Battlefield North: The Derby that never was

Match#26: Delhi Daredevils v/s Kings XI Punjab
Ferozshah Kotla, Delhi
Form Guide: DD- Loss, Loss, Win, Loss, KXIP- Loss, Win, Win, Win, 
With all the talk about the Western derby between Mumbai and Pune setting the IPL alight (with dampness), the country seems to have forgotten that for every team up North or down South, there is a neighbor waiting to claim regional bragging rights. Except for the Knight Riders (who are in a league of their own geographically), every other team can choose their own derby battle. 
Having said that, when the Daredevils (giggle…) face the Kings XI at the capital on a pitch whose curator seems to be anyone but a Delhiite, a battle for Northern dominance of IPL 2011 will take place. Never mind the minor footnote that mentions the fact that there are only two teams up north (unless one counts the Royals, who can choose regions depending on their performance in the long run)
Another problem might be that if Delhi do manage to, somehow, win this game- they will still be at the bottom of this two-pronged battle, and then there is matter of having to extend their sights outside the North to other shores (not America or UK, as most Delhi fans would argue) and duly realize that they might still bring in the rear of the country-wide IPL war. Unless something miraculous happens- like RCB deciding to combine with them and form the first North-South alliance in the history of the IPL (and this country).
For now, let us take one game at a time- simply because the Daredevils cannot afford to look too far forward (like even their next game). Every game won now will add to their considerably-low confidence and lack of self-belief- considering the fact that most sports-journalists and bloggers (even the non-cheeky ones) seem to have completely and vehemently written them off.
That RCB have a better bunch of players (previously known as Delhi) just struggling to deal with sudden alien influences (like the management) is an obvious conclusion based on form and performances. Unfortunately, the Daredevils are showing no inclination towards form or performance of any sorts.
Facing a rejuvenated (of sorts) Punjab side that previously (based on 2010) looked like the prime candidate to pip once again for the Wooden Spoon- will not help matters for a Delhi side whose top bowler seems to have developed a stomach bug that conveniently restricted all kinds of physical activity (read fielding) against an ordinary Deccan side. Hence, Adam Gilchrist will look to feast in the capital tonight, and in the process, hopefully not catch Morne Morkel’s Delhi belly.
Both these teams brought up the rear of IPL 2010, and they will be looking to do a bit better than that. Even a mid-table spot would be a massive achievement for the clueless Daredevil side- while Punjab will be looking to emulate the Deccan class of 2009. (read make a mockery of form, logic, expert analysis and the format in general- in commentary terms known as ‘making a bottom-to-top fairytale run to the finals’)
Delhi Daredevils: (Semi finalists 2008, 2009)

With David Warner forcibly having to change his role to that of sheet-anchor in a line-up that seems to consist only of Venugopal Rao and Venugopal Rao, a well-known T20 specialist like James Hopes (from the school of Australian cricket that can do ‘anything’ if needed) needs to be valued more for his batting and promoted up the order- local talent be damned for the time-being. A win (or four) is the desperate need of the hour, and if Sehwag does not take some bold decisions (including trying to bat out more than 10 balls for the sake of his team)- the Daredevils might have to be satisfied with the often-misleading philosophy of their only competition being themselves. And not even in a Tiger Woods sort of a way.
‘Capture this moment. It is rare.’
As for the bowling, the state of affairs seems to very much resemble Irfan Pathan’s tear-inducing career story that stumps even the brightest of sports psychologists and experts. His graph, we think, is one of the steepest mountains in the history of performance-analysis curves. Was he really only destined to be a shooting star on the Indian Cricket horizon? Surely, he was meant to be more than just that!
Apparently not- if his performances (or lack of it) seem to be anything to go by. That his brother, the cleanest striker of the ball with a high risk-element (and a pie-chucker in Irfan’s art), is taking more wickets and displaying more variation is an ominous sign of Irfan’s fall from grace and ability. On a simple value-for-money scale in this year’s IPL, the pleasant-looking ex-future-Wasim-Akram, as much as we want him to do well- seems to be the least sensible buy of the auction. Fittingly enough, the team that bought him is paying heavily for their misguided sense of proportion and lack of cricketing acumen. 
We would gladly liked to be prove wrong about this team and Pathan himself, but neither of them have shown a spark or even a tiny sign of better things to come- with the game against Pune an aberration of gigantic proportions. Maybe Pathan will show some signs of inspiration while facing his ex-team tonight- hoping for a famous huddle with the Punjab owners in case of a evenly-matched-Superover TIE. But maybe that is taking things too far.
In the meantime, all DD can do is hope for luck and goodwill- starting with the repair of a notoriously unpredictable wicket at home that seems to help anyone who is not a Daredevil.
Player to watch out for: James Hopes
Hoping against hope that he may be promoted up the order soon, the never-say-die Delhi, er, fans can take solace out of the fact that he bowls his full quota of four overs- and seems to be a player with the spirit of an ox and the heart of an Indian student studying in Melbourne. (or the other way around too)
Of course, Venugopal Rao- as always- might be the last man standing in this sinking ship. The point of impact with the iceberg can be calculated to approximately sometime before the first game when an intoxicated Bangalore team owner(s) mistook the Delhi contingent’s auction table for that of his own.
As they say, the rest is history. Ask Jack and Rose Dawson.
Kings XI Punjab: (Semi-finalists 2008)

