Every IPL edition has one or two teams who are battling at the lower end of the table to escape the wooden spoon. They are far away from the tussle at the top.
That misfortune has fallen on Delhi Capitals in IPL 2023. After years of gloom, they were the only side to qualify for the playoffs every time in the 2019 - 2021 cycle. They narrowly missed out in 2022. And now, instead of moving forward, they have been pegged back in the opposite direction.
Given Rishabh Pant’s absence this year, Delhi needed each of their star players to go a step ahead of their full potential. On the contrary, everyone underperformed. Axar Patel with the bat was an exception.
Ricky Ponting has been at the helm of the coaching duties since 2018. However, Delhi’s trophy cabinet is still empty. He started with the wooden spoon in 2018 and after a brief rise, things seem to have gone back to ground zero.
The question arises: What is the way forward for Delhi?
It is easy to hit the reset button. Release a huge chunk of the current squad. Change everything including the jersey colors. However, the equation is not simple.
You need a mega-auction to start from scratch which is far into oblivion. In mini-auctions, most of the premier talent is already booked. Delhi may think about replacing their domestic Indian core but again, the big performers are taken. Anyone they will eye from the next season of India’s domestic cricket will be a punt played on one good season of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.
Hence, Delhi will have to be smart about which players they release. And it starts by identifying where they went wrong in their squad construction.
In their current pool of 27 players, Delhi have nine batters whose favorable batting position lies in the top three. There are another eight players whose primary skill is fast bowling. That covers 67% of their squad strength.
Considering a team can play at most four pacers and three top order batters, Delhi can utilize only seven of these players. If you consider two back-ups for both categories, they are still left with six players in the surplus. Thus, these are the areas where Delhi need to offload a few of their personnel.
They will need to invest those vacated spots in recruiting middle-order batters who can counter spinners, finishers and spinners (in descending order of priority). We try to decode what could be Delhi’s first step in instilling balance in the squad. To start on a good note, they will have their skipper, Pant back in all probability.
Who should be released?
Manish Pandey, Sarfaraz Khan, Priyam Garg and Rilee Rossouw are some of the players Delhi can ponder releasing. Pandey and Garg joined the team this season. Joining the team as an injury replacement, Garg featured in only two games. His overall T20 record - average 17.3, strike-rate 114.5 in 39 T20 innings - hints Delhi will be happy to release him.
Pandey played nine innings but Delhi changed his batting position numerous times, suggesting they are unaware of his optimal use. The same can be said about Sarfaraz Khan. Rossouw is a T20 globetrotter and a left-hander. But his release will open an overseas spot.
Ripal Patel is more of a finisher but has scored only 80 runs off 73 deliveries in seven innings.
Among pacers, Kamlesh Nagarkoti is highly injury prone and was replaced this season. Nagarkoti is young but having played only one game since joining the franchise in 2022 makes him a player to be released. Ishant Sharma has done well this season. However, with age not on his side, the 34-year-old won’t be a bad option to part ways.
Also, dropping either Lungi Ngidi or Mustafizur Rahman would create a much-needed overseas slot. Ngidi hasn’t played a game in his two seasons with the franchise while Rahman has been hit-and-miss in his 10 appearances for the Capitals. Delhi can also release both of them to create two overseas spots.
Chetan Sakariya is another bowler who hasn’t had enough chances. But he has also squandered the limited opportunities that have come his way - five matches in two seasons. Interestingly, Mukesh Kumar has the worst numbers for a specialist Delhi pacer since 2022 but he showed enough glimpses of brilliance in the ongoing season. DC’s call on both of these players would be interesting to see. Sakariya was bought at INR 4.2 crore in the mega-auction. Mukesh was signed at INR 5.5 crore in the mini-auction for this season.
Who should be retained?
Mitchell Marsh is injury prone but provides flexibility as the only seam-bowling all-rounder in the squad. Anrich Nortje is worth his weight in gold despite two indifferent seasons. Kuldeep Yadav has been on the rise in white-ball cricket. He wasn’t among wickets this season like last year. However, his economy of 7.4 is his best in an IPL season thus far. Axar Patel, meanwhile, is one of the few undroppable players in the side.
Beyond the obvious picks, Delhi should hold on to Rovman Powell. The Caribbean batter had a terrible start to IPL 2023 (scores of 4, 2 & 1) and lost his place in the side. It is easy to release him. However, he is one of the only two finishers in the squad. Thinking about it right now, there won’t be enough players in this category available in the upcoming auction. Especially with his experience of over 150 T20 matches.
Delhi should admit they haven’t used Powell well. They have often sent him to counter the opposition’s best wrist spinner which is his Achilles heel. Rather, he should be preserved for the last five overs, like many other teams have defined the role of finishers this season. With Pant back next edition, Powell will fit right in the XI too. Hence, Considering Delhi’s perennial search for finishers, the Jamaican merits a long run next year.
Talking about long runs, Aman Hakim Khan wasn’t ‘ultra-impressive’ as mentioned by Ricky Ponting pre-season. His match-winning half-century against Gujarat, though, hinted he is a work in progress. Aman’s numbers are grim (13.8 average, 108.9 strike-rate) but he promises a little more than Ripal and Delhi will need options in the finisher’s role.
Yash Dhull is another young cricketer who is a work in progress. He scored 16 off 23 balls in three innings this season. He is also only 20 years old with a solitary domestic season under his belt. Both Dhull and Vicky Ostwal (yet to debut) offer tremendous future value.
Khaleel Ahmed will be the only Indian pacer in this category. The left-arm pacer is another player who couldn’t meet the expectations. Yet, he is a bowler with the defined role of picking powerplay wickets. He can swing the ball at 140 kph on his good days. Looking for a change their fortunes, Delhi should judge Khaleel by his potential on those good days.
Starting from low-profile names, Praveen Dubey and Abishek Porel have not done much wrong.
Lalit Yadav is a half-baked all-rounder. However, his off-spinners have enough zip on spin-friendly tracks. He has been Delhi’s only off-spin option for two seasons now. As long as Delhi are targeting another candidate to bowl off-spin on a part-time basis, they can release Lalit.
Phil Salt and Prithvi Shaw’s case seem to intertwine. Having spent six seasons at the franchise, Shaw has not delivered in a long time. For an opener, he has shown vulnerability against pace, swing and bounce. The 23-year-old’s recent domestic exploits are skewed by thumping the weaker bowling attacks.
Salt, for this season, was bought with a vision towards the future. An attacking wicket-keeping batter at the top. After David Warner, he can be the permanent opener. But Salt and Shaw is too volatile an opening pair. Thus, at present, keeping only these two volatile options make sense. Which way will Delhi turn? Salt has logic on his side. Shaw doesn’t concede an overseas spot.
Is there a case against David Warner as well? At the age of 36, he has dropped an underwhelming season with the bat. Are his powers waning? Yet, the southpaw amassed over 500 runs in this edition. He is a banker even in his average seasons. And there is a good chance that Warner will become a T20 globetrotter by the end of Australia’s forthcoming home summer. Hence, the veteran should hold his position in the side in all likelihood.
What about the coaching staff though? Ricky Ponting will be in the firing line after six seasons. He started with a wooden spoon in 2018 and can unfortunately end on a similar note in 2023. If that happens, who replaces him will be interesting to see. But we suggest even then, he should not cut off ties with the franchise. Shifting to mentor or batting coach duties, he should continue giving those high-octane dressing room speeches.