Delhi vs Mumbai at the Kotla. A bunch of Delhiites are supporting the Mumbai Indians. Or Sachin Tendulkar. By now, Tendulkar is fast moving towards the end of his IPL career; coincidentally, the end is nigh for Delhi Daredevils too. And Ajit Agarkar, who slides over a Tendulkar on drive that goes for four.
Delhi vs Bangalore at the Kotla. Mitchell Starc is stripping Delhi’s batsmen with his yorkers. Out of nowhere, Dr. Luthria from down the road, emerges. He seems far more cheery than ever, announcing his exit with a Krishna-like swirl in the air, “Game is over, nothing left to see”.
A healthy couple, seated in front of me, hand 500 bucks each to their healthy kids for eats.
Delhi vs Deccan Chargers. A bunch of cricket bloggers, two from South Africa go to the Kotla, to be pierced by “Go Chargers Go”.
First season, first game vs Rajasthan. Delhi had it all, won the match, but guess who went on to win the IPL?
Years back, if you told anyone that Delhi Daredevils will change its name and make a comeback for the ages; ‘anyone’ would say, “yeah right, just like Robbie Uthappa will?”
It’s unfathomable that Delhi is in the playoffs. It’s not like there are no traces of that bewildering old franchise. Some of that old skin is yet to shed, but it’s way deeper that something has changed.
Delhi Daredevils was in a sad loop, thriving on poor decisions, building on wreckages, with their only real equity as a brand being laughing stock options.
But hell, it was Delhi. And if by some misfortune you found yourself looped in their doom, it was doubly painful. It was best not to watch them. Unless your thing was to watch pranksters masquerading as professional sportspersons.
There wasn’t a thing Delhi hadn’t tried – they tossed together the cricketing equivalent of tequila, whiskey, rum, cocaine, marijuana, acid in any order whatsoever. Which is why, they continued to barf on the IPL with such hilarity.
Breaking the Sehwag-Gambhir opening for David Warner was up there with letting go of Gambhir at the top of his game.
Now, after all those seasons, Shikhar Dhawan is back to where it began for him. Last season, so was Gautam Gambhir. So, dramatic was that season, Gambhir is now campaigning to win an election.
Delhi also went through a season when James Hopes was their most accomplished batsman. Along with Venugopal Rao. Hopes is Ricky Ponting’s deputy now.
By now, ownership change, personnel change, logo change, jersey change, colour change, the name-change from Delhi Daredevils to Delhi Capitals, all have been documented. It may have been tempting to go with Delhi’s erstwhile name, Indraprastha, but perhaps Indraprastha Rajdhanis didn’t quite cut it.
So here we are. With an investment in the future, with some smart tweaks finally paying off to balance the Delhi portfolio. To identify that Rishabh Pant, Shreyas Iyer and Prithvi Shaw are long-term investments – that will not be messed with was a start. No exits, no redemptions.
Shaw in only his second season shows how form or runs have not forced Delhi’s hand. Not as yet. Last season, he played nine games. Identified as a mainstay only after a few games. So far, in spite of his up-and-down form, he has opened in every match. The strike rate has dropped, as have the returns, but the backing has not.
On his day, Shaw is a match winner. There have been very few such days. But knowing that he will play every game, must count for something?
Rishabh Pant has possibly been India’s most scrutinized cricketer over the last few months. In his fourth IPL season already, Pant’s position is finally defined at four. Over the last three seasons, he’s played every Delhi game. From a force of nature; automatic transmission in previous years, in addition to the accelerator, Pant now has to be a clutch player too. There is the half century off 18 balls, but there are also innings that are run-a-ball before they cherry blossom and blind you with their magnificence.
While Pant’s strike rate, batting average and over-all returns have both dropped from last season, he’s been part of the engine room that’s driven Delhi to the play-offs.
16 sixes less, 35 fewer fours, appears Pant may be biting down much more than just his tongue these days. There’s much being made of him finishing games, but three not outs are writing a different ending.
Then there is the younger-elder statesman, Shreyas Iyer. Captain. No. 3. Communicator. Post-match eloquence. Mainstay against spin on the tired Kotla pitches. Iyer can pass off as an invisible captain. What, he was unfazed even after Delhi’s stormy collapse against Punjab. But it is his ability to turn it on out of nowhere, especially against spin (back-to-back sixes in a tight chase vs Rajathan) that demonstrate what he can be capable of.
When it doesn’t come off, he’ll just walk off with a shrug. He appears to be just one of the guys; in the dazzle of the IPL, that’s a welcome contradiction.
What more there is to Iyer, only Iyer can unearth from here. Beyond the runs, canny selections and bowling changes could be the key; bowling Amit Mishra for his full quota will be a start.
Across most seasons, Shikhar Dhawan’s returns have been similar. Blended with the unpredictability of smashing young Indian batsmen, Dhawan has worked as the near-perfect foil for Delhi’s top order batting.
While some of Dhawan’s dismissals appear almost as brazen as that of his brethren, it’s precisely a style of play and purpose that unites the team’s top four Indian batsmen.
On any day, Delhi can win big or lose even bigger. That they sealed nine wins in spite of the unfavourable Kotla pitch and bowling selections is creditworthy.
With Kagiso Rabada’s exit however, there is a definite downgrade in Delhi Capitals’ credit rating. From a triple A, it’s now hovering around A minus.
Rabada stopped Andre Russell with the yorker in that super over. Rabada stopped 25 batsmen. But Rabada couldn’t stop a niggle from making him back-off.
In Rabada’s absence, Ishant-Boult-Mishra stepped up. But without Rabada, there is no death bowler. Without Rabada, there is no bully-bowler.
By making the play-offs, Delhi has already crossed a bridge too far. From now on, they’re up against champion teams – first Sunrisers Hyderabad, 2016 champions; and next, if they win that game, against either three time champions, CSK or Mumbai Indians.
This season, Delhi has beaten both MI and SRH once but yet to beat CSK so far. If they are win the IPL, they will have to go past them – either on Friday in Visakhapatnam or on Sunday in Hyderabad.
That they won’t play CSK in either Chennai or Delhi is a start.
And if somehow they go past CSK, they will have beaten all seven teams.
If that isn’t a champion side, what is?
(Gaurav Sethi branded Bored Cricket Crazy Indians (BCC!) to bring bloggers together. He also branded Che Pujara, Jatman and Thank You Sachin! – as a cartoon, before it became a farewell cry. He used to work on brands. Now he works on himself. He tweets at @BoredCricket)