By Jamie Alter
Eyebrows were raised when the decision makers in the Delhi Daredevils (DD) franchise opted to only retain Virender Sehwag for IPL 2011. Where other teams scrambled to retain players who had helped them over three seasons, DD’s management allowed Gautam Gambhir to be grabbed by Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and Tillakaratne Dilshan, AB de Villiers, Daniel Vettori and Dirk Nannes fly south to Bangalore.
Thus, there was limited expectancy from DD this season. A drop in popularity with fans in Delhi was brushed aside by the marketing men, but with each defeat the wane in enthusiasm told. DD were creaking and there was no real connect with the home fans.
With just four wins from 12 matches, DD have been eliminated from the competition, which most likely leaves India’s other major metros – Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Chennai – to seal the top four spots. Few will be surprised given the nature of the squad, but some analysis is required.
Unlike in Test cricket, where you can have a poor session, or a 50-over game, where you can be whacked in the Powerplays before staging a comeback, Twenty20 is an unforgiving format. A couple of bad overs and the game slides out of reach. DD have been bogged down by many such moments all season.
In their first match, against Mumbai Indians (MI) in Delhi, they slumped to 40 for four and then, after recovering through a 42-run stand, lost six wickets for 13 runs. Game over.
Against Rajasthan Royals in Jaipur, DD were 29 for one in the fifth over before they slumped to 36 for four.
A 26-run final over against Pune Warriors in Navi Mumbai threatened to hand DD their third straight loss, but somehow they managed to overcome a target of 190. When Deccan Chargers arrived in Delhi, DD went from 28 for no loss to 38 for three when chasing 169 and never recovered.
In a see-saw battle with Royal Challengers Bangalore, DD’s bowlers allowed the visitors to scape 22 runs from 15 to deliveries and steer themselves home.
Chasing 149 against KKR, DD slipped from 61 for two to 85 for six.
In the return match against MI, it was much the similar tale as DD fell to seven for four chasing 179. This after conceding 18 in the 15th over after which MI’s batsmen gained momentum. And then the loss that ended their season, an 18-run defeat to Chennai Super Kings. DD allowed CSK to score 50 off the final three overs, therefore turning an attainable target into a daunting one.
Of the four wins they managed, Sehwag contributed to three. His 47-ball 80 on a bad wicket in Kochi was a superb innings and several levels above his team-mates, while against Deecan Chargers in Hyderabad his 119 off 56 was a total one-man show. If only the other batsmen had managed a third of Sehwag’s determination.
Sehwag, too, had bad games, and top-order collapses put additional pressure on the middle, which comprises stroke-makers such as Venugopal Rao, James Hopes and Aaron Finch. On many occasions these batsmen had to be cautious and minimise risk for fear of losing cheap middle-order wickets and being dismissed within 20 overs, inexcusable in the Twenty20 format. And without taking a few risks, it was difficult to maintain a run-rate of around nine an over for a par score in the IPL. Low totals also affected DD’s bowling, because the opposition batsmen weren’t under pressure to maintain a high run-rate from the start.
All this considered, the Twenty20 specialists have been a huge let-down. A highest score of 46, a bowling average of 39.50 and an economy rate of 7.55 don’t come anywhere near justifying Irfan Pathan’s price tag of $1.9 million.
David Warner has managed three half-centuries, Hopes has one (to go with seven wickets at 35.00) and Finch hasn’t gone past 25.
Rao started the tournament well, but his form tapered off.
Naman Ojha has failed to reprise the form he struck in the last two seasons of the IPL, scratching 124 runs from 12 innings for a best of 29.
Yogesh Nagar has gotten nine opportunities, and put together a highest score of 23.
It is with the ball that DD were weakest. They carried a distinctly single-pronged look, with Morne Morkel emerging a ballast of consistency. Morkel has acquitted himself decently, but 12 wickets from ten matches were probably not what the owners had in mind when they forked out $47500 for the South African speedster.
Irfan has blown hot and cold, Umesh Yadav sparkled intermittently and failed to hold down his place, and Hopes was not been consistent enough to make an impact. The only specialist spinner used was Roelof van der Merwe, and after picking up five wickets from four matches at 18.40 he was discarded.
All in all, it has been a very disappointing season for DD. There is little to look forward to unless the rest of the squad rallies around their talismanic leader.
(Jamie Alter is a freelance cricket writer, having worked at ESPNcricinfo and All Sports Magazine. He is the author of two books, The History of World Cup Cricket and Field of Dreams: The Story of the Dr. DY Patil Sports Stadium. His twitter feed is @jamie_alter)