Delhi Capitals had a superb beginning to their 2020 IPL campaign. After emerging victorious in a game of swinging fortunes in their season-opener against Kings XI Punjab, they defeated Chennai Super Kings, a title contender at that point, in their second game.
It was a perfect game for Delhi, as the margin of victory - 44 runs - signifies. Batting first, Delhi posted 175 on board and went on to defend it in a convincing fashion. The game established a template which catapulted them to six wins in their first eight games.
What worked for them was a bowling line-up at the top of its game. While the pacers grabbed the limelight, the spinners chipped in with economical bowling displays alongside taking crucial wickets. They were also employed brilliantly by Ricky Ponting and Shreyas Iyer in accordance with match-ups.
During this dream run, some of their top batsmen were not in their best form. Rishabh Pant has struggled for runs throughout the season. Shikhar Dhawan had more thirties to his name than fifties. Still, as a whole, Delhi were a good batting unit if not the best.
The key lay in finding a new hero everyday. It started with Marcus Stoinis smoking a 20-ball half-century in the first match of the season. He replicated it against Royal Challengers Bangalore scoring an unbeaten 53 from 26 balls. In the game prior to that against Kolkata Knight Riders, Iyer scored an unbeaten 88 from 38 balls. In between, Prithvi Shaw scored a couple of fifties.
The combined effort superseded the earlier potential chinks in Delhi’s armour which was the absence of an established finisher in the side. Anrich Nortje did a similar thing with the ball by providing support to Kagiso Rabada. In fact, it won’t be wrong to say that Nortje outbowled his senior pro.
In their eight wins this season, they have had seven different players picking the man-of-the-match award.
The nightmare begins
However, this has been a season where the Achilles Heel of every side got underlined at some point, including that of Chennai Super Kings. Delhi were no exception. All their pre-tournament nightmares came true with various weaknesses flaring up.
Their bowling dipped considerably. From being the best bowling side in the tournament, they succumbed to be the worst in the second half of the league stage.
Each one of Delhi’s prime bowlers - Rabada, Nortje, Ravi Ashwin and Axar Patel - took a major hit on their economy-rate. Rabada missed his yorkers during the death overs and he went wicketless in an IPL game for the first time after 25 games since 2017. Thrice in six games, Ashwin went for 10 runs per over or more. The presence of left-handers in the opposition restricted the use of Axar.
With the bat, Stoinis scored only 56 runs in the last six games at an average of 11.2. But there was more despair at the top. Delhi’s opening partnership averaged only 7.7 runs per match during this half. Their young opener, Shaw, has a top-score of only 10 in the last six innings. Dhawan’s consecutive hundreds were the highlight of the season but Delhi lost a wicket in the first over of the innings on four occasions. And as said above, Pant’s form never arrived. Delhi were the least averaging team with the second-lowest strike-rate since October 16, 2020.
Injuries also did not help either. Amit Mishra’s fractured finger kept Delhi bereft of an Indian legspinner in the squad until they drafted in Pravin Dubey. Pant’s hamstring forced Delhi to overhaul their line-up. An injury of lesser significance sent Ishant Sharma back home.
All these factors led to four defeats that can be termed as maulings. Their campaign seemed to be following the sorry suit of Punjab in the last two editions where they could not find a win in the latter half to fall out of the race for the Playoffs.
Consequently, Delhi’s positive net run-rate turned negative. They had to win their last league game to get a ‘Q’ against their name.
Facing a perplexed Bangalore side, they did the needful. In a season where each side has experienced ebbs and flows, Delhi made it to their second Playoff spot in a row. This time a step ahead than the previous season, finishing in Top 2 for the first time since 2012.
But going ahead, they still have problems to address. Rabada picked wickets against Bangalore but couldn’t nail his yorkers. Shaw and Pant’s form remains a concern. Do they continue playing Ajinkya Rahane in the XI? And how will Axar counter the four left-handers in Mumbai’s batting line-up? Also, Ashwin went off the field after completing his bowling duties in DC’s last game. These are questions that need to be answered quickly if they are to harbour hopes of lifting their 1st IPL title ever.