IPL 2016: Not knowing their best combination doom Delhi Daredevils’ play-off hopes

They may be Delhi’s Daredevils, but it’s not unfair to suggest that the only thing about Zaheer Khan’s team on Tuesday that suggested they were at all ‘devilish’ was that they were really diabolic.

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Delhi Daredevils captain Zaheer Khan and Christopher Morris of Delhi Daredevils during match 49 of the Vivo IPL 2016 (Indian Premier League) between Rising Pune Supergiants and the Delhi Daredevils held at the ACA-VDCA Stadium, Visakhapatnam on the 17th May 2016 Photo by Rahul Gulati / IPL/ SPORTZPICS

They may be Delhi’s Daredevils, but it’s not unfair to suggest that the only thing about Zaheer Khan’s team on Tuesday that suggested they were at all ‘devilish’ was that they were really diabolic.

Delhi Daredevils went down to Rising Pune Supergiants by 19 runs via Duckworth-Lewis method in a rain-marred tie at the VCA Stadium.

This is the final week of IPL 2016’s league matches, and it is a time when the players and teams need to ‘dig deep’, ‘really want it’, ‘give 110%’ – and draw upon as many other inspirational clichés they can think of to get the ‘all-important’ win. It’s not a time to ‘feel the heat’, or ‘wilt under the pressure’ – which is exactly what the Daredevils have done in four of their last five games. Bad timing by the Daredevils? Or are they/were they never quite good enough?

Admittedly they’ve had their share of ill-fortune: an injury here and there has not helped – and Quinton de Kock could tell you a thing or two about the umpiring decisions he’s been on the receiving end of. But then, several sides in this year’s competition could tell much the same story.

Maybe their biggest problem is that they’ve never known what their best team is, and never settled on a strategy. They’ve chopped and changed far too many times, never identified who their best players are – nor identified their most effective role within the side. I’m not saying that they should have been regimented, and not be adaptable to differing oppositions and varying conditions – it’s just that a team thrives and develops more fully when it is settled.

Take de Kock for example. Much will be made of the dramatic difference in his results when his side bats first or second: this season he has provided 354 runs at 59.00 when chasing; 29 at 7.25 when batting first. But equally, the young South African has not been helped by not having a regular, settled opening partner – in twelve games thus far, he’s had four different guys walk out to the middle with him to start the innings.

Unfortunately, the Daredevils must look themselves square in the mirror when this campaign concludes and admit that not only have they played inconsistently, and at times plain poorly, but they’ve also far from made the best use of the resources at their disposal.

It’s less than two months since a young man from Barbados audaciously stole the T20 World Cup from under Ben Stokes and England’s noses with four successive, mighty sixes – the most thrilling and emphatic end to an international cricket tournament ever. And what has he been doing for most of this competition? Surely Carlos Brathwaite has not been forgotten already? Delhi management’s memories cannot be that short?

Elsewhere, and not just with the opening slots, the batting order had defied belief. Chris Morris has proved repeatedly that he is one of the most dangerous, destructive and fastest hitters currently in world cricket – why then has he spent most of IPL 2016 batting in the lower half of the order? JP Duminy has played in excess of two hundred T20 matches in a twelve-year career and still averages nearly forty. Against Pune, in a must win game, he batted at number six. He came in after thirteen overs had already been bowled – and the score was a miserable 62-4. Morris entered the fray with barely five overs left and only seventy on the board.

If I were picking my team for next season, Morris would be the first man on my list, bar none. He is an intelligent, sharp and aggressive pacer – hard to get away, and a genuine wicket-taking option. As a batsman, he is as quick a scorer as anyone in the league. Against Rising Pune Supergiants, he finally brought up the Daredevils three-figures off the first ball of the final over. Off the third he made room and carved the ball to the fence over extra cover. Off the fourth he put Thisara Perera over long off for six – incredibly, the first such of the innings. The fifth ball he lapped/scooped through short-fine leg’s hands to reach the boundary again. The sixth he heaved over deep midwicket for a huge six. The South African left the field with 38 off 20 balls – and the Daredevils had achieved a total in excess of a run-a-ball for the first time in their innings. It was of course, too little, too late. But why on Earth is Morris coming in so late anyway?

I’m forced to ask, what are Head Coach Paddy Upton, mentor Rahul Dravid and Captain Zaheer Khan playing at? Some of the supposedly most astute thinkers on the T20 game, they’ve got it wrong this season – often in the most obvious of ways. With the greatest of respect to young Indian batsmen Shreyas Iyer, Karun Nair, Sanju Samson and Rishabh Pant – who are all good and promising players – there is no way all of them should be batting ahead of Duminy and Morris. One, maybe two of them, yes – but all four? Crazy.

Each of them perished in soft circumstances, none of them managed to show sufficient intent in their batting, and not one of them managed to score at even a run-a-ball. Iyer made 8 from 10 balls and was undone by the pace and bounce of Ashok Dinda – he was comfortably caught when he took his eye off the ball, flinched and pulled uppishly to deep square leg. The other three were all bamboozled, suffocated and strangled by the leg-spin of Adam Zampa: Samson was simply, and naively stumped by MS Dhoni for 10 off 13 balls when Zampa drew him out of his crease; Pant was caught at long off for a tortured 4 off 9 balls; and Nair was lbw to the Australian for 41 off 43 balls – hit high on the thigh sweeping, and yet he was so low for the shot that it was a good decision.

Tuesday night’s abysmal batting display was probably a disaster waiting to happen – and it was only Morris and the rain that prolonged the agony and delayed confirmation of their defeat to the IPL’s bottom team until beyond midnight.

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