-17 Red Wings, in no way, felt like those teams. It didn’t feel like there was a heart to the roster, outside of Zetterberg’s. It felt like a prestige drama that fails to get an Emmy nomination for the first time in a decade because all its stars have gone on to other projects, and then gets cancelled the following season because Anthony Anderson is no Chris Noth.

But enough about the end of the streak.

The streak itself is one of the most remarkable feats in the history of hockey. It’s a streak that spans different scoring eras, different financial eras and dramatic power shifts in the hockey landscape. It’s not the longest consecutive playoff appearance streak in NHL history, but it’s the most impressive.

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And they weren’t just one-and-done appearances. (*COUGH* St. Louis Blues *COUGH*) Take out the last three seasons, and the Wings made it past the opening round in 15 of those 22 straight seasons.

It began in the Norris Division, in the Campbell Conference. It began in a 21-team league, with the Whalers and Nordiques but a year before the Sharks. It began in a divisional playoff format. It began when Gary Bettman was still working in the NBA.

It ends in the Atlantic Division, in the Eastern Conference. It ends in a 30-team league, with the Hurricanes and Avalanche and soon the Golden Knights. It ends with the Red Wings having qualified for the playoffs under four different postseason formats, with and without a salary cap that former NBA executive Gary Bettman installed in 2005.


With the rise of Euro big men, has the NBA actually caught up to the European game?

A compelling new chapter in the emerging legend of Nurkic and Jokic was written in Portland on Tuesday night, another personal milestone reached with a redemptive missive aimed at those who once mocked the perimeter hugging species known as the European big.

In short, sweet summary: How do you like this soft power now?

Jusuf Nurkic actually took his message to the mic after dropping a career-high 33 points along with 16 rebounds on Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets as the Blazers edged past Nurkic’s former team and into the eighth playoff position in the Western Conference.

“I wish those guys a happy summer,” Nurkic, a Bosnian, told the celebrating crowd at the Moda Center.

Got to love that Balkan wit and wisdom.

In another telling twist of fate, it has been the Nuggets – with their general manager, Tim Connelly, a former international scout, and his Lithuanian assistant, Arturas Karnisovas – who have done much to raise the bar for the tall men from abroad after contributing mightily to their ridicule earlier in the century.

Remember Nikoloz Tskitishvili, the 7-foot Georgian taken fifth by then-Denver GM Kiki Vandeweghe in the 2002 draft? At 19, Tskitishvili came stamped with the label of the next Dirk Nowitzki, but arrived too raw and reticent, ultimately starring in the basketball hotbeds of Lebanon and Bahrain.

“The league exists on perception,” Karnisovas told The Vertical hours before the Nuggets ceded control of their playoff destiny in Tuesday night’s 122-113 defeat. “In the ’90s, the European players were supposed to be soft. Then Dirk came into the league and it became a case of, ‘We’ll take any European.’ But some guys failed and it went back the other way.

“Now,” he added, “it’s never been such a huge number.”

Now it has become remarkably common to peruse the box scores and have a stat line leap off the screen to challenge another perception, that of American big-boy exceptionalism.

Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic during their days together in Denver. (Getty Images) More

Two weeks ago, Jokic, the 6-10 Serb with the Midas passing touch, recorded his fifth triple-double of the season in a victory over the Clippers. In Salt Lake City last week, the French center Rudy Gobert, better known for his defense and board work, ravaged the Knicks for a career-high 35 points. In Chicago, also last week, Dario Saric, the 6-10 Croatian rookie power forward, went for a career-best 32 points in a 76ers takedown of the Bulls.

Saric has surged as a Rookie of the Year candidate in the absence of his frontcourt mate, Joel Embiid, the Cameroonian and All-Star center in waiting, if he can ever stay healthy.

See a pattern here? Roughly half the NBA teams feature an imported big at one power position or another. The Spanish Gasol brothers, Pau and Marc, continue to flaunt their multi-skilled games in San Antonio and Memphis. In Houston, Washington, Toronto and Salt Lake City, serious conference-final playoff contenders start European centers in Clint Capela (Switzerland), Marcin Gortat (Poland), Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania) and Gobert (France).

Then there is Milwaukee’s burgeoning superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo, torturing pronunciations everywhere while redefining the positional parameters for a 6-11 Greek Freak with an unearthly wingspan.

