Delhi Capitals; the darkhorses.
As ever the stats in this post are provided by @JMccaghrey (his Twitter handle) James is not only a good guy who has written for the blog before but one of the best statisticians going if you don’t already then go follow him
At the beginning of IPL 2021 I touted Delhi Capitals as my dark horse pick for prime position to challenge Mumbai. Last year's finalists had made some good additions to their side whilst retaining the core members and so far the signs are encouraging but there is definitely room for improvement and if Ricky Ponting and his band of brothers want to reach the final of the tournament then some of these need to happen.
When we discuss the strengths of the Delhi team two obvious components spring to mind. Pace bowling and the opening pair. The latter is something that Delhis side is entirely built from. Shaw and Dhawan are developing into a superb combination up the top of the order and Pritvhi Shaw has made some serious technical adjustments as well as some adjustments to his fitness and he now looks far more athletic and light on his feet. Dhawan has slowly developed into one of the best IPL batsmen going. At the top of the order these two compliment each other superbly with Shaw’s ultra attacking nature being complimented by Dhawans less arial but still aggressive approach. This year both of these two are also scoring fast with Shaw coming in at a whopping 153 whilst Dhawan is a slightly less jaw dropping 140. When these two get firing they produce magic and can easily bat out an entire innings. Any success for Delhi is going to be based around these two players.
Delhis bowling success last year was built around the duo or Nortje and Rabada and it was supposed to be (and fundamentally should be) the same this year but for some reason it’s not. A quick peruse through the DC website will show you Delhi have not a lot of batsmen but a lot of world class pace bowlers. Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Kagiso Rabada, Anjrich Nortje, Chris Woakes and Avesh Khan would provide you with one hell of a test match attack and in the IPL it is no different. Each of these bowlers complement each other. Say you played Rabada Nortje and Woakes along with Khan. Rabada’s struggles in the powerplay are well documented so this is negated by the effectiveness of Woakes and Khan in this phase of the game. Norjte is a beast in the middle overs and the death and the same can be said with Rabada. The pace attack is one of the best in the competition and can cover all bases to great effect. However in terms of balancing the side it is not a good option to play all 3 of the overseas quicks instead it is far better to use either one of Woakes or Nortje depending. However both being kept out of the side by Steve Smith is an atrocity. When you want to win your best bet is to play to your strengths and Delhi has been attempting to do this and it is working but they can do even better.
Delhi has a serious issue on their hands in terms of who they use as their overseas players. Say Delhi were to play all 3 of their overseas quicks then they only have one overseas spot left between any of their premier batters and considering how weak the batting unit is they need these players. Marcus Stoinis is a solid all rounder who can bowl good overs and is a serious power hitter especially at number 6 where his IPL Sr is 155 (just ask Chris Jordan), Shimron Hetmyer is one of the fastest scoring players in the world and with a large amount of games being played at Ahmennabad with it’s small boundaries Hetmyers skills of clearing the rope will be more useful, Sam Billings is a superb T20 anchor and a great player of spin bowling who when the conditions call for it can thrive and Steve Smith is an oddity. Smith is the best test match batsman since Bradman and is a very good ODI batsmen but Smith is not a good T20 player. He takes too long to get going and isn’t versatile enough to seriously be playing at 3 for most sides. A player like Smith is only useful for very specific situations: a low slow wicket where scoring is hard and an ability to play high class spin is very useful. But even then Sam Billings scores faster and more effectively than Smith and is a better T20 batsmen especially in terms of strike rotation with Billings having a non boundary SR of 80. Steve Smith is a classic case of a player being chosen for one format because of what they have done in another. Think Ben Stokes batting at 5 in Englands T20i side due to his 6 hitting in Test Cricket when he’s well set off of about 60 balls. Playing Steve Smith not only hinders your side in terms of scoring rate which is more and more important in the modern day but it also uses a valuable overseas slot.
