Ben Jones analyses Rishabh Pant’s side going into the new IPL season.
Coach: Ricky Ponting
Captain: Rishabh Pant
Last season: 2nd
Squad Changes: Alex Carey, Jason Roy, Mohit Sharma, Keemo Paul, Sandeep Lamichhane, Tushar Deshpande, Steve Smith, Umesh Yadav, Ripal Patel, Vishnu Vinod, Lukman Hussain Meriwala, Manimaran Siddharth, Tom Curran, Sam Billings
Venues: Kolkata 5, Ahmedabad 4, Mumbai 3, Chennai 2
The Delhi batting unit easily allows for LH/RH combinations up and down the order. Shikhar Dhawan and Prithvi Shaw at the top opens it up, and while the exact blend of overseas and domestic batsmen is still up for debate, the ability of Rishabh Pant and Shimron Hetmyer to move up and down across the innings is a clear boost when it comes to managing opposition threats.
The ball speed of Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada last season was a key part of their success, and you would expect them to try and replicate the same model. By having two of the quickest bowlers in the tournament alongside each other, Delhi are able to target vulnerable batsmen without unduly affecting their bowling shape, giving them impressive versatility.
Entirely through poor fortune, Delhi’s availability has taken a hit. Shreyas Iyer is out of the tournament through injury, and Axar Patel is unavailable for an undetermined period due to contracting Covid-19. The anchoring core of the Delhi order and their best all-rounder both being out for different lengths of time is a clear blow to their chances. Three games against the likely three weakest sides to open up gives them a soft start, but there are still worries.
Replacing Iyer in particular is tricky. They can go with the like-for-like option of Ajinkya Rahane, but he is nobody’s idea of a T20 batsman. Or, they can use an overseas spot and bring Steve Smith into the side, a slow but secure option who offers similar spin focus to Iyer. The semi-radical option would be to bring in Sam Billings, similarly spin-dominant but far more explosive and able to slide up and down the order.
The reserve seamers being Umesh Yadav, Tom Curran, and Chris Woakes, is a concern. All have their positives – largely in their clear roles – but their actual quality is severely questionable. Tom Curran has the highest economy rate in IPL history, Chris Woakes hasn’t played a T20 match in nearly three years, and Umesh Yadav’s skillset is high risk, high reward. The two overseas players may come good, but their recruitment is highly questionable and invites scrutiny.
The high pace duo sets them up well to bowl at sides like Punjab Kings and Mumbai Indians, both of whom require significant ball speed to limit the threat of their batting line-ups. Spin-wise, once Axar returns from covid-absence they are a pliable, flexible spin unit who can target sides regardless of LHB/RHB balance. They’re susceptible to teams with quality off spin, but those are few and fair between in this particular edition of the tournament.
The Iyer replacement aside, there is at least some stability in the bowling attack, given the likely presence of the two overseas quicks plus Ishant Sharma, Ravichandran Ashwin, and Axar Patel when fit. The issue in the meantime is that balancing the side becomes tricky, and they may have to back one of the inexperienced Indian all-rounders to come in and see them through to Axar’s return.
While they would have expected to challenge for the title once again this season, the absence of Iyer does have a disproportionate effect on their XI, disrupting either their overseas balance, or their attacking intent at the top. As such, play-offs may be the limit of their achievements this season.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.