There has been a massive surge in believers of astrology since 2019 especially in terms of names, as all it took for the Delhi-based franchise was to go the 'Capitals' way than being misadventurous daredevils. And boom, they reached the playoffs in the last two seasons and are the next dynasts.
But don't let anyone tell you that changing the name, getting a new crest, new colors and a totally new look did the trick. Delhi Capitals' jaw-dropping turnaround was built around assembling a well balanced unit, covering all the bases and now they have the best team after Mumbai Indians, at least on paper. Last year, they outdid their 2019 edition performance and went a step further by making it to the grand finale. With the addition of Steven Smith, Umesh Yadav, Lukman Meriwala and Sam Billings, they look mightier than before.
And this year, with an impeccable unit boasting of Rishabh Pant, Marcus Stoinis, Shikhar Dhawan, Sam Billings, Shimron Hetmyer, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, Amit Mishra - no dearth of stars - they will look to go all the way and finally win their first title ever, something their head coach Ricky Ponting used to do for fun.
What was the story last year?
Imagine you go to a movie, you are left gob-smacked with the first-half, can already feel lucky and envisage the fulfillment of being in midst of an all-time classic, then BAM, it endures a struggle to reach the climax and only somehow ends with a good ending. All-time classic? Hell no. Great movie? Yes. Disappointed? Largely. This was precisely Delhi’s last year's story. After winning the first seven of their nine games, all of DC's vulnerabilities were laid bare, especially the middle-order just stopped clicking, while the duo of Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada lost their sheen, maybe, due to the workload. They had to even sweat hard to reach the playoffs, but then finished in the finale, ultimately.
Where exactly do they stand this season?
There are some big names in the Delhi Capitals’ batting unit, and as great as their bowling might be, their batting is also phenomenal. But last season, when it mattered the most, the middle-order failed miserably while the top-order was also poor barring Shikhar Dhawan, who top scored with 618 runs with a strike-rate of 144.73. Prithvi Shaw had a dreadful season. Rahane had his worst IPL season since 2011. Marcus Stoinis fizzled out after a great first-half while both Rishabh Pant (113.95) and Shreyas Iyer (123.27) batted too slowly. Failure of Shimron Hetmyer magnified the team's over reliance on Pant, and it was just medicore, at best, like their final batting.
The Powerplay | 2020 - An average season; 2021 - Promising signs
From averaging 50.71 runs in the powerplay in 2019, DC's performance went down immensely as they scored 42.17 runs on an average at a strike-rate of 117.16, which was the fourth-worst display in the tournament, last year. They lost the most number of wickets (29) for any team against the new ball and their average per wicket was 24.72, with only RR (21.41) and KKR (24.65) performing more poorly. No solidity.
What have they done?
They did try to fix both the top-order and Stoinis’ off-colour displays in the last two games of the 2020 edition when the Aussie opened the batting. It even clicked in one game. Also, this year, they got in Steven Smith in the side at a meager price, which was surprising given they could have gone for an aggressive option as they already had top-order accumulators in the side.
Now, they had the powerplay issue due to the dreadful run of Prithvi Shaw. He had averaged 15.6 in the phase, getting out 10 out of 13 innings in the first six overs. Rahane did no better as he averaged ever poorer at 11.7. So, both of these players had made a mess of the field restrictions. While Shreyas Iyer (108.1) is a known slow starter, only Dhawan clicked, that too, in the second-half, but overall averaged 32 with a SR of 139.1. However, this year, Dhawan is likely to get great support from Shaw as the youngster is coming off from a record-breaking 827 run Vijay Hazare trophy season where he averaged a whopping 165.40 and struck at 138.29.
There is also a place open at 3 after Shreyas Iyer's injury and that's where Marcus Stoinis can come handy. His best position/role in T20 cricket is anyway in the top-order. He's a powerful hitter and will take off pressure from Rishabh Pant. He can play the big shots better than someone like Ajinkya Rahane. Also, Smith is there as a back-up top-order option, so he can come in if things don't work but he shouldn't start in the team straightaway.
