IPL 2022: Delhi Capitals never got out of second gear this season and it cost them when it mattered most – Firstcricket News, Firstpost

Fate is never without a cruel sense of irony. At a most pivotal moment for Delhi Capitals, when it needed to lean on DRS and umpires to get a decision against Tim David, Rishabh Pant decided not to opt for the review. David smacked 34 runs off 10 balls thereafter and Mumbai Indians somehow scraped across the finish line, setting off wild celebrations both at the Wankhede and in Bengaluru.

Rewind to when Pant and Capitals lost their calm against an umpiring decision against Rajasthan Royals. How one of the coaches – Pravin Amre – stepped across the boundary to argue with the umpires? How Pant had even signalled his batsmen to walk off the field, an unprecedented move in the Indian Premier League? On Saturday night, the chickens came home to roost.

Delhi Capitals’ captain Rishabh Pant reacts in dugout after his dismissal during match 69 of IPL 2022 against Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Saturday. Sportzpics

Let it be said that IPL 2022 has been a poor season for Pant. 340 runs in 14 matches is his lowest run-tally since 2017. For the first time in his IPL career, Pant failed to score a single half-century across the season, with a highest of 44. His strike rate hovered over 150, even closer to 160 for most parts, significantly higher than the last two IPL seasons. But what good is that strike rate alone when it cannot be measured in runs or impactful innings?

It turned out to be a key problem for Delhi Capitals. Think Pant and IPL, and you will always recount at least two highly impactful knocks every IPL season. An aggressive half-century, a miraculous 70-odd off 40-ish deliveries; Pant’s signature would be all over Delhi’s season and it would generate momentum for the middle order too.

This has been an elusive element for the franchise this season, and Pant simply didn’t kick off as a batsman. A school of thought might even suggest that he was too engrossed in captaincy, especially with all the problems Delhi encountered. It was the only camp seriously affected by COVID-19, losing key players and support staff at different times, including coach Ricky Ponting. It left Pant as the point man, as seen from his on-field outburst mid-season, and arguably, it derailed both his and Delhi’s season.

That COVID-19 episode cost them more. Much was put at stake when Delhi picked up Mitchell Marsh in the auctions, and his unavailability initially, combined with the illness later, was simply poor luck. During that period, Delhi experimented with five different batsmen at number three, including Pant. Despite David Warner’s return to form, and Prithvi Shaw scoring runs in his company, Delhi’s batting order failed to go through the gears if wickets fell after a good start.

It was a problem they never could solve through the season, and it was an even bigger blight if Delhi lost early wickets. Look at Saturday night’s game – Mumbai got Warner and Marsh cheaply at 22-2. Shaw made a quick start, despite time away due to illness but it didn’t materialise into anything substantial at 31-3. At 50-4, with Sarfaraz Khan gone and Pant having to play a rescuing hand, the writing was pretty much on the wall.

Khan’s inconsistency, and that too of Rovman Powell, hurt Delhi further. Despite his good run-in to the league, Khan failed to cash in on the opportunities granted to him whether at the top or in the middle order. Some would argue the constant chopping and changing didn’t help but Khan has never really proven himself to be a bankable commodity in the IPL, and it wasn’t different this season either. For Powell, it was his first season in the league and though much was expected of him, he simply isn’t in the same class as Shimron Hetmyer, yet.

Then there is Lalit Yadav. He started the season strongly but then his middle-order/finishing role was changed to keep up with the necessary chopping and changing. And he lost form, plus his bearings, so much so that he wasn’t even in Delhi’s plans by the business end of this league stage. It is the underlying problem – the Yadavs, Khans, Powells won’t win you the title, when the Pants and Shaws don’t kick it off. Even Warner’s bat talking again couldn’t save them.

This start-stop phenomenon was most visible in its batting but Delhi suffered from bowling issues as well. While Kuldeep Yadav came across as a vital positive, it cannot be said of the others. Axar Patel was retained for INR 9 crore. He helped Delhi win their first game of the season against Mumbai but fell off a click – performance wise – thereafter. Six wickets in 13 matches is not a good enough return for the second-highest retention at the franchise.

Anrich Nortje’s case is even more baffling. Retaining the South African at INR 6.5 crore, Delhi bet big on him and even let go of Kagiso Rabada, who is a bankable IPL star and took 22 wickets in 12 games for Punjab Kings this season. Nortje, in comparison, was afflicted with a mysterious injury – at least that was the official reasoning given – and thus played only six games. It affected his bowling rhythm and impact, resulting in a mere 9 wickets. Put together, Patel and Nortje cost INR 15.5 crore for a sum total of 15 wickets – a crore-plus for every wicket. To say that’s costly would be an understatement.

Perhaps the biggest bowling loss came from Shardul Thakur. Bought for INR 10.75 crore, there was much hope from the former CSK all-rounder and that he would replicate his international form for Delhi. He struggled for rhythm and bowling form throughout the season, only gaining his touch towards the end. Six of his 15 wickets came in the last two games, which means he picked only 9 wickets in the first 12 games.

It is the same problem mirrored in the batting department. The likes of Khaleel Yadav and Mustafizur Rahman can play supporting roles but if your retained players and mega buys don’t set the tournament alight, it is pointless. Like Warner, Kuldeep’s form couldn’t help Delhi either. So much so, it didn’t win two consecutive games until games 12-13 in this IPL 2022. By then, it was too late to build any useful momentum, and the lack of balance in this side is cause of concern for Ponting and the team management.

For most parts of the season, despite its inconsistency, Delhi looked as if things could come together and it could challenge. At least on paper, it looked a more rounded outfit than Royal Challengers Bangalore, and certainly one that could beat Mumbai Indians to qualify for the knockouts.

Cricket, though, isn’t played on paper, as Delhi found out to their loss and Bangalore’s gain.

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