It was a similar case in the Delhi Daredevils’ first game against the Kolkata Knight Riders. A new strategy that needed to be implemented immediately, a couple high price tags that needed to be justified, a middle order that didn’t have an anchor and a golden oldie leading the side – just too many ingredients in a dish that just didn’t taste or smell right. The end result:
There was something saner about their first-choice eleven in the first home game of the season. Against Kings XI Punjab, the Daredevils made two changes – bringing in Jayant Yadav and JP Duminy in place of Mayank Agarwal and Nathan Coulter-Nile. And voila, there was the balance they had been searching for desperately at the Eden Gardens.
The South African had missed out there because of his long recovery from injury. Meanwhile, the spinning duties had fallen on Pawan Negi and Amit Mishra, the former clearly uncomfortable thus far in his newfound spotlight. It was a definitive imbalance, partly forced, partly self-created. But at the same time it had to be addressed before the Daredevils spiraled into another poor start.
Was it Zaheer Khan’s improved selection then? Was it Paddy Upton’s inputs in his choices? Or, was it simply the experience of Rahul Dravid speaking up? Whether stand-alone influences or a mix of all three, Delhi had been missing this definitive touch in the past seasons – one that can identify the cause of misery and improve upon it immediately.
There was this pressing need to sort out the balance of their playing eleven, and call it their masterchefs’ hand that helped improve it. Jayant Yadav coming in as back-up spinner, while Duminy balancing the middle order even as Shreyas Iyer moved up to open the innings. Would the Kings XI blink though?
Indeed they did, as another old-timer worked magic for them on field. After Zaheer bowled an opening spell reminiscent of his erstwhile international days, Amit Mishra came to the fore and wreaked havoc in the Punjab batting order. On a pitch that didn’t help comfort the batsmen, his guile created further doubts in their minds.
And his control never let them fight back as is habitual in this slam-bang format. So much so that he wasn’t even called to complete his full quota of overs, finishing with 4-11 in three overs bowled. The damage done had already broken Kings XI’s back.
Mishra has proved his vitality in IPL time and over. With three hat tricks in the last eight seasons, he has been instrumental in raising the stock of leg spinners in the T20 format. They came in 2008 (Delhi Daredevils), 2011 (Deccan Chargers) and 2013 (Sunrisers Hyderabad), the latter two seasons his best in terms of wicket-hauls bringing in 19 and 21 wickets, respectively. He was even selected for the 2014 World T20 on the back of his 2013 IPL season performances.
The underlying point here is that the Daredevils need Mishra to replicate those performances and be the lead spinner that his experience defines. Last year, when he returned to the Daredevils’ fold for Rs. 3.5 crore, he ended up with 9 wickets from 12 matches, an unacceptable return.
Particularly seeing, as they haven’t landed on a second spinner yet. Yadav’s spell was refreshing but it ought to be worrying that Negi was rendered wasteful so early for a second match running. Just the one over bowled, and the sum of his two performances in the tournament thus far has belied that heavy price tag. Still, he will be given more opportunities to justify it, and rightly so. But the bottom-line here is that the rest shouldn’t get bogged down in their respective roles.
As such it must have been heartening for their bench to see Quinton de Kock and Sanju Samson get runs, and negate what could have been a tricky run-chase. They avoided the loss of early wickets, another key difference from the Kolkata game, and then built on it despite the loss of Shreyas Iyer with just 9 runs on the board.
The ploy of holding Duminy and Carlos Brathwaite for big hitting later on works only if the young top-order shows patience in shot selection. As such, the 91-run partnership between de Kock and Samson was a significant marker in that respect, as much as it got them on the points’ table.
More assuring and forthcoming were the nods from Dravid then, sitting in the dugout, taking notes and keeping an intense eye on proceedings all the while. It might as well have been Pierre White hinting his approval at a task well accomplished.
They are definitely cooking it up in that Delhi camp, and they are just about starting to get it right.