The biggest worry for Delhi is their middle order. Rishabh Pant has been (rightfully) given the captaincy is thriving off of it in terms of on the field but when he has the bat in his hand the expectation is clearly weighing down on him. Pant isn’t his usual free flowing self and is adopting a far more conservative approach which is excruciatingly painful to watch. No one in their right mind would argue that Pant scoring at 127 and taking games deep is the best method for Delhi to win games. Delhi has one of the best 6 hitters and ball strikers in the world but they aren’t letting him do it. The moment Pant begins to free himself up and show us what he is truly about then Delhis chances of winning the thing increase 10 fold. Of course the middle order is a bit muddled due to the freak injury for Shreyas Iyer who for so long offered the perfect balance to the Delhi side and without the skipper at 3 things become a lot more complicated but there is a solution. There are only two Indian players who have hit 2 centuries at an MCG test match; those are Vinoo Mankad and Ajinkya Rahane. Rahane should be batting 3 for Delhi but he shouldn’t bat at all. A batting order is not a fixed position so the possibility of Delhi having Rahane down at 3 but never sending him in past the 5th or 6th over is something that is a totally legitimate possibility and one that I think is a very very good idea. If you play Rahane (who does in fact have two IPL hundreds) you free up an overseas slot and you do also have a good batsmen in your team as well as a superb fielder, leader and tactician which in turn would take some of the emphasis off of Pant. The solution to one of Delhis biggest issues (using their best overseas players) is right there but due to the name and reputation of Smith and the mercurial nature that one day he might pay off they will not drop him.
As I said before I firmly believe Delhis best game plan is having a top 6 who can go hell for leather and maybe collapse every now and then but also have the batsmen able of posting big totals. This is then complimented by a bowling attack who are of such quality that small/par totals are sometimes defendable and anything above par they can put out of reach. Delhis bowling attack is something that is also proving to be a great asset to them. As mentioned before the pace attack is frighteningly good but the spin department isn’t bat either. The loss of Ravi Ashwin is massive for Delhi with his deception and innate ability to work out a batsmen a huge part of their recent success. However in Axar Patel and Amit Mishra they have two spinners who can really keep things tight and also pick up wickets in each phase of the game but primarily in the middle overs.
Delhi have the impossible task of finding the right balance to their side but right now they are far from it. Steve Smith is not a player worthy of keeping the likes or Nortje or Woakes out of the Delhi capitals side as he quite simply does not offer more than either of the other two. Pant is currently batting in a manner which simply isn’t him and it is going to harm Delhi in the long term. Rabada and Nortje were the duo who gave Delhi so much success last year but they seem unwilling to repeat it despite their bowling being their weakest asset. But it’s all well and good me saying all this let me imagine for a second I am in charge of the franchise who would make my xi and why?
Hetymer/Billings (depending on conditions)
Woakes/Nortjer (Nortje bats at 9 if he plays)
Rabada (Rabada bats at 8 if Nortje plays
This team is in my opinion one of the strongest going especially considering it isn’t even full strength. The side is well balanced and can score quickly with the only player whose boundary percentage is below 15 being Rahanes but this is negated by Shaw and Pants B% being the right side of 20 whilst Hetmyer brings a respectable B% of 17.95% but a ridiculous six percentage of 9.83%. This team is superb in terms of covering all bases with Dhawan and Pant able to be conservative if needs be but also join the likes of Shaw, Hetmyer and Stoinis in swinging for the rooftops to good effect. Sam Billing is able to come in if conditions suit him and the wicket is slow whilst both Axar Patel and Chris Woakes can bat well enough to be your numbers 7 and 8, and even Kagisio Rabada (if they decide to play Nortje) can bat well enough to be number 8 and what you may lose in batting depth you makeup for in bowling power and ability.
The bowling attack almost chooses itself with Rabad, Nortje, Woakes and Khan taking up most of the seaming duties with Marcus Stoinis able to throw down some overs of off cutters and hitting the pitch. Patel and Mishra can bowl you good middle overs and will get through 4 overs respectively. The attack is solid and versatile much like the batting and is able to operate in all phases of the game. Small totals are defendable with this attack so it allows the batsmen to go all out which is something that brings a lot of success in T20s. Of course if injuries hit then this could be a big issue for Delhi but for now they have a full side and I genuinely believe if they played this side then they would be in with a very very strong shout of winning the whole thing. The key fundamentals are there it's just about Delhi realising how to access these.