The refurbished, rebranded, 2019 edition of the team formerly known as Delhi Daredevils is one looking to recover from an abysmal 2018 that saw them finish at the bottom of the table.
The Daredevils, as they were then, had an unstable opening pair; as a result, the big names present in the middle rarely if ever got the platform to build on and flourish. The Capitals, as they are now, looked to solve this problem by acquiring the Sunrisers’ batsman, Shikhar Dhawan, to open.
The move theoretically kills two birds with one stone: Not only does it bring experience and ability to the top of the order, it provides an opportunity to reverse a problem: Delhi is historically slow in the powerplays, scoring at a meagre 7.88 runs per over, but the major problem has been losing wickets early on.
Interestingly, Delhi’s rivals for today’s game, the Chennai Super Kings, go at an almost identical pace in the powerplay to their rivals. What three-time title winners CSK have going for them, however, is stability at the top of the order.
Besides the acquisition of Dhawan, Delhi decided to bring back Colin Ingram, who returns to IPL duty after a gap of some eight seasons. Ingram was in excellent touch in the Capitals’ tournament opener against Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede on March 24. The top five now bears a solid look, with Shreyas Iyer below the openers, backed by Ingram and the destructive Rishabh Pant whose 78 off 27 with seven fours and as many sixes destroyed the MI attack in that game.
Chennai has a call to make at the top of its order, where long-time regular Shane Watson was underwhelming in the tournament opener against Royal Challengers Bangalore. Chennai has to decide whether to give him an extended run, or to push Suresh Raina to the top of the order and bring in David Willey, who is also handy with his economical seam bowling.
Chennai’s big learning from the game against RCB is that Harbhajan Singh
is back on song, albeit on a pitch that was a nightmare; his entry completes a
spin troika that includes Imran Tahir and Ravindra Jadeja capable of putting
the brakes on any side in the middle of the innings.
The Kotla tends to aid spin; against that, Delhi’s top order tends to score slower than against pace on that pitch - Dhawan (7.54 runs per over against pace vs 7.08 against spin), and Prithvi Shaw (7.26 versus spin against 9.25 runs against pace). This gives Chennai the option of deploying its three spinners early in the game to squeeze the opposition.
Delhi’s worries are offset, to a large extent, by the form of 19-year-old Rishabh Pant, who in the game against MI registered his 50 off just 18 balls to take third place in the listing of fastest half centuries, and who holds the record for the best boundary percentage – a staggering 40.29% - at the death, of all batsmen who have faced over 60 deliveries. Both the teams were the best two teams in terms of scoring rate in the death overs in IPL 2018.
The Capitals this season have a bowling lineup to salivate over, with Trent Boult and Kagiso Rabada leading the pace attack alongside Ishant Sharma, while for spin it can choose between Tewatia, Axar Patel, Amit Mishra and Sandeep Lamichhane.
Delhi’s bowlers gave away too many boundaries in the powerplay, and were on the wrong side of the table in the death overs in IPL 2018.
Chances are that Lamicchane, who sat out the game against MI, will make the starting XI at the Kotla – a ground where the youngster registers an incredible economy rate of 5.5 in powerplays, and a very useful 7.50 RPO during the middle and the death overs. Crucially, he has an incredibly low percentage of boundaries conceded (8.33%) at the death, which makes him a handy option both at the beginning and at the end of the innings.
The two sides have met eighteen times in the IPL with CSK winning on 12 occasions. The teams last met at the Kotla in 2018, with Delhi recording a 40-run victory.
For this first meeting of the 2019 season, it is hard to pick between Chennai – a settled lineup led by the shrewdest captain in the tournament – and a refurbished Delhi buoyed by the 37-run win over a strong Mumbai the other day. The only thing you can say for sure is that it has the makings of a riveting contest.