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Can Delhi Capitals tackle Rishabh Pant’s absence or is it an irreparable loss?

Last updated on 25 Mar 2023 | 07:14 AM
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Can Delhi Capitals tackle Rishabh Pant’s absence or is it an irreparable loss?

The Rishabh Pant conundrum is a headscratcher that can make or break their season

Every cricket team has a player they cannot afford to miss. One player who if they are out of the side, the whole balance crumbles. Such players are accentuated furthermore in franchise cricket. 

For Delhi Capitals, the fulcrum is Rishabh Pant. You can argue that he hasn’t been at his best in IPL or white-ball cricket for India for a number of seasons. But look at the boxes he ticks - a captain, a prime middle-order batter, a left-hander, good against spin and of course, a wicketkeeper.  

Delhi lose out on many things with one player unavailable. Replacing him as a captain is easy with David Warner in the side. However, how do you replace him on other intricate fronts? As a batter alone he leaves a huge gap. Delhi also don’t have any backup Indian wicket-keeping option. Therefore, in Pant, they will miss at least two players. 

Here is what Delhi’s first-choice probable XI looks like with a big space in between:

Prithvi Shaw, David Warner ( c ), Mitchell Marsh, ___________, Sarfaraz Khan, Rovman Powell, Axar Patel, Lalit Yadav/Chetan Sakariya/Mukesh Kumar, Kuldeep Yadav, Anrich Nortje, Khaleel Ahmed

Can it be fixed? Or is it an irreparable loss? We try to explore various options Delhi have to plug this hole. 

Case #1: Axar bats at 4

Probable XI: Prithvi Shaw, David Warner ( c ), Mitchell Marsh, Axar Patel, Sarfaraz Khan (wk), Rovman Powell, Lalit Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav, Anrich Nortje, Khaleel Ahmed, Chetan Sakariya/Mukesh Kumar

Axar Patel fills the void of a left-hander at number four in this scenario. The southpaw has made excellent strides as a batter, averaging 30.2 in T20 since 2022 at a strike-rate of 158.7. In ODIs, he averages 33 at a strike-rate of 112.7 and averages 41.6 in Tests as well. All these are signs of a promising batter. However, number four is still a touch high for him, especially in a tournament of this magnitude. 

It is the toughest position to bat in T20s and Axar has batted at four only once in IPL since 2020. In his whole T20 career, nearly 80% of his knocks are at six or lower. 

Thus, despite his rise as a batter over the last 12 months, batting him at four is a huge gamble. Not to mention, he will be spending a lot more time batting in the nets which can hamper his bowling returns, an equally valuable resource to the team. 

It will lead to another issue, Delhi will then be expecting a lot from Sarfaraz Khan as their glovesman. In an 84-T20 long career thus far, Sarfaraz has kept wickets only thrice. 

There is one positive behind this move. As Axar goes up, Pant’s absence can be used to add another bowling option, hence giving them five proper bowlers and reducing the dependency on Mitchell Marsh. Delhi would be tempted to bat Marsh at three after seeing his exploits as an opener in the ODIs against India. 

Case #2: Play Rilee Rossouw in the middle-order

Probable XI: Prithvi Shaw, David Warner ( c ), Rilee Rossouw, Sarfaraz Khan (wk), Mitchell Marsh, Axar Patel, Lalit Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav, Anrich Nortje, Khaleel Ahmed, Chetan Sakariya/Mukesh Kumar

A T20 globetrotter, Rilee Rossouw can fulfill the left-hander’s role in the middle-order. He is good against both pace and spin and is a T20 specialist. A great addition to the Delhi squad, there lies some risks in this scenario. 

To start with, Rossouw last featured in IPL in 2015. Secondly, he will be replacing the designated finisher, Rovman Powell. It will lead to a number of changes in the batting order. Mitchell Marsh will have to go to number five. He has done the finisher’s job successfully for a number of teams in the past but since 2021, only 22% of his innings have come at number five or lower. Not to forget, Sarfaraz Khan will still have to keep wickets. Thus, the expectations laid against Rossouw, Marsh and Sarfaraz could be a bit far fetched. 

Similar to the first case, it will empower Delhi to play five frontline bowling options alongside the part-time contribution of Marsh and Lalit Yadav. 

Case #3: Sign an Indian wicketkeeper & feature him in the XI

Probable XI: Prithvi Shaw, David Warner ( c ), Mitchell Marsh, Sarfaraz Khan, Rovman Powell, Axar Patel, Luvnith Sisodia/Sheldon Jackson (wk), Lalit Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav, Anrich Nortje, Khaleel Ahmed

This scenario carries some assumptions. The first one being that Delhi pick a domestic wicketkeeper. Reportedly, Luvnith Sisodia and Sheldon Jackson are two options. Let us assume they draft Sisodia in because he has age on his side and is a left-hander. And now let’s talk about the pros first. 

As a big advantage, there will be no unreal expectations from the trio of Marsh, Sarfaraz and Axar. In fact, Sarfaraz can then play at his favorable position - number four - given his prowess against spin. Overall, there will be a minimal shift from the original plans that would be in place if Pant was available. 

