When Sourav Ganguly joined Delhi Capitals as director of cricket ahead of the Indian Premier League 2023, his return to the team after four years during which he had also served as president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), was expected to bring solace to a team suffering from the loss of captain Rishabh Pant, who had to miss this season due to injury caused by an accident.
Ganguly and head coach Ricky Ponting, as had happened in 2019 when the franchise reached the playoffs, was a venerable combination that should have inspired the team which was led by another international star David Warner. Besides these, the think tank also included Shane Watson, Pravin Amre, James Hopes and Ajit Agarkar.
But at the end of the season, and despite big names, the franchise lay at the bottom of the pile (9th out of 10 teams), eliminated from the competition earliest of all.
Batting or bowling, nothing clicked.
A lot was expected from a batting line-up with international stars like Warner, Phil Salt, Mitchell Marsh and Rilee Rossouw as well as talented Indian youngsters Prithvi Shaw and Sarfaraz Khan.
“Warner performed but played his knocks at a slow pace. But the main reason was the failure of the top-order they were banking on, like Mitchell Marsh and Phil Salt. They failed,” said former India World Cup-winner Madan Lal.
Lal, who has captained at the Ferozeshah Kotla pitch in domestic cricket for four or five years in his heydays said that these overseas stars are used to scoring runs on true surfaces.
“The main reason [for the team’s failure] was that the batsmen, especially Mitchell Marsh and Phil Salt, didn’t click. I don’t know whether they made the right team or combination considering the track at Delhi. You have to consider the conditions in Delhi, what sort of track you have. I know Marsh, Warner and Salt can get a lot of runs and quickly too if the bounce is more. But they might not get those runs where the bounce is a bit low,” said Lal.
Rossouw and Salt clicked in just one or two matches and have lacked consistency. Marsh too had just one knock to show in nine games.
It appears the team remained confused all throughout right till the end. While the top two teams in the league competition – Gujarat Titans and Chennai Super Kings – featured 18 players in the 14 league games, Delhi Capitals had featured 23 players. It showed they were unsure of the right combination.
As many as 12 of these were either proper batsmen (9) or allrounders (3) inducted for their batting prowess. But such was the batting failure that after David Warner’s 516 runs, all-rounder Axar Patel was the next highest runscorer with 283 runs after all 14 league games. Salt (218) and Rossouw (209) were the only others to have aggregated more than 200 runs.
No India batsman including young stars like Shaw and Khan, as well as the experienced Manish Pandey, came good.
Former India cricketer Surinder Khanna added that the pool of Indian players is extremely important for a franchise.
“The slots for overseas players in a playing XI are restricted to only four. The bulk of the responsibility lies with the Indian players. If they are not good, then obviously the team will suffer. So, I think every franchise needs to look into its pool of Indian domestic players. The same goes for Delhi Capitals,” said Khanna, the former wicketkeeper-batsman.
Shaw and Khan were not given enough opportunities after the limited chances they got saw them failing.
“Consistency [in playing XI] is a very important part of T20 cricket because the batsman is looking for runs from the very first ball [and there are chances of failure]. You have to give them a long rope. Most of the successful teams have their own set of players, i.e. those who are playing continuously,” added Lal, who also said that Shaw and Khan needed to be given more opportunities.
“Prithvi Shaw, Sarfaraz Khan should have been given a consistent run. Shaw should have been given more opportunities,” he said.
Quite surprisingly, little-known all-rounder Aman Hakim Khan, playing his first IPL, got to play 11 matches out of 14 and that too purely as a batsman despite getting past fifty only once and not getting to even 20 in any of the other innings. He averaged 13.75 for his aggregate of 110 in 11 matches at an ordinary strike rate of 108.9.
Experienced Manish Pandey also got to play 10 matches but aggregated just 160 runs at an average of 17.8 with only one half-century. The right-handed India batsman has played IPL in all 16 seasons but wasn’t able to conjure much despite experience.
Going by Axar Patel’s form, he may have been a good bet to bat up the order, for example at No. 4, but the team management, it has been learnt, also wanted someone of his calibre to provide fillip later in the innings.
Patel, in fact, could have been a good bet as skipper of the team as he had been in the Delhi Capitals set-up for the last few years unlike David Warner, who joined the franchise only last year from Sunrisers Hyderabad and has not enough understanding of the team’s strengths and weaknesses.
Patel also has experience of captaincy, having led Gujarat in Ranji Trophy and T20s on occasions.
Former Gujarat coach Vijay Patel says, “Axar is a very good captain, good thinker and one who can take everyone along. The atmosphere was very relaxed with him in charge of Gujarat state team.”
Of course, leading a state team in domestic competition is different from leading a franchise full of big stars, but he at least had the idea of the franchise set-up.
To be fair to Warner, as a batsman he wanted to drop the anchor and tried to bat long but no one from the other end helped him by scoring quick runs. He remained the only consistent batsman in an oasis of inconsistency.
Bowling Below Par
India’s domestic players didn’t just disappoint in batting. They did so in bowling too. Neither Khaleel Ahmed nor Mukesh Kumar showed any incisiveness and never looked like bowling match-winning spells.
Ishant Sharma impressed in some matches with his experience but the standout bowler was left arm spin bowling all-rounder Axar Patel again with 12 wickets. Chinaman Kuldeep Yadav too delivered with wickets but barring Axar and Kuldeep and to an extent Ishant, bowling came up short.
The much-hyped South African pacer Anrich Nortje formed a lethal combination with compatriot Kagiso Rabada at the Capitals in 2020 and 2021 before the latter moved to Punjab Kings ahead of 2022 season. The two had shared 52 wickets – 30 to Rabada and 22 to Nortje – in 2020 when the team reached the IPL final.
But in Rabada’s absence, Nortje was a pale shadow of himself, managing 10 wickets in the season in 10 matches and going for over nine an over. Importantly, he failed to come up with a match-winning spell.
The Capitals had made the playoffs in 2019, 2020 (losing finalists) and 2021. It managed to finish fifth in the table last year.
But finishing in ninth place is too low and will likely lead to drastic changes not just in the team but also in the star-studded coaching staff amid whispers among experts, the former cricketers, that too many big names are probably making the dressing room confused.