"Pant is a huge loss and it doesn't matter who we bring in as we are still going to miss him"
The Delhi Capitals’ head coach, Ricky Ponting sort of summarized his team’s chances in IPL 2023 in a press conference on March 24 (Friday).
Seldom do you see one missing link open up multiple slots in a side. Rishabh Pant is that player for Delhi, an irreplaceable player on both fronts - providing value and adding the star power. It is such a huge loss, his absence has already thrown Delhi’s season in menace.
And that is about it. Delhi’s season will be about finding a way to circumvent this Pant-conundrum. Their fortunes this season will rest on how soon they can find a solution to this riddle.
Have they plugged the gap?
More than the balance, Delhi’s issue surrounded multiple players not fulfilling their potential in the 2022 season. Shardul Thakur’s mediocre season further added to their misery. Delhi traded Thakur out to Kolkata for Aman Hakim Khan.
"Aman Khan has been ultra-impressive and I don't know how much you have seen of him and his last couple of days at training has been pretty special," said Ponting about Delhi’s latest recruit. He is a lower-order and new-ball pacer. However, he has played only one IPL game as yet.
Hence, they will rely on Mitchell Marsh’s secondary skill this season but one cannot ignore the injury risks attached to the Australian cricketer.
Delhi had moderate returns while facing spin and bowling pace. They have enough firepower in the pace bowling department, fuelled by the inclusion of Mukesh Kumar and Ishant Sharma. The only worry here: both are better suited to red-ball cricket. Such bowlers can be among wickets but are often expensive and Delhi’s pace unit struggled to contain runs in IPL 2022.
Moving ahead, Delhi signed three batters - Manish Pandey, Phil Salt and Rilee Rossouw. The left-handed Rossouw is the only batter with an appreciable record against spin and he might not make it to Delhi’s first-choice XI.
Not to forget, they are yet to announce a replacement for Rishabh Pant. Reportedly, Bengal’s Abishek Porel is the leading candidate to join the squad.
What can win them the title?
The Overseas Firepower!!
Delhi possess some breathtaking firepower in their overseas cricketers’ lot. David Warner and Mitchell Marsh at the top, Rovman Powell as the finisher and Anrich Nortje as the prime pacer. Each of these players can win a match on their own. Yet, none of them were at their best last season. Nortje leaked runs at 9.7 runs per over, erring at crucial moments, after recovering from an injury.
That is what Delhi need to be wary of. Pant’s absence means every other member of the XI have added responsibility and all these four players need to produce their best season or somewhere close to it for the franchise to flourish.
What do they need to work out?
Apologies for sounding like a broken record but without Pant, Delhi’s batting order and the wicketkeeper’s slot are a mystery. Their practice sessions hint that they are eyeing Sarfaraz Khan as their first-choice wicketkeeper. Sarfaraz is heading into the season after nursing an injury and he has kept wickets only thrice in his 84-T20 long career thus far. Hence, it is a gamble that need to work in favor of Delhi. An injury to Sarfaraz can cripple their balance further, and can put them in a real fix.
And finally, Delhi have to re-arrange their batting order which will largely depend on whom they bring in for Pant. If it is another wicketkeeper (which they are yet to announce), where does he fit in? Do they bring in Manish Pandey or Yash Dhull? Or one among Lalit Yadav or Axar Patel earn themselves a batting promotion? There are quite a few options but every route has its pros and cons.
Returning to the Arun Jaitley Stadium could prove to be the biggest kryptonite to Delhi’s campaign this year. The venue is known to be heavily biased towards the spin bowlers. It is a double whammy for Delhi - their batting line-up is loaded with players who might struggle facing spin and they have a pace-heavy bowling attack.
Delhi have only two proven spinners in their line-up - Axar Patel and Kuldeep Yadav. Their other spin options lie in Praveen Dubey (three IPL games, 0 wickets), Vicky Ostwal (yet to debut in IPL) and Lalit Yadav, a part-time off-spinner.
On these metrics, Delhi might not enjoy playing their home games. Rather, venues like Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium and Kolkata’s Eden Gardens will be more suited to them.
As mentioned above, Delhi can frame their XI in several ways. From the outside view, it is impossible to estimate what combination is going on in the management’s mind.
It would be interesting to see if Delhi tackle Pant’s absence by including an extra bowler and promote one of Lalit Yadav or Axar Patel, subject to conditions. Kamlesh Nagarkoti or Ripal Patel can extend batting till number eight while providing another bowling option as well.
At the same time, the DC management could be thinking far away from this combination. It will be interesting to see what XI do they field in their season opener.
Anrich Nortje and Lungi Ngidi will miss Delhi’s first game against the Gujarat Titans on Saturday (April 1) due to international commitments. Mustafizur Rahman can cover up for their unavailability.