The opening match of the season is quite important in setting the ball rolling, especially when a majority of players have not played competitive cricket for over six months. In 2018, Delhi and Punjab were up against each other in their season opener. Punjab trounced Delhi and the capital franchise seemed rattled for the rest of the season.
The two sides will lock horns again to kick start their season in 2020. It is a new-look Delhi side - rebranded to Delhi Capitals - from the one which lost to Punjab at Mohali in 2018. However, they carry the similar outlook as their 2019 squad. Maintaining a powerful core of Indian players, they also have the same strengths and weaknesses as they did in their previous season. They ascended themselves to an upward trajectory after years of disappointment by finishing third on the points table last year and there is no reason to think why they can’t repeat it in 2020 with the same side.
The tournament moving to UAE also works vastly in Delhi’s favour bringing their strong contingent of spinners into play. They have the three most prominent category of spinners - Axar Patel, left-arm orthodox, Ravichandran Ashwin, off-break (read mystery-spin), Amit Mishra and Sandeep Lamichhane, leg-spin.
Kings XI Punjab, on the other hand, fall behind in the spin department. They have the off-breaks of Krishnappa Gowtham and the mystery spin of Mujeeb Ur Rahman but lack an experienced attacking slow bowler with only Murugan Ashwin and the U-19 revelation, Ravi Bishnoi as their wrist-spin options.
However, Punjab have boosted their middle-order by signing Glenn Maxwell. In 2018, Punjab openers contributed approximately 48 percent to the team’s runs, the highest in the season. While openers scoring a majority of the runs is a healthy attribute of any side, Punjab’s season underlined overdependence on their openers.
Consequently, it left an impact on KL Rahul’s strike-rate in the subsequent season. His average remained similar (54.9 in 2018, 53.9 in 2019) but the scoring rate dropped to 135.4 in 2019 from 158.4 in 2018. Maxwell’s inclusion will certainly allow Rahul to play naturally at the top. However, there are doubts whether Maxwell will feature against Delhi Capitals.
Ashwin’s move to Delhi from Punjab can turn out to be decisive in this match. Ashwin, who led Punjab for two years (2018 and 2019) is well aware of Punjab’s batting resources. Moreover, he holds an edge over some of the key components of their top-order - Chris Gayle and Mayank Agarwal. Ashwin versus Gayle rivalry is expected to unfold again after 2015.
In addition, Ashwin could be tough to negotiate for the left-hander Nicholas Pooran. The two have never been against each other in T20s as yet but Pooran, though generally good against spin, has scored at a strike-rate of 91.5 against off-break post IPL 2019. Overall, Ashwin holds the key for Delhi to restrict Punjab’s batting which carries a pretty dominant look.
A key area of vulnerability for the two sides in 2019 was their death over performance. For Delhi, it was with the bat while Punjab suffered with the ball. Delhi had the second-joint lowest batting run-rate in the death (overs 16-20) in 2019 but losing 44 wickets in the phase - the most by any side - pushed them back further. Punjab were not the worst side with the ball but except a few games, they failed to make their presence felt in the phase.
Both sides are still unaddressed in the department. Punjab’s bowling arsenal specializes in the Powerplay phase with the only exception of Chris Jordan. Delhi on the other hand still do not have a contender who can make the number six position in the batting line-up his own. Their best bet remains to have at least one of their top five, preferably Shimron Hetmyer or Rishabh Pant bat till the end.
Besides, there lies a contest behind the curtains. T20 has brought the coaches into the limelight akin to club football in England. With two young captains in this match, the 25-year old Shreyas Iyer and Rahul, who is in his debut season as a captain, both Delhi and Punjab will be coach driven teams. Ricky Ponting and Anil Kumble are renowned as great thinkers of the game who have gone toe to toe many times at the international level. They have shared the same dressing room as part of Mumbai Indians’ coaching group. Now, it will be interesting to see how they play their cards as rival coaches.
The common knowledge suggests that at 7.3 runs per over, the Dubai International Cricket Stadium has the fourth joint lowest run-rate amongst the 14 venues that have hosted at least 20 T20 games since 2019. However, a lot of these games involve T20Is between lower-tiered international sides (Namibia, Hong Kong, Oman for example) which skews the numbers towards the bowlers.
UAE has not hosted competitive T20 games since November, 2019 and predicting the exact nature of the tracks will be a shot in the dark. But high-scoring games are not expected to be a norm in this IPL season with spinners taking the centre stage.
Match starts on Sunday - Sep 20, 7.30 PM IST