The margin of error in T20 cricket is miniscule. Often, it comes down to one shot, one wicket, one dot delivery or even one improper selection. Through their poor run of form since 2012, Delhi Daredevils have ticked off many such ‘ones’ in the various seasons. It is always that same story, so near yet so far, with some or the factor coming in and costing them a vital game.
This 2017 season was supposed to be different in that sense. There is a feeling of confidence given the players’ auction went very well in February. They brought in good cover for pacers, all-rounders and a couple of injured batsmen, rounding up all the bases. Despite missing the likes of Quinton de Kock and JP Duminy, this bunch looked settled and balanced for the first time in the longest while.
It isn’t going as per plan though. Now that they have players to rectify those momentary mistakes on the field, the Delhi Daredevils are making all new ones. It began with improper selection in their previous game against Kolkata Knight Riders at home. Shahbaz Nadeem — boasting an economy of 4.9 in the first three games — was left out, and replaced by Mohammed Shami.
The reasoning was obvious — Nadeem is used as an opening bowler and they didn’t want to deploy him against an in-form Gautam Gambhir. The question to ask though is why couldn’t Nadeem have been deployed later in the innings? Never mind that, for the same selection conundrum was repeated in Hyderabad on Wednesday, albeit with a slight difference. Shami had been taken for runs on Monday, and now Jayant Yadav came into the eleven in his place — no sign of Nadeem still.
It was an answer to that second aforementioned question. If Nadeem couldn’t be deployed against Gambhir singlehandedly, herein he couldn’t be deployed against David Warner, Shikhar Dhawan and Yuvraj Singh together. It was more understandable than the Kolkata decision, especially in light of Yadav’s inclusion. This though isn’t about just Nadeem or how poorly the remainder of the attack fared in his absence. Well, at least not entirely!
This is instead about bad strategy calls from the team management, which have duly punctured any momentum that the Daredevils might have accrued from two wins in their first three games. So, herein, sample some pointers from their last two matches against Kolkata and Sunrisers Hyderabad.
First, Shami was spanked for 0-28 from three overs on Monday, and duly dropped. Yadav bowled only two overs for 0-16 in Hyderabad. Amit Mishra, the most successful spinner in IPL history, was taken for 1-26 (from 2.5 overs including that miserable last over in Delhi) and 0-33 (in 3 overs) within three days, as the move to bowl around him as their main spinner backfired spectacularly.
Second, Karun Nair continues to be included in the playing eleven despite his poor form, and thanks to certain degree of stubbornness, he continues to bat ahead of both Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant. Nair scored 21 and 33 against Kolkata and Hyderabad respectively.
And finally, the hard-hitting Chris Morris didn’t face a single ball as the Daredevils tried to chase down 191 in 20 overs. Just how did they imagine it was possible without the big-hitting all-rounder’s contribution, particularly after Pant fell for a first-ball duck?
Do the math here, and it is a vital tri-factor into why the Daredevils have peaked once again. No, it is not a peaking of the regular kind, wherein teams build on their momentum, by making smart changes as per situation and opposition (ones that actually work). Or, they find a balance in terms of using the same personnel but in different ways in order to maintain that balance.
The Daredevils’ ‘peaking’ is altogether of a different kind, more like Arsenal again. They do well, and then don’t do well. They take one step forward, and another two steps backward. Their management buys players without much thinking (Rs 8.5 crore for Pawan Negi remember?), and when they do some due diligence before the players’ auction (like this year), they mess it up by foolhardy selection or strategy errors. Their fans can spot mistakes easily though, and are left shaking their heads or tearing their hair off. It is funny; barring that Negi reference, one could have been talking about either Arsenal or Daredevils, and no one would know the difference. It is that astoundingly similar.
In Hyderabad then, things went wrong from the very beginning. Warner won the toss and opted to bat, setting a template for teams playing Delhi for the rest of the tournament. Bat first, and watch them disintegrate. A huge total might not even be necessary, for the Daredevils failed to chase 158 in Bengaluru (of all places) in their first outing, a game they should have won by opener Sam Billings’ admission to the writer this past weekend.
Kane Williamson though fired on all cylinders as the Sunrisers laid down a marker of their bench-strength. Things were fine until the powerplay, when the hosts were only placed at 39/1. Thereafter, the New Zealand skipper played some scintillating strokes, proving once again why he is considered to be one of the best batsmen currently, across formats. The Daredevils’ bowling struggles were laid bare for all to witness. Yadav wasn’t used for a second spell, while Mishra was carted all over the park. In truth, barring Morris’ initial spell, nobody was able to really stem the flow of runs and it highlighted how awfully the team management has messed up by not including Nadeem in their plans.
Faced with a tall 191-target then, Delhi’s only hope was to witness a repeat of Sanju Samson’s maiden T20 hundred in Pune. Someone, even him, had to play a similar innings and turn things around. It didn’t happen, despite the initial belligerence of both Samson and Billings.
Nair played a few confident strokes, but the question to ask is if Pant couldn’t have done the same too? Even Iyer, as both have looked more likely to score runs in recent matches. The most important aspect herein is the stubbornness of the think tank, in not adapting to the situation at hand. Why not sent Pant at no 3? And if he failed to get going, why not promote another hard-hitting batsman when the asking rate is 10 per over? Why this inflexibility to send out both Iyer and Angelo Mathews ahead of Morris?
This move was so remarkably irrational that the question needs to be asked all over again. Whoever coined this strategy, did he/they really assume that the Daredevils would chase down 192 without Morris facing a single ball (as it turned out)?