IPL 2012

Star-studded Delhi look for turnaround

Sharda Ugra

April 3, 2012

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Kevin Pietersen shows off the new Delhi Daredevils jersey, Dubai, February 16, 2012
Kevin Pietersen has been brought in to inject flamboyance in Delhi Daredevils' middle order © AFP
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Big Picture

Constant revival is the historical motif of the Daredevils' home city, but a more contemporary representation of Delhi would include high speed and road rage. Season five of IPL for the Daredevils will then naturally require not only brazen overtaking over hairpin bends, but navigational acumen to arrive at their destination.

To finish at the bottom in 2011 after topping the table two years ago is evidence that what was previously fixed, had been broken. The Daredevils ended up with only four wins from 14 matches, trailing even the season's two new teams. Maybe rejigging of the team after the auction caused the imbalance or maybe it was a brittle top order.

Regardless of the explosive pair of Virender Sehwag and David Warner, the Daredevils' opening partnership crossed 50 only three times in 14 innings, and it lacked an energetic middle order to carry on after repeated early setbacks. Their season opened with a home game in which the Daredevils were all out for 95 and of their four victories, only one was to come at home. By the end of the season, the Daredevils were left in shambles.

The repair work for the new season has come in the form of the arrival of two quality middle-order men, Kevin Pietersen, who was brought in from Deccan Chargers, and Mahela Jayawardene, to follow the openers.

Had Morne Morkel not broken Ross Taylor's arm in Wellington, the Daredevils' middle order would have had the perfect mix: batsmen of calibre combining with the game's leading entertainers. Morkel himself leads a quick bowling attack with several options, and the presence of Indians among them gives the Daredevils room for flexibility. Along with New Zealand's Doug Bracewell, who will get his first taste of Indian conditions, and West Indian allrounder Andre Russell, the Daredevils will also field a genuinely quick and now toughened Umesh Yadav. The experience of Irfan Pathan and Ajit Agarkar is valuable and Varun Aaron is said to be recovering from the injury that he picked up last year.

Team mentor T A Sekhar who has been signed on again, after a couple of years with the Mumbai Indians, believes that the general gloom about the Daredevils' lack of slow-bowling options is largely baseless. Twenty20 specialist spinning allrounder Roelof van der Merwe comes with more than useful promise.

Along with its eye-catching star cast, a surprise performance from the Daredevils' second line will be a bonus: whether through Australian allrounder Glen Maxwell, who scored a fifty off 17 balls, a record in Australia's List-A or teenager Unmukt Chand, who is leading the India under-19 team in Australia during a two-week tour. The formula of a successful team, says Sekhar, comes from a high-profile core of performers and a handy supporting cast arranged around them.

Key players

Virender Sehwag: He was the only player the Daredevils wanted to retain in 2010, he is the captain from the 2008 'icon' bunch still standing and he remains the team's centrifugal force. He will be energised not only by the presence of many shot-makers around him, but by the quality all the way down to No. 6. Still, it will be Sehwag who will need to set the tone for how the Daredevils' campaign turns out, especially, if he can get them to better starts than last year.

Mahela Jayawardene: After Pietersen, the highest signing by the Daredevils from the 2012 auction, Jayawardene finds himself in his third IPL team in five years after being an asset for any franchise and a tough man to let go of. He found himself in the auction only because Kochi Tuskers Kerala got booted out of the IPL and will arrive into a set up that can do with his reassuring presence in the midst of extravagant talents. If he's not worn out by Sri Lanka's unending travels, Jayawardene can be the improvisational middle-order man who keeps his head when the big hitters go into turbo mode. His calmness at the crease belies his strike rate. His nous on the field will be of assistance to Sehwag's leadership and he was quickly named as the vice-captain.

Big names in

Kevin Pietersen: Who else? The Daredevils were willing to spend up to half of their auction purse - $2.3m in fact - on signing Pietersen from Deccan Chargers in the January transfer window. The signing comes with the hope that Pietersen will become the Daredevils' talisman like Chris Gayle for Bangalore. In theory, Pietersen and the IPL are made for each other - the attention-grabbing performer and the big-ticket stage. His record in the tournament though, is most unlike the man: modest. There's far too few runs - 329 with two half-centuries - in 13 matches, despite having belonged to the bling-filled environment of Royal Challengers Bangalore. But Pietersen will arrive into the IPL after three weeks of acclimatising in Sri Lanka. What awaits him is a team looking for performers in cricket's biggest showboat. It's a match made in heaven.

Andre Russell: Russell has pace, aggression, athleticism and star quality. Yet to prove himself internationally in the shortest form of the game, he has fitted well into the West Indies ODI squad and caught the eye when playing India in eight ODIs last year just after the World Cup. At the domestic level though, he has come to terms with the curious demands of Twenty20, churning out runs at a strike rate of 148. He has played in the Bangladesh Premier League for the Khulna Royal Bengals*, but now comes the big stuff. Over the next six weeks, Russell will have a chance to prove that he is cut out for cricket's most lucrative event, the IPL, and therefore, worthy of a $450,000 pay cheque.

Big names out

James Hopes brought optimism when he was inducted into the Daredevils side. He was every inch an allrounder needed by a Twenty20 franchise - a bustling batsman anywhere in the order with handy medium-pace. Last season for the Daredevils though, Hopes played in ten games without producing the high-impact returns expected from him. In exchange for Hopes and Ashok Dinda, both players traded in with the Pune Warriors, the Daredevils had enough cash in hand to sign Pietersen onto their rolls.

Below the radar

Irfan Pathan: Irfan Pathan will always have his days, like his bigger hitting elder brother Yusuf. Now that injuries are behind him and he has had a satisfactory domestic season for Baroda, the Daredevils will hