Delhi Daredevils should not be succeeding. Not with almost every single odd stacked against them.
The team doesn’t check a lot of boxes which dictate success in the format. There’s no settled opening combination. No bona fide power-hitter. No world-renowned, tearaway fast bowler. No Indian team mainstay in the squad, let alone a star. They are led by a semi-retired 37-year-old who needs to sit the occasional game out.
And then there’s the history. Daredevils have finished in the bottom two for three years straight, and their first outing this season didn’t suggest any change in the status quo. The team lost by 9-wickets to Kolkata Knight Riders, a defeat captain Zaheer Khan shrugged off as “one bad day.”
However a month and numerous upsets later now, they are two wins away from the play-offs berth.
Third on the points table, Daredevils surprisingly have no representative in the top five wickets or runs, with Quinton de Kock and Amit Mishra the only individual performers of note. The whole has been greater than the sum of its parts.
Living up to the moniker, Daredevils are not afraid of taking chances. Nothing is sacrosanct, as can be seen by examining their top wicket-takers last season – Imran Tahir and Nathan Coulter-Nile. The former has played only three matches this season. The latter, two; Thursday’s match saw Coulter-Nile back in action after the defeat against KKR. The number of matches has no correlation with their performance. Tahir has five wickets from his three outings, while Coulter-Nile recorded impressive figures of 2/25 against Sunrisers Hyderabad.
The horses for courses policy also means selection is not by reputation. World T20 final heroics would make Carlos Brathwaite a regular for most of the franchises, just like a R7.5cr tag would Pawan Negi. But the team think-tank comprising Paddy Upton and mentor Rahul Dravid believe in meticulous planning and constant rotation.
Chris Morris shed some light at Thursday’s post-match conference.
“There’s a lot of pieces and planning that go on behind the scene. The players know their roles and the changes made don’t really affect the momentum.”
The Upton-Dravid regime could also spell good news for Indian cricket in the long run. Excluding de Kock and JP Duminy, Daredevils’ decidedly Indian batting features Sanju Samson, Rishabh Pant, Shreyas Iyer, Karun Nair and Mayank Agarwal – a group with the average age of 22 and one T20I cap between them. Four of the five combined to take the team home against the imposing Sunrisers bowling line-up.
It’s not to say that Daredevils won’t have another bad day or that they would definitely qualify for the play-offs. Owing to the uncelebrated personnel and the chop-and-change approach, the team would still go into most of the games as underdogs. However, their performance this year has shown that there’s more than one formula for success.