Last year, they came the closest they have in 12 editions to winning the Indian Premier League (IPL) and yet, it was a classic case of so near yet so far. For all the quality and talent they have had in their squads, across seasons, Delhi Capitals just couldn’t get their act together when it mattered and lost key moments which could have taken them to an elusive title win.
As the IPL bandwagon rolls into the deserts of the UAE this year, the Delhi Capitals, formerly the Delhi Daredevils, will sense another opportunity to make a full sprint, without so much as a hobble at the business end, to the title.
In many ways, last year was a season of many firsts for the Delhi franchise. For the first time in seven years, they made it to the play-off stage of the tournament, and, what’s more, won the same number of matches as the Mumbai Indians, the eventual title winners, and the Chennai Super Kings, which finished second in the table. Though they got on a winning run in the last legs of the tournament, some losses upfront pegged back their campaign and saw them finish third in the points table.
Keen to give a better account of themselves than they had in previous years, the franchise, apart from giving itself a new name and logo, also made some key changes to their personnel up top, last year.
They brought in former Australia captain Ricky Ponting as the head coach and former India batsman Mohammad Kaif as his assistant. Also ensuring that their bowling attack had plenty in the way of inputs and advice to fall back on, the owners loosened their purse strings further to rope in former Australian all-rounder James Hopes as the fast bowling coach and former Caribbean leg-spinner Samuel Badree to guide the tweakers in the squad.
However, the one change in personnel that grabbed the most eyeballs was former India captain Sourav Ganguly coming in as advisor or mentor. Though there wasn’t enough clarity on his role, it was assumed that Ganguly, being one of the most successful captains in Indian cricket, would summon his leadership skills to put the boys on victory road.
The mantle of captaincy passed from former India quick Zaheer Khan to Mumbai middle-order batsman Shreyas Iyer, a move that further signalled an intent to forget the past and make a fresh start.
Though they won the first match of their last IPL campaign against the mighty Mumbai Indians, the Capitals slipped thereafter as a run of losses threatened to derail their progress. However, they eventually got their campaign back on track to reach the play-offs for the first time. After coming through a closely-fought first play-off tie against Sunrisers Hyderabad, they lost the eliminator tie to CSK.
A huge takeaway, however, was that they recorded their best finish in the tournament. Another huge plus was the imperious batting form of India keeper-bat Rishabh Pant, who tallied 488 runs in 16 matches at a strike rate of 166.66.
Barring Ganguly, who now heads the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the think-tank has retained their coaching personnel from last year.
Their squad has enough talent and firepower to induce fear in rival camps. In batting, they have the experience of Ajinkya Rahane, who made a switch from Rajasthan Royals, veteran India opener Shikhar Dhawan and skipper Iyer.
The batting line-up also has enough big-hitters in Jason Roy, Prithvi Shaw, Marcus Stoinis, who was formerly with Royal Challengers Bangalore, Pant, West Indians Shimron Hetmyer and Keemo Paul, Englishman Chris Woakes and Australia keeper-bat Alex Carey.
Their bowling also has the skill, experience of Ishant Sharma and Kagiso Rabada, the raw talent of young Avesh Khan, as well as the reliability of Woakes, India spin wizard Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, Mohit Sharma and Harshal Patel.
While the ingredients are all in place, it now remains to be seen if the Delhi Capitals can cook up a sumptuous platter in IPL, Season 13.