After winning just two matches out of five in the first two weeks of this year’s Indian Premier League the Delhi Capitals have hit their straps winning six of their next seven matches to book a playoff place for the first time since 2012. It is a rather important achievement for a franchise that seems to have been stuck in the lower rungs of the IPL for what seems like forever.
In many ways, Delhi Capitals reaching the playoffs is the story of the season so far. A young team led by a young captain has somehow found a way to shed all the baggage of the past and begin anew. And that should always be cause for celebration.
T20 is an unpredictable format. One good innings, one bad over, one dropped catch can change the course of the match. Sometimes, there is no chance to make a comeback. Test and one-day cricket give you a chance to make amends, but in T20 cricket teams need to embrace unpredictability.
Still, Delhi had somehow managed to entrench itself in the lower reaches of the points table. There was no unpredictability there. Season after season, they would be in the bottom three.
Like every year, this season too began with promise and a talented squad. But like every year, Delhi started off badly. With just two wins in their first five matches, Delhi was more old than new.
But then, something clicked.
Prime among those factors was Shikhar Dhawan. It started off with an unbeaten 97 against Kolkata Knight Riders in Kolkata. He has since followed it up with scores of 7, 35, 56, 54, 50. Prithvi Shaw hasn’t been firing on all cylinders but Dhawan’s experience at the top of the order is giving the rest of the batting line-up breathing space.
Shreyas Iyer’s captaincy seems to be improving with every game — perhaps that is a result of his batting form which seems to put him in a good place mentally. He has bowlers he can trust and the batting which is slowly coming together has the potential to blow past the opposition.
Rishabh Pant has not had a great time in home games but he has been vital for them in away matches. When he does going, he morphs into the power hitter all teams fear. To compete against Chennai Super Kings or the Mumbai Indians, teams need an X-factor and for Delhi, that man is Pant.
And as Colin Ingram, Sherfane Rutherford and Axar Patel showed against Royal Challengers Bangalore, they are more than capable of providing a final push. That final push moved their total beyond RCB and took them to the top of the IPL table, ahead of CSK on the basis of their net run-rate.
Kagiso Rabada, as usual, has been at his best — bowling the most 150 km/h deliveries in the tournament. Pace alone wouldn’t do the trick but he has allied it with accuracy to become a truly potent weapon for DC. He also brings the mindset of being one of the best in the world.
And then there is the contribution from beyond the field. Coach Ricky Ponting, advisor Sourav Ganguly and assistant coach Mohammad Kaif have stitched the team into an effective unit.
“With seniors like Sourav sir, Ricky sir, Kaif sir around, the body language changes. There are few youngsters like me, Sandeep [Lamichhane], Manjot [Kalra] but we are never made to feel that we were inexperienced, instead, we are always kept in the same group with the seniors, on and off the field,” said Shaw a few days back.
And all these factors have combined to make Delhi a competitive unit — one that can become even better if Shaw and Pant find some consistency in the last few matches.
“This [Being top of the table] is an amazing feeling. Before the start of the tournament we wanted to qualify, so we are really satisfied and happy now that we have qualified. It’s really important to let the bowlers do their job and not interfere, same is the case with the batsmen. In every game individuals have chipped in with handy contributions and taken the team over the line,” said Iyer after the game against RCB.
Iyer added: “We are going to maintain the same intensity and mindset for the rest of the tournament. We were termed as the underdogs before the start of the tournament and before the start of every match we think the same.”
With Ponting and Ganguly around, one can be sure that complacency won’t set it and that is the attitude that they need going forward – into territory that Delhi hasn’t experienced for a long, long time.