Middle-overs | The ‘Pant’ factor and some great options
That Delhi Capitals (124.88) managed to have the third best strike-rate in the middle-overs (7-14) after KXIP (130.8) and RR (126.79) was a no mean feat given Pant (105.8) and Iyer (116) were slow and Shimron Hetmyer failed largely. They scored 5.76 boundaries per game on an average, and lay in middle of the table in this regard, last season. Marcus Stoinis with an average of 44 and a SR of of 144.6 did the bulk of the work alongside Dhawan, who batted at a strike-rate of 144.3
Now, it wasn't a great performance, per se, given they were getting slow starts in the powerplay and needed to kick on even more in the 7-14 overs phase. But Rishabh Pant is batting better than ever before after emerging as India's star in 2021. The left-hander strikes at 140.4 in middle-overs and will go a long way in addressing the team's woes. And, like stated above, Stoinis was great last season and if he bats at 3, he and Pant can do some real damage. Also, they made a great addition in the form of Sam Billings, who'a gun middle-order player. He strikes at close to 130 since the start of 2018 in the middle-overs with an average of 42.3, while Shimron Hetmyer will be high on confidence after he had a great Super 50 Cup.
DC will play 12 of the 14 league games on flat venues. The average first innings totals in Mumbai (176.14) and Kolkata (194) were quite high in the 2019 IPL, while Ahmedabad also recorded 170.6 runs per game in T20Is. And these are the three venues where DC will mostly play, which means they will need to set-up/chase big scores. And this is why they should look to play either of Hetmyer/Billings owing the X-factor that Smith lacks in the shortest format.
Death overs | Average in 2020; have the resources to do better in 2021
Delhi Capitals scored 54.99 runs in the 15-20 overs time period at a strike-rate of 152.75, which was the second worst in the tournament. To put things into perspective, the top three teams scored at a SR of 160 or more while MI, the best side, struck at almost 199. Delhi hit 6.647 boundaries per game which was the fourth best but an average performance, at best. Their biggest issue was that batsmen weren't able to score consistently at death as they had the second worst average of 19.89 runs per wicket.
It was again a problem that hinged around Rishabh Pant. The overdependence on him was exposed with his strike-rate falling from 206 to 169, acting like a punch in the gut for the side. Hetmyer had a strike-rate of 177.5 but he failed barring three games. Iyer (177.3) will be missed this season as he played fairly aggressively in 2020. But Pant will again be the key as he can carry Delhi at the death. And the addition of Billings can also help solve DC's death (15-20 overs) woes as he strikes at 170.8 since the start of 2018 in T20s.
Not to forget, the Rishabh Pant-led side can cash in on the brilliant form of Lalit Yadav. He was striking at 197.40 in the SMAT 2020/21 season and played some quickfire cameos in the lower-middle-order. He can be tried to strengthen the death overs batting. Not only him, even Ripal Patel, who was snapped in the auctions, played good cameos in the SMAT, earlier this year, and has an overall SR of 189.10 in T20s.
DC have all bases covered in the batting department. The return of form for Prithvi Shaw and Rishabh Pant will do wonders for the side. Shikhar Dhawan is also in great touch as seen in the England ODIs, a while back, while the addition of Sam Billings will keep Hetmyer on his toes besides freeing Stoinis for a top-order gig. Also, the young talents Lalit Yadav and Ripal Patel can turn out to be promising performers. So, if they play to their potential, there will be plenty of fireworks.
Rabada, Nortje, R Ashwin, Axar Patel, Amit Mishra, Ishant Sharma - this is a star-studded bowling line-up. Despite injuries to Mishra and Ishant, they bowled brilliantly last year, with KG (30) and Nortje (22) ending up as first and fourth leading wicket-takers respectively. No side picked up more wickets than DC (102). They were only behind SRH (19.01) and MI (19.16) in terms of strike-rate as they struck every 19.49 balls , with bowling being their stronger suite.
Powerplay | Pacers didn't turn up last season, need changes this season
Delhi Capitals conceded 7.88 runs per over, which means an average of 47.28 runs in the powerplay. It was the third worst overall after RR (8.33) and KXIP (8.31). They struck every 24.48 deliveries and took 1.470 wickets per game, which was the third best last season.
Rabada had a disastrous powerplay as he struck every 69 deliveries while Nortje wasn't too good too, with a SR of 27. It was the finger spinners, Axar and Ashwin, who saved DC from major embarrassment. Axar (6.27) and Ashwin (7) weren't only economical but struck every 16.5 and 14.6 deliveries respectively in the field restrictions.
