A still photograph can convey a powerful message. After Mumbai Indians clinched the IPL title last year, an ecstatic Krunal Pandya jumped in the air to celebrate the moment. Meanwhile, Anrich Nortje, who played a vital role in charting Delhi Capitals’ road to the final, seemed to be staring blankly into the distance. Despite MI needing just one run to complete the formalities, he had forced Hardik Pandya to pull one to square leg and then nailed the yorker while bowling to Krunal. Nortje’s sheer effort in that over summed up DC’s gritty IPL 2020 campaign.
Can they go one better this season and seal their maiden IPL title? Or once again would it be a case of so near, yet so far? For starters, DC has a few worries surrounding the availability of their key players. Shreyas Iyer, who captained the side admirably last season, has been ruled out of the tournament with an injured shoulder. The fearless Rishabh Pant has taken over the mantle of leading the side. In what turned out to be a double blow, Axar Patel tested positive for COVID-19 and is currently in isolation. The bowling all-rounder, who went at an economy rate of just over 6 an over last season, is an integral member of the set-up, and his absence in the initial games would rock the team balance. Moreover, the formidable South African pace duo of Kagiso Rabada and Nortje would be in quarantine when DC take on Chennai Super Kings in their opening fixture on April 10.
In the IPL Auction, DC bought the experienced duo of Steven Smith and Sam Billings, which in turn could help the side to mitigate the shock of the hammer blow of Iyer getting ruled out.
Where have they finished in this cycle?
2018: 8th || 2019: 3rd || 2020: 2nd
Last season bugbear
One of the stumbling blocks for the franchise last season was losing wickets upfront. DC lost as many as 29 wickets in the Powerplay in IPL 2020 – joint-highest for any team alongside Rajasthan Royals. In 10 innings, the opening duo was separated in the first over itself. Incidentally, the pair of Prithvi Shaw and Ajinkya Rahane struggled to make an impact in the Powerplay, getting dismissed 16 times in 21 innings between the two. In fact, a slew of pacemen troubled Shaw on both edges of his bat. Trent Boult in particular used the left-arm angle from over the wicket, sprinkled with a hint of movement to dislodge the opener three times in a row.
Has it been fixed ahead of IPL 2021?
The encouraging sign for DC is that Marcus Stoinis and Shikhar Dhawan shared a timely stand of 86 at the top of the order in the Qualifier 2 game against Sunrisers Hyderabad. Moreover, on a positive note, Dhawan was in fine touch through the course of the IPL season, aggregating 616 runs. Another silver lining for DC is Shaw’s impressive form in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, 2021. The dashing opener accumulated 827 runs at an astounding average of 165.40. Whether he can carry that momentum into the IPL remains to be seen.
The middle phase of a T20 innings is akin to a cat and mouse game. Last season, DC seemed to have cracked the code for this difficult phase of the innings. In the middle overs (7-15), DC scored at a rate of 8.07 per over, only behind the eventual champions. Just that this season they would miss the services of one of the vital cogs of the line-up, Iyer. Rishabh Pant, the new skipper, would look to shore up the middle order. The swashbuckling wicketkeeper-batsman has also been in rich vein of form this year. In Iyer’s absence, Shaw could open the batting alongside Dhawan, with Stoinis moving back to number six. The other option is to bring in another of their overseas players – Billings or Steve Smith. In that case, they could be forced to leave out one of their successful pace pair of Nortje and Rabada.
League phase venue split
Mumbai (3) || Chennai (2) || Ahmedabad (4) || Kolkata (5)
Eden Gardens in Kolkata would likely provide even bounce, and that could mean a high-scoring ground. To capsulise the point, there were quite a few high-scoring games at Eden Gardens in the IPL 2019, with Kolkata Knight Riders notching up a massive total of 232 in one of their league matches against MI. At the Wankhede, on occasions, pacemen have found a hint of swing, but the surface generally favours the batsmen. The Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad threw up a variety of surfaces – red soil and black soil – during the recently-concluded England-India T20Is.
In Nortje and Rabada, DC have the right kind of pace attack to take advantage of any kind of bounce on offer at Eden Gardens, Wankhede and Ahmedabad. Ishant Sharma, Chris Woakes and Co. give them more pace bowling depth. On the other hand, for the two games in Chennai, DC would bank on the spin pair of R Ashwin and Amit Mishra. In case, Axar is available at that stage of the competition, he would also come into the equation. Praveen Dubey, leg-spinner, and Lalit Yadav, off-spinning all-rounder, are other options.
Uncapped player watch
In this season’s Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy game between Delhi and Kerala, Vishnu Vinod showcased his pyrotechnics by bringing out the switch-hit. In the IPL, he is set to face better quality of bowlers, but he can turn out to be the surprise package in a game or two. Left-arm paceman Lukman Meriwala has a nice side-on action and can swing the new ball. However, with DC having good pace bowling stocks, it could be difficult for him to break into the side.
Likely best XI
Shikhar Dhawan, Prithvi Shaw, Ajinkya Rahane, Sam Billings/Shimron Hetmyer, Rishabh Pant (C, Wk), Marcus Stoinis, Axar Patel, R Ashwin, Kagiso Rabada, Ishant Sharma/Amit Mishra, Anrich Nortje