“The game has changed – now everybody’s offense is cutting, passing, shooting the 3,” Karnisovas said. “I don’t think a lot has changed in how the European big men have developed. I just think they’re appreciated more for what they can do.”

In other words, stylistically speaking, the NBA has caught up with the Europeans, more than the Europeans have caught up with the NBA.

Consider the Knicks in New York, where for years the mere thought of a European big made fans cower in painful remembrance of Vince Carter savagely dunking on a Knicks first-round draft pick, the Frenchman Frederic Weis, in the 2000 Summer Olympics. But whatever future there is under Phil Jackson, whose presidential approval rating is worse than Trump’s, rests on the baby foreign giants, Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez.


Russell Westbrook clinched a playoff berth with the highest-scoring triple-double ever

Try as they might, nobody in Orlando could touch Russell Westbrook on Wednesday night. (AP)

For the second straight game, the Oklahoma City Thunder trailed by double digits midway through the fourth quarter. And for the second straight game, Russell Westbrook deemed that outcome unacceptable, so he changed it, damn near singlehandedly.

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When Westbrook checked back into Wednesday’s game after his customary rest to start the fourth quarter, the Orlando Magic led the Thunder 89-79. A minute and a half later, a short hook by Magic center Nikola Vucevic pushed the lead to 14 points at 93-79. And from there, Westbrook once again absolutely took over down the stretch, scoring 19 points in the final 6:01 of the fourth to knock Orlando back on its heels and will the Thunder back into the game.

The last three of those points came after Vucevic missed the back end of a pair of free throws with 13 seconds remaining, keeping Orlando’s lead at 102-99. Westbrook grabbed the ball off the rim, raced into the frontcourt, pulled up from the “R” in Amway Center with Magic guards Terrence Ross and Elfrid Payton right in his face …

… and splashed through a 30-footer with 7.1 seconds left to knot the score at 102.

The Magic couldn’t answer on the other end, turning the ball over with just under one second to go, and a last-ditch heave by Thunder guard Victor Oladipo came up short, sending the game to overtime … where, surprise surprise, Westbrook dominated.

Westbrook assisted on an Oladipo triple 61 seconds into overtime that put Oklahoma City up for good, and then put the Magic away himself. He scored seven points, grabbed four rebounds and dropped two dimes in the five extra minutes, leading the Thunder to a 114-106 overtime win that improved the Thunder to 43-31 on the season and punched their ticket to the postseason. Oklahoma City now sits just a half-game behind the Los Angeles Clippers — who tip off later Wednesday against the Washington Wizards — in the race for the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference.

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Two nights after taking a blowtorch to the Dallas Mavericks, Westbrook authored an even more remarkable performance: 57 points on 21-for-40 shooting (6-for-15 from 3-point range, 9-for-11 at the foul line) to go with 13 rebounds, 11 assists and three steals in 42 minutes of blistering work.

That is the highest-scoring triple-double in NBA history. Westbrook now stands alone atop that particular column in the history book, after climbing over a pair of 53-point efforts — one by Wilt Chamberlain on March 18, 1968, and one by Westbrook’s leading competition in this year’s MVP race, James Harden, from New Year’s Eve 2016.

It is also just the 10th 50-point triple-double in NBA history — only Russ and Harden have ever logged multiple such games in the same season, both doing so this year — and it came in an absolutely critical situation, leading the Thunder to the biggest comeback in franchise history:

Thunder wins it!! Largest comeback win in Thunder history (21 points) — OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) March 30, 2017

It was Westbrook’s 38th triple-double of the season, putting him just four behind the 41 that Oscar Robertson notched in the historic 1961-62 campaign that Russ has been chasing all season long. The Thunder are now 31-7 when Westbrook hits his numbers.

Westbrook was so dominant, so overwhelming, so undeniable over the final 11 minutes of game time that even the Magic fans in attendance at Amway Center just had to recognize real:

They’re chanting MVP in Orlando. #Russ #ThePeoplesChamp — OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) March 30, 2017

This was bonkers. M-V-P chants in the road building. — Eric Adelson (@eric_adelson) March 30, 2017

With all due respect to constituencies in Houston, San Antonio and Cleveland, it’s getting harder and harder to disagree with the chants that came down from the stands in Central Florida.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter!

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