Gautam Gambhir © AFP
Gautam Gambhir © AFP

Delhi Daredevils (DD) had retained an odd trio before the 2018 IPL auctions. Few in today’s cricket hit them as hard and far as Chris Morris does; add to the nippy pace, and you get the perfect T20 package. They have also retained Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant, two explosive men still trying to find their grooves in international cricket but evidently outstanding stroke-players and ideally suited to the format.

The Daredevils also roped in Gautam Gambhir, who will lead the side after leading Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) to two titles. Only three men have scored more runs in the history of the tournament than Gambhir’s 4,132, and Gambhir had got his runs at a phenomenal strike rate of 124.6. DD have never won the title, but then, neither had KKR till Gambhir had taken up the responsibility.

Let us start this by looking at DD’s past record, which — even their staunchest fans would agree — has been far from impressive.

Year IPL position Captain
2008 Semi-finalist Virender Sehwag
2009 Semi-finalist Virender Sehwag
2010 5th Gautam Gambhir
2011 10th Virender Sehwag
2012 3rd Virender Sehwag
2013 9th Mahela Jayawardene
2014 8th Dinesh Karthik/Kevin Pietersen
2015 7th JP Duminy
2016 6th Zaheer Khan
2017 6th Zaheer Khan

You see the problem? Not only have Delhi not made it to the top four in the last five seasons, they haven’t come anywhere near. They have finished sixth twice, and that has been their best rank during this period.

They were not always this poor a side. They had made it to the top four thrice, and out of them, they had topped the league table in both 2009 and 2012. They have been there, done that, and with Gambhir in charge, can definitely hope for a turnaround. Let us do a SWOT analysis and try to figure out how their season may unfold.

Strengths:

Phalanx of power-hitters: Let us forget Morris, Pant, and Iyer for a moment. Who are the others? Jason Roy, Colin Munro, and Glenn Maxwell are all ferocious hitters. Daniel Christian has a T20 strike rate of 135, Abhishek Sharma has shown his hitting abilities in the Under-19 World Cup, and Naman Ojha has always been a force to contend with. This is a batting powerhouse to be scared of. If anything, they have an enviable problem of plenty. With Ricky Ponting, Sridharan Sriram, and Pravin Amre in charge, this is going to be one hell of a line-up.

Shock-absorbers: We have discussed the power-hitters above, but what about the men who rise to the challenge in big matches, batsmen who soak up pressure to allow teammates to play more freely? Gambhir himself top-scored for India in both the 2007 World T20 and 2011 World Cup finals; Manjot Kalra did the same when India won the Under-19 World Cup earlier this season; and Rishabh Pant led India astutely to the title.

Spin platter: The Daredevils spinners make an interesting set. To begin with, Amit Mishra has most IPL wickets among spinners, but has not been in the national selectors’ radar for some time. Jayant Yadav played Test cricket as an off-spinner but these days he bats better than he bowls. They will be supported by Shahbaz Nadeem and Rahul Tewatia, wily spinners both. If Gurkeerat Singh Mann comes off they will get the extra batsman. And there is also Sandeep Lamichhane. All of them are decent picks, but barring Mishra, no one is a certainty.

Weaknesses:

Not so fast! On paper the Daredevils pace line-up looks great. Not only are Kagiso Rabada and Trent Boult among the greatest in the world, they are also in tremendous form. Of course, it may not be a bad idea to try both Rabada and Boult alongside Morris: if one takes away Mohammed Shami — currently not at his best spirit and never a great IPL bowler anyway — they are left with Vijay Shankar, Avesh Khan, Sayan Ghosh, and Harshal Patel. The Indian seam attack for Daredevils looks really thin.

History: Can Gambhir motivate the Daredevils to bury the ghosts of the past and rise again to clinch their maiden title? Or will their past continue to haunt them? Remember, their win-loss ratio of 0.76 (62 wins, 82 defeats) is the worst of all eight sides.

Opportunities:

Change of leadership: Gambhir is one of the most successful IPL captains, full stop. Earlier this decade he had transformed a KKR outfit that had never made it to the top eight till his arrival. He has not hesitated to take risks, make bold bowling changes, surround batsmen with close-in fielders even in T20 cricket, shuffle batting orders, and more.

Hitting the F5 button: Delhi have not done well for some time, but two other franchises — Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals — weren’t even there. The Royals have lost their captain, as have Sunrisers Hyderabad. Kolkata had done well, but they have lost their captain — to Delhi. Really, they are starting on equal footage as some of the other sides.

Threats:

The local-overseas balance: Will Delhi pick all three of Morris, Rabada, and Boult? If yes, then they can pick only one of those overseas slog-monsters. If they do that, the inexperienced top order (Iyer and Pant are the experienced Indian names there) becomes too reliant on Gambhir. On the other hand, if you leave out one of Rabada and Boult for a batsman, the bowling may look thin.

Likely starting XI:

If Munro is at the top with Pant, Gambhir can bat at 3. That will give Iyer a chance in the middle order. There is still room for an overseas batsman, and Maxwell will be the likeliest choice because of his IPL experience. No. 6 has to be the sixth bowler as well, and Shankar will play ahead of both Gurkeerat and Abhishek. Morris, a definite starter, will float up the order as per requirement.

Delhi will begin with Rabada (he has a better T20 record than Boult). In that case Shami will have to be the third fast bowler. Boult will definitely play a role later in the tournament. Mishra will be the lead spinner. Lamichhane won’t begin the season (too many overseas players), which means that Delhi will probably have to play Nadeem.

The Delhi Daredevils likely starting XI may look like this: Colin Munro, Rishabh Pant (wk), Gautam Gambhir (c), Shreyas Iyer, Glenn Maxwell, Vijay Shankar, Chris Morris, Amit Mishra, Kagiso Rabada, Mohammed Shami, Shahbaz Nadeem.

Delhi Daredevils squad: Gautam Gambhir (c), Rishabh Pant (wk), Naman Ojha (wk), Chris Morris, Glenn Maxwell, Colin Munro, Jason Roy, Prithvi Shaw, Manjot Kalra, Shreyas Iyer, Mohammed Shami, Kagiso Rabada, Trent Boult, Vijay Shankar, Abhishek Sharma, Gurkeerat Singh, Daniel Christian, Amit Mishra, Rahul Tewatia, Sandeep Lamichhane, Jayant Yadav, Shahbaz Nadeem, Harshal Patel, Avesh Khan, Sayan Ghosh.