Have they addressed the PP woes?
First of all, they will need to minimize the usage of Nortje and Rabada in the powerplay since they nail the other phases of the game. Now, they have already bought players like Chris Woakes, Umesh Yadav and Lukman Meriwala to arrest their PP slump. Umesh has a strike-rate of 18.7 with an economy of 7.62 in the first six since the start of 2018 and can be tried with the new ball. Not only him, Meriwala can prove to be a great option. He has excelled in the last two SMAT seasons, can move the new ball, has variations up his sleeve and also provides control. He was among the wickets with the new ball in SMAT 2020/21 and also gives the variety of a left-arm pacer. Woakes might be an enticing option but he has a strike-rate 25.5 and an ERO of 9.94 in T20s since the commencement of 2018 in the powerplay.
Middle-overs: Mishra can prove to be X-factor; kill with Nortje-KG
The Delhi-based franchise had the worst ER (8) of all sides in IPL 2020. This was largely because they didn't take as many wickets, with them having a strike-rate of 25.5 claiming 1.88 wickets per game, the fourth best in the 7-14 overs time period. It wasn't good given the amount of runs they were conceding regularly. The major reason behind it was R Ashwin's lack of wicket-taking abilities. Despite being the team's premier spinner, he struck every 28 deliveries with an ER of 8. While Axar, a defensive spinner, had a SR of 44.4. However, Rabada (15.6) and Nortje (9.6) enjoyed a lot of success and regularly picked wickets in the eight-overs phase.
What needs to be done?
This is where the comeback of Amit Mishra will do wonders for the team. He was unfit last season and it was a major blow to the side. Praveen Dubey was tried but he was ineffective. However, Mishra, an attacking option, can be used to take more wickets and have a greater middle-phase impact. The veteran Indian spinner has an ER of 6.64 but, most importantly, strikes every 19.6 balls in the IPL in the 7-14 overs phase since the start of 2018. Alongside Mishra, DC can use the duo of Nortje-Rabada as enforcers. The duo have the knack of taking wickets and the trio can break the backbone of any side.
Death overs | The KG-Nortje forte last year; one of their strengths this year
No team took more wickets (45) than Delhi Capitals at death, last year, as they struck every 12.44 balls in the 15-20 overs phase, second only to KXIP (11.15). They also had the fourth best ER (9.72) in the fag end, just marginally above SRH (9.7) and KKR (9.67). So, death bowling was one of their biggest strengths in terms of bowling.
It wasn't surprising given KG-Nortje excelled in the period and took 34 wickets among themselves last season. Rabada was the best bowler in the tournament at death with 23 wickets in 16 innings with a SR of 7.7 and an ER 9.30. Nortje also claimed 11 wickets at a strike-rate of 14.18 while going at 9.31 runs per over. Not only this duo, Marcus Stoinis had a golden arm and took 8 wickets in 11.4 overs with a great SR of 8.75. His ER (10.37) was on the higher side but he helped sneak those tough overs that aided the side in the absence of a quality third pacer.
The concerning part
The duo of KG-Nortje did show signs of exhaustion, last year, as their performances dipped in the latter stage of the tournament. This is where the team lacks quality overseas back-ups, even in case of injuries to either of them. Though DC have roped in the English duo of Chris Woakes and Tom Curran but they are all-rounders rather than specialist pacers. Their death performances have been ordinary in IPL as Woakes (11.52) and Curran (12.26) have been way too expensive since the beginning of 2018.
Avesh Khan, a hit-the-deck-hard express pacer, can be a good option at death. He has an ER of 7.69 and a strike-rate of 9.8 in T20s from 2018 onwards. Also, he's in great form and took 14 wickets in five games in the SMAT 2020/21 with an ER of 7.45 and a strike-rate of 8.5.
Delhi Capitals have a very strong first-choice bowling unit and there's no dearth of variety too. They have tried to address the powerplay woes by getting some good new ball bowlers in the side. The return of Amit Mishra strengthens their middle-overs bowling, while they already have been very good in the death overs. So, all bodes well. However, one issue which can haunt them is in case of an injury to either of Nortje/Rabada, they lack like-for-like/quality specialist back-ups. The duo did show ineffectiveness in the last few games and it jolted their bowling and with lack of back-ups, it can become difficult to address this vulnerability.