However, it is tough to predict the batting spot of Sisodia. For ease of understanding, we have placed this player at number seven. But all of it makes the batting value of this player largely uncertain. Also, Delhi won’t be cashing in on the only silver lining of Pant’s absence, ie, play an extra bowling option. 

Case #4: Pandey comes in for Pant

Probable XI: Prithvi Shaw, David Warner ( c ), Mitchell Marsh, Sarfaraz Khan (wk), Manish Pandey, Rovman Powell, Axar Patel, Lalit Yadav/Mukesh Kumar/Chetan Sakariya, Kuldeep Yadav, Anrich Nortje, Khaleel Ahmed

A straightforward swap that brings in Manish Pandey for Pant. There is a minimal shift from the original plans but the move has little to gain. It originates from Pandey’s position itself. 

His IPL average at number four and five (25.9 and 29.2 respectively) is the lowest among the top five batting positions with no improvement in the strike-rate. If he has to be accommodated at three, Marsh will have to be pushed down. Sarfaraz will still have to keep wickets. Although an excellent fielder Pandey offers no bowling value, hence making this XI less conducive. 

Case #5: Warner at number 4

Probable XI: Prithvi Shaw, Luvnith Sisodia (wk), Mitchell Marsh, David Warner ( c ), Sarfaraz Khan, Rovman Powell, Axar Patel, Lalit Yadav/Chetan Sakariya/Mukesh Kumar, Kuldeep Yadav, Anrich Nortje, Khaleel Ahmed

Ricky Ponting has mentioned that he doesn’t want David Warner to bat at four but the scenario cannot be discarded. It’s sporadic but Warner has batted at four 14 times in IPL, averaging 53.2 at a strike-rate of 138.2. He can cover the left-hander’s void in the middle-order. Albeit, his batting value can go down by a considerable margin. 

And who opens in this case? The best possible option here would be opening with the replacement wicketkeeper. Again assuming Luvnith Sisodia here bodes well. 

Sisodia, a left-hander, can form the LHB-RHB combo. He can be asked to attack at the top alongside Prithvi Shaw. If it comes off, things would be easier for the more acclaimed batters to follow. If it doesn’t, Delhi are not losing out on much. Overall, this is the best way to maximize the batting value of the Indian wicketkeeper’s slot which would get muddled in other scenarios. 

In other options, Delhi can open with Marsh or Manish Pandey but the LHB-RHB combo gets lost in both cases. Moreover, if a wicketkeeper isn’t included, the glovesman duties remain with Sarfaraz. 

Case #6: Salt plays as wicketkeeper

Probable XI: Prithvi Shaw, David Warner ( c ), Phil Salt (wk), Sarfaraz Khan, Mitchell Marsh, Axar Patel, Lalit Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav, Anrich Nortje, Chetan Sakariya/Mukesh Kumar, Khaleel Ahmed

Remember the 2020 IPL season when Pant was injured for a few games and Alex Carey was fit in as the wicketkeeper? Shoehorning an overseas wicketkeeper messed up Delhi’s balance big time. 

In the current squad, Phil Salt is the only backup wicketkeeping option. A rising prospect in the T20 circuit (though he has played 180 T20s around the globe), Delhi can ponder playing him but the move has various red flags.

Primarily, Salt is alien to the IPL environment with no experience of playing T20 cricket in India. His inclusion will push Marsh to number five and Warner could well be the only left-hander in top five. Of course, there is no Powell power in this scenario. In another move, Salt can open with Shaw. Marsh can then keep his spot at three with Warner going at four.

In any case, Salt’s inclusion will force Delhi to make quite a few compromises. 

In pros, Delhi will have a proper wicketkeeper with a potential replacement for Warner in the future. Also, the five proper bowling options are also available in this XI. 

Case #7: Use the Impact Player rule 

Delhi can pair the Impact Player rule with the provision to announce XIs after the toss to at least fill the wicketkeeper’s slot in the side. In simple words; when batting first, they can sub out a dismissed batter with no bowling value, Prithvi Shaw or Sarfaraz Khan for example, for a specialist Indian wicketkeeper. When bowling first, they can name the Indian wicketkeeper in the XI and sub a bowler out before the second innings for Shaw or Sarfaraz. 

ALSO READ: Seven teams best equipped to use the Impact Player rule

However, this will cease Delhi from using the impact player rule proactively like a few other sides. 


As visible here, there are plenty of scenarios Delhi can target to tackle Pant’s absence but none offers a complete solution. The management, headed by Ponting, will have to evaluate the pros and cons of each of these cases. 

It will be interesting to see with which combination they start. Based on the returns, the form of the players and the conditions, further changes will be made. There is a good chance Delhi will switch between all the scenarios mentioned above. They can unearth a few other combinations as well. That will be the sign of an unstable team. It explains the kind of mess they are in with Rishabh Pant not available for the season. 

*Indian players with less than 10 IPL games are not considered here (barring Mukesh Kumar). There is every chance players like Aman Khan, Yash Dhull and Ripal Patel will feature at some point in the tournament too. 

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