This is a strange IPL season. The points table has never mattered more and less at the same time. Heading into Match 33 of the 2021 season, the two teams, Delhi Capitals and Sunrisers Hyderabad, are at the opposite ends of the table. While the standings - Delhi 2nd, Hyderabad 8th - matter in the context of the tournament, it need not necessarily underline any kind of gulf between the two sides as a four-month break makes them start afresh.
Kolkata Knight Riders, in Match 32, showcased that past matters less by handing Royal Challengers Bangalore the thumping of the highest order. Also, Hyderabad pushed Delhi to the hilt in their clash in the first half, only losing in the Super Over.
Hyderabad will cherish the break more. It helps them clear out the negative energy formed around a poor season and the omission of David Warner as captain. The interruption has returned Delhi two crucial players in Shreyas Iyer and Ravichandran Ashwin. It enables them to play their best possible XI. However, it also brings them the challenge to create the flow in which they sailed to the top half of the table in the first leg.
Can Hyderabad take advantage of Delhi’s only Achilles Heel?
In an otherwise perfect first leg, Delhi had one blemish. It was Kagiso Rabada’s struggle to land his yorkers. Often pushing it to the full-toss toss or the slot ball territory, Rabada was taken apart at an economy of 10.5 at the death, a massive dip from 8.7 in 2019 and 9 in 2020. The bad habit stayed with Rabada in South Africa’s recently concluded international season as well.
It is an area of potential threat in Delhi’s campaign if not fixed soon, although Hyderabad don’t seem to be in the right shape to exploit this opening. Their death overs’ phase with the bat has produced more wickets than runs.
Hyderabad, in fact, is the only side without any proven power-hitter at the back end. With Mohammad Nabi not delivering - majorly due to lack of opportunities - Hyderabad’s batting has often gone south as the innings have progressed. They are also hurt by the absence of Jonny Bairstow who was their best batsman in the first leg - 248 runs averaging 41.3 at a strike-rate of 141.7.
Dhawan, Shaw keen to resume their show
On the other hand, Delhi is perfectly lined up to have a crack at where Hyderabad have been the most vulnerable. Hyderabad have picked only three wickets in 42 Powerplay overs this season, averaging 84, easily the worst this year.
It is critical to strike upfront against Delhi, otherwise Prithvi Shaw and Shikhar Dhawan have been in relentless form. In the previous meeting between the two sides, Match 20 of this season, Shaw and Dhawan put on 51 runs in the Powerplay without being separated, thus giving Delhi an early edge in the game. They have the highest average for an opening pair this season, making it indispensable for Hyderabad to get over their first half complications.
All eyes on Warner
It is a great story and is perfectly set up for a happy twist. David Warner lost his place as a captain and a player in the Hyderabad setup towards the end of the last leg. He averaged a healthy 32.2 for his 193 runs but a sluggish strike-rate of 110.3 did Hyderabad more harm than good. The season suspension posed an interesting question for their management. Do they give their talisman another chance expecting him to step up or do they keep him on the bench.
The picture became clearer when Bairstow pulled out of the tournament. However, one can still not rule out the possibility of Jason Roy getting the preference over Warner. But, if he gets the nod as the senior pro, he will have the spotlight on him. With Bairstow unavailable, the spot is up for grabs but can Warner take it?
All the aforementioned complications aside, the most severe headache for Hyderabad lies in the middle-order. Clueless about their batting approach number four onwards, Hyderabad have the option of utilizing Rashid Khan’s batting expertise more efficiently.
A boisterous character with the bat, Rashid has exhibited his fondness for big strokes as a T20 globetrotter. This year, his average is mediocre but the strike-rate is an injection of momentum - 154.7. Hence, he can be used as early as at number three or anywhere in the middle to let him do his thing.
There is only one catch with Rashid. He should be lined up against pace as he averages nearly 21 at a strike-rate of 189 against them. The numbers come down to 3.5 and 73.4 versus spin.
The equation with Delhi is quite straightforward. With Iyer and Ashwin back alongside a fit Anrich Nortje, they can field their strongest XI. As coach Ricky Ponting stated on the eve of the match, “Him [Iyer] slotting back into our line-up, I think it makes the make-up of our team look a little bit more complete.”
Prithvi Shaw, Shikhar Dhawan, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant (c & wk), Shimron Hetmyer, Marcus Stoinis, Axar Patel, R Ashwin, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Avesh Khan
Hyderabad need to make the important call between Jason Holder and Mohammad Nabi for the all-rounder’s spot. It is a decision subjective to the conditions but as many as three left-handers in Delhi’s line-up may prompt them to play Nabi. Bhuvneshwar Kumar availability will boost their bowling. No Bairstow opens the door for not Wriddhiman Saha’s comeback.
David Warner, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Kane Williamson (c), Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Moahammad Nabi, Abhishek Sharma, Rashid Khan, Sandeep Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Khaleel Ahmed