So Shaun Marsh followed up the Valthaty show with an innings of exemplary class and massively high strike-rate (never once abandoning his non-violent and risk-free style) -much required under the circumstances so much so that Rajasthan were brutally batted out of the game everytime Shane Warne took the ball. Yes, Marsh destroyed the master of the Kingdom himself- and while he became only the third bowler in IPL history (over the course of two decades technically) to take 50 wickets, he also achieved the prime distinction of having conceded 50 ‘DLF Maximums’ in the IPL. Valthaty being his 50th was not much of a consolation, considering that he had already destroyed Siddharth’s Trivedi career by then. (which Ryan McLaren duly resurrected in his last over)
'She flew all the way down to watch THIS?'
‘She flew all the way down to watch THIS?’
So who would have thought? Kings XI were the first to *almost* break the 200 barrier this year (painfully short- and the only minor victory for the Royals)- and one feels that that this mental block may not last too long. Inspite of needing just 30 runs in the last five overs to cross 200 with 7 wickets in hand, the Kings XI stepped off the gas and decided to leave it to one of the usual suspects instead (Mumbai, Chennai). After all, it would have been quite an embarrassment if a team with only the most explosive batsman this season reached there first…
But at the back of Gilchrist’s mind, there is always a fear- a fear which seems to have gripped Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir too- if the top 3 batsmen of the team fail to make an impact (Guru Gobind Singh forbids), how will the team cope? Or will they cope at all? Well, for that, Valthaty and Marsh need to be off-colour simultaneously (not to mention Gilly himself)- and one does not see that happening in the near future.
That their bowlers barely manage to defend the considerable might of their batting line-up is of little concern right now- as long as they are winning games. For any team in the league, a bowling failure must be (slightly less than) directly proportional to a batting success- and Punjab seem to be pushing the rule to the last run and wicket. 
Player to watch out for: Praveen Kumar
It is impossible to look beyond the top 3 for this category, but bowlers must be given their due- especially in a league that may convert most of them into suicidal psychopaths confused about their true calling in life. Praveen Kumar (more commonly known as the man who almost lost us the World Cup due to the presence of S. Sreesanth in the squad) will want to get back into a swinging mood for the upcoming tours of West Indies and England. He may just get a test call-up because of the bowler-friendly conditions in England, unless Sreesanth manages to spike his milk with rum again. (one thing led to another and…voila, ankle injury!) Vodka would have been the lethal option, but with alcohol prices on the rise throughout the country, even Sreesanth will think twice. Hence, even petrol is duly ruled out.
A Kings Speech will be in the offering. No ‘Unless’, no ‘maybe’. Enough said. 
Unless Virender Sehwag decides to come to the party…

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