Before the tenth edition of the Indian T20 league got underway earlier this month, one almost felt bad for the Delhi Daredevils. Here was a team who had tried everything, every coach, had let go of most star players over the years, had Rahul Dravid as mentor, made smart buys in the 2017 auction, and yet fate had played its hand. Quinton de Kock and JP Duminy, perhaps their most crucial batsmen, pulled out with injuries before the tournament. Mohammad Shami, their main bowler, wasn’t fit to begin with. And Zaheer Khan couldn’t possibly afford to drop himself again after last year’s debacle.
Suddenly, all those careful plans had fallen through. Again.
A quick reshuffle later, and six games into their campaign, the Daredevils are yet to identify a stable order. As expected with a Dravid-thought squad (like the erstwhile Rajasthan Royals), you see plenty of India ‘A’ and India U-19 stars – Shreyas Iyer, Karun Nair, Rishabh Pant, Aditya Tare, Shahbaz Nadeem, Sanju Samson, Jayant Yadav and Murugan Ashwin.
Dravid’s indestructible confidence in Test triple-centurion and out-of-form Karun Nair is hurting the team balance. Nair flopped in the Test series against Australia, and despite being a decent T20 player, he is struggling again in the top order – 58 runs in five innings. He is batting where Shreyas Iyer should be, at number three. If Iyer hadn’t been down with a bout of chicken pox at the beginning, he would have even perhaps opened the innings – spots currently occupied by the successful Sanju Samson and the erratic Sam Billings.
Amit Mishra, one of the tournament’s most successful bowlers, is struggling in the format. Much like the highest wicket-taker Lasith Malinga, who is having a torrid time with Mumbai Indians this season. There was a time when Mishra was assured of taking at least one hat-trick a season; he is that prolific, and that difficult to play in the shortest format. But his age, repeated overlooking from the national team and fitness seems to have taken a toll on his prolific wicket-taking ability for his team. The Daredevils will be better off sticking consistently with young Shahbaz Nadeem instead.
Young wicketkeeping star and teenager Rishabh Pant, India’s future glovesman, is being played too far down the order at five or six in this format. He needs to be given an opportunity higher up, instead of coming in at the end and lashing at a few balls. He has demonstrated that there is no cleaner hitter than him in the team, and has had a great domestic season too, even showcasing his solid temperament when he came and almost won the Daredevils the match single-handedly against the Royal Challengers Bangalore a day after his father’s death. Pant has to bat at four.
Sanju Samson scored the tournament’s first century, and finally looks to be in good touch after suffering for the last few seasons. Dravid seems to have instilled in him the belief to bat at the top again by taking away the keeping gloves and making him a specialist opener. There are few greater sights than watching old Rajasthan Royals faithful Samson in full flow.
Chris Morris, South Africa’s lanky all-rounder, has transformed into a hard-hitting and priceless T20 player over the last two years. He has repeatedly done it for South Africa, and is now the key player of the Daredevils. He finishes off innings with massive sixes, and is already the second-highest wicket taker of the tournament – with his quick (145+) darts to lower order batsmen in the slog overs. One suspects he will be integral to the Daredevils’ pursuit to reach the playoffs this year.
Sam Billings consistently looks good as an opener, but is only a heartbeat away from capitalizing on his starts. Once he does, his team can rely on him as a permanent replacement for de Kock. Shreyas Iyer is also looking to prove himself after a dud of a 2016 tournament, and has gone back to the drawing board and scored plenty of runs in Ranji cricket. He is back after a bout of illness, and needs to open the innings, with Samson at 3.
Sri Lankan captain Angelo Mathews played his first game last week, and will look to become the backbone of an inexperienced middle order along with Kiwi all-rounder, Corey Anderson.
The team has finished last, seventh and sixth in the last three seasons. Fifth will not be good enough here. They need to go one up and stay in fourth place – currently with the highest net run-rate of all teams.