Delhi Capitals Social media team uploaded this little cute video of a few players doing the Baraati steps for a shoot, having absolute fun out there. Shikhar Dhawan and Rishabh Pant were in their usual element, but the biggest show of them all were Steven Smith and Chris Woakes, pulling off the “Indian faddu” dance single-handedly on their own.
In the cauldron of sponsored shoots and forced banal dances for advertisements, this was straight from the heart. The smile on the players' faces told a story of its own that you’d be compelled to think if this was, in fact, an extension of the team’s culture. There is nothing there to suggest anything otherwise too, as from Rishabh Pant to Amit Mishra, from Prithvi Shaw to even coach Ricky Ponting, Delhi Capitals members have shown no hierarchy and come across as a unit that loves their own company - a huge positive in the times of bio-bubble and mental health issues.
Facing them on Thursday is Rajasthan Royals, a semi-revamped squad from that of last year, who had a mixed day on the field during their opening encounter against Punjab Kings. There are multiple ways you can read into this but it is probably fitting that two of the most attractive franchises in terms of the talents they possess will make for an evening worth remembering.
Probably, it was. Till Ben Stokes held the aces for a significantly better showing after a bummer in UAE last year. However, late in Tuesday evening, as the news of Ben Stokes being ruled out of the IPL with a broken arm came out of the Royals boardroom, things have become pretty dire for the 2008 edition champions. After being promoted to open last year, Stokes had shown magnificent improvement as a T20 batsman to lay out a solid foundation for the Royals to take the plunge. Never mind, he scored a three-ball duck on Monday.
Historically and also like the first two matches in Mumbai suggested, no scores are safe here, thus batting second is a no-brainer. In the last three years, teams batting first have won only 37.21% of matches with a first-innings average of 166. It is a scary thought in the first instance and processing it would take time as both teams, who have already played a game each with contrasting results, at the same venue, would vouch for it.
The Durham all-rounder's absence, however, has opened up a spot for Jos Buttler once again to return to his opening slot. Since 2018, only David Warner and KL Rahul average more than Buttler yet the Englishman is one of the two batsmen to average over 25 and strike at over 150 as an opener in the same period. Accommodating Stokes at the top was to optimise the resources available at their disposal but having the English wicketkeeper back at his new preferred position would be the most comfortable arrangement.
Meanwhile, Buttler going back to open allows them the option of playing either David Miller or Liam Livingstone lest they want an all-round option in the middle-over as an extensive like-to-like replacement for the English talisman. But there is a catch there. Even though Livingstone has had success as an opener in the T20s since 2019, averaging 29.7 at an SR close to 143, in the middle-order, his strike rate and average drop dramatically. Whereas Miller, not least because of his experience, has been there and done that all with an affinity to tackle Rabada’s hard length’s better than anyone.
Delhi, on the other hand, will be stoked at the prospect of welcoming back their ace pacer Kagiso Rabada. After Axar Patel testing positive, it was a huge blow once again as ANI reported that Anrich Nortje tested positive for the virus as well, thus effectively being ruled out for the RR game. But with the presence of Chris Woakes and a fiery Avesh Khan, Delhi can possibly rest easy in this not-so-ideal situation.
With Rajasthan Royals lacking the fire and brimstone of Jofra Archer, Delhi have a chance lurking for them to dish out the same treatment that they did to Chennai Super Kings. An improved Shikhar Dhawan will have a huge role to play in that regard. Dhawan is someone who usually starts slow and struggles to accelerate in the middle overs. However, in the last couple of seasons, he has been the aggressor while his batting partners have played the second fiddle. Since the start of last season, the southpaw scores at an SR of 143 against the pacers and against spin, he scores at 150, pretty much killing it everywhere.
In the larger picture, the absence of some key performers might have taken the sheen away from the game, but there is still plenty to offer. There are some amazing hitters as well as some fantastic young talents like Chetan Sakariya and Riyan Parag who have shown maturity beyond their years. They will hold the key to the narrative.
Delhi Capitals: Shikhar Dhawan, Prithvi Shaw, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant (c & wk), Marcus Stoinis, Shimron Hetmyer, Chris Woakes, Ravichandran Ashwin, Kagiso Rabada, Amit Mishra, Avesh Khan
Rajasthan Royals: Manan Vohra, Jos Buttler, Sanju Samson (c & wk), Riyan Parag, David Miller, Shivam Dube, Rahul Tewatia, Chris Morris, Shreyas Gopal, Chetan Sakariya, Mustafizur Rahman