When IPL 2021 was suspended midway in early May, there was a running joke on social media that this is the longest Delhi Capitals will be at the top of the table. Maintaining the sentiment, this will be the longest any team will maintain their top position in the league subjected to normalcy in the world. With Delhi, it became a joke because of their sorry history between 2013 and 2018. Since then, their fortunes have reincarnated under a rebranded franchise. They were at the prime of their prowess in the first half of the season, winning six of their eight matches. Content with what they have done so far, Delhi Capitals retained Rishabh Pant as captain despite Shreyas Iyer’s return. The only question now is, can they recreate the flow with which they played the first half?
Delhi were one of the most dominant batting sides in the tournament. They averaged 40.1, comfortably the best while moving head with the second highest strike-rate of the season - 146.9. The openers - Shikhar Dhawan and Prithvi Shaw - set the foundation up top with an imperious opening partnership. The previous IPL season had only Dhawan firing for them while Shaw had a torrid time. This season, Shaw revived himself with fusillade of drives constantly piercing the in-field during the field restrictions. Dhawan was at his steady best, with the orange cap at the top of his head. Consequently, the duo formed the most thrilling partnership this season.
They did the majority of the work, making it easy for the rest of the line-up. In their seventh league game, Dhawan and Shaw razed down 132 runs off Delhi’s target of 157. Shaw began the run chase by caressing Shivam Mavi for six fours in an over.
The bowlers did well too, be it the spinners or the pacers. Delhi had the third-best bowling strike-rate and economy in the season. In a similar tone with the opening batters, the bowlers also inflicted most of the damage up top, in the Powerplay. Delhi picked a wicket every 22.1 balls, the best strike-rate, and conceded at only 7.3 runs per over, the best economy-rate in the Powerplay. The bright side was the young seamer, Avesh Khan, who picked 14 wickets at an economy of 7.7 despite delivering 13 of his 30 overs at the death.
Be it batting or bowling, Delhi had Indian players leading the chart, hinting at a side with far less troubles.
However, not everything was smooth sailing for Delhi. The biggest of their worries was the form of Kagiso Rabada who was nowhere his usual best this season. His economy in the death overs stands at 10.5 while he picked only four wickets in seven innings during that phase. An average of 26.3 is more than twice his average at the death in the previous two seasons - 10.6 and 10.7 runs per wicket. With the leader of their bowling attack not in his element, Delhi suffered at the death.
Anrich Nortje’s return, who was down with Covid during the first leg, will reunite the bowling duo which ushered Delhi to their first IPL final last year. But the international form of both pacers isn’t promising. Death bowling remains to be the biggest threat for Delhi heading into the second leg of IPL 2021.
Not to forget, Axar Patel is slotted to bat at seven in their best combination. He is no muck with the bat but averages only 16.2 in IPL since 2019. Hence, Delhi is always tight in the finisher’s department, though they possess solid batters in the skipper Pant, Shimron Hetmyer, Marcus Stoinis in the middle-order. And, if the openers continue their form, it will cover up all possible chinks on the batting card.
Delhi are one of the sides which were not affected by player unavailabilities up until a recent development where Chris Woakes pulled out of the season. They have announced the left-arm seamer from Australia, Ben Dwarshuis as his replacement. On the brighter side, Iyer and Ravichandran Ashwin’s return is a big boost. Iyer was out of the season due to a broken shoulder while Ashwin pulled out in the middle of the season to be with his family. The four-month break has returned Delhi two key players, allowing them to field their first-preferred XI, given Avesh Khan is fit after breaking his finger in July. Iyer’s presence provides flexibility to the bowling combination as it frees up an overseas spot.
How do they feel about the UAE?
Delhi will also won’t mind the season shifting to the UAE. They reached the final last year playing at the same venues. They have a well-rounded bowling attack for all conditions. The same applies to their batsmen on grounds of both experience and the skillset to tackle spin and pace. They must be amongst the least perturbed side with this unexpected change of the host nation.
Already at the top of the points table, Delhi are only two wins away from a near-certain spot in the Playoff round. Criclytics Qualification Probability meter reckons they have a 99 percent chance of making it to the Top 4. However, they will target the top two slots for an extra crack at the final.
Best Possible XI
Prithvi Shaw, Shikhar Dhawan, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant (c/wk), Shimron Hetmyer, Marcus Stoinis, Axar Patel, R Ashwin, Anrich Nortje, Kagiso Rabada, Avesh Khan