Exuberant Delhi aim to repeat 2020's brilliance, without their captain

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04 Apr 2021 | 06:54 AM
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Shubh Aggarwal

Exuberant Delhi aim to repeat 2020's brilliance, without their captain

Tackling Shreyas Iyer's absence will be the biggest challenge for Delhi Capitals to begin their 2021 season

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Best finish: Runners up in 2020

Worst finish: Last spot in 2011, 2013, 2014 & 2018

IPL 2020 finish: Runners up

Top Run-Getter: Shreyas Iyer - 2,200

Top Wicket-Taker: Amit Mishra - 100

New additions: Steve Smith, Sam Billings, Tom Curran, Vishnu Vinod, Umesh Yadav, Lukman Meriwala, Ripal Patel, M Siddharth

Heading to the 2021 IPL auction, Delhi Capitals had a few slots to fill. A back-up India wicketkeeper, an additional third seam bowling option - preferably Indian and an overseas middle-order batting option. DC filled all these spots, acquiring apt players at their base price - Vishnu Vinod, Umesh Yadav and Lukman Meriwala, Sam Billings respectively. Since all these were back-up options, DC had their feet planted in an ideal situation - to proceed with the same preferred XI which propelled them to their maiden IPL final last season. 

However, one event stirred the pot. Shreyas Iyer, their skipper, dislocated his shoulder during the first ODI against England and is out of the tournament.

After years of languishing in the bottom half of the points table, DC finished third in IPL 2019 and went a step ahead to finish in the Top two in 2020. They will hope to continue the trend and take another step ahead in the upcoming season. 

Strengths

It was with the ball where DC won most of their games last season. Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje formed an enthralling fast bowling combination. Consequently, DC were aggressively one of the best bowling sides of the tournament, if not the best, picking the most wickets in the competition (102) at the third-best bowling strike-rate (19.5 balls per wicket). The pacers as a group were only behind Mumbai (16.9) with 17.6 balls per wicket.

The death overs was where DC asserted themselves the most, on the back of Rabada and Nortje. The pace duo picked 30 out of the 41 wickets DC snapped in this phase, which is more than Bangalore, Kolkata and Rajasthan could manage as a whole unit. At the top of it, they maintained an economy rate of 9.5, only behind MI’s 8.9.

Even the spinners were not far behind. In a tournament where the tweakers didn’t enjoy much success, Ravi Ashwin and Axar Patel did a reasonable job. 

With the bat, they are a threatening side in the middle-overs. They had the joint best run-rate (8.1) with the third highest average (37.4) in the phase last year. A big reason was Shikhar Dhawan who accrued 275 runs during these nine overs averaging 55 while striking at 147.1. Even without Iyer, DC have the right set of players  to attack the spinners at this time. 

Weakness

While death overs with the ball is a strong point of this DC unit, the same with the bat has marred them since 2019.  

This is why they required another overseas middle-order batting option. Alongside Marcus Stoinis and Shimron Hetmyer, they have Billings now to reduce the pressure. 

DC also had a troubled time in the Powerplay in IPL 2020 where they averaged 26 while scoring 7.4 runs per over, both in the lower half of the batting numbers. 

Despite an ace bowling attack, there remains an aperture - the fifth bowler. Generally, it is a pacer and DC struggled to find that third seamer last year. Ultimately, Marcus Stoinis was their third-best seamer - with 13 wickets. That was not a favorable situation and DC addressed that by signing Umesh and Meriwala. Can the pair, alongside Ishant Sharma, fill that void? It remains to be seen. 

Opportunities

A positive aspect of the DC squad is that nearly everyone in the side has a point to prove from the perspective of international cricket. Experienced players like Rishabh Pant, Steve Smith, Dhawan and Ashwin will aim to solidify or regain their place in the white-ball setup. The same goes for Shaw, Hetmyer and Billings. 

No one will attract more eyeballs than Pant. The mitochondria of DC’s batting, Pant appeared in a diffident avatar last year, scoring 343 runs at a strike-rate of 114. A lot has changed since then. Having established himself in international cricket, Pant is brimming with confidence. 

Then there is Meriwala in the list of unseen players. A left-arm seamer, he has excellent numbers reflecting his wicket-taking ability without compromising runs. It shouldn’t be a surprise if we see him as the third seamer in DC’s XI. 

Besides, DC is arguably the only side which won’t mind segregation from their home ground. Away from the perennially sluggish track at Kotla, the pacers can continue to thrive while their strokemakers will also relish a better track. 

Threats

Iyer’s unavailability has left a void in DC’s XI, both as a captain and a batsman. Pant has been appointed to lead the ship but has little experience on that front. 

As batsmen, DC have Smith and Ajinkya Rahane but both have underwhelming white-ball numbers since 2019, especially in T20 cricket. Meanwhile, Iyer had been excellent for India in the T20Is, despite batting out of position. Replacing him as a batsman will be a real head scratcher for the DC management. They have options, all of which will tinker with the balance of their batting outlook. 

Openers, though, can fill up for Iyer’s absence upto an extent with their performance. Dhawan was the highest run-scorer for DC last year but Shaw averaged only 17.5 in 13 games and then lost his place in the Test side on the tour of Australia. Shaw has left that horror phase behind through a record breaking season in the 2020/21 Vijay Hazare Trophy. But it can’t be said with certitude if he was tested on his vulnerability around the off stump. With international standard new-ball bowlers aware of his flaws, this IPL will be a litmus test for him.

Probable XI:

As mentioned above, DC’s XI will be a lot about filling the void left by Iyer.

Prithvi Shaw, Shikhar Dhawan, Sam Billings/Shimron Hetmyer, Rishabh Pant (c/wk), Vishnu Vinod/Lalith Yadav, Marcus Stoinis, Axar Patel, R Ashwin, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Umesh Yadav/Lukman Meriwala/Ishant Sharma

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Shreyas Santosh IyerRishabh Rajendra PantShikhar DhawanSamuel William BillingsLukman Iqbal MeriwalaPrithvi Pankaj ShawRavichandran AshwinDelhi CapitalsIndian Premier League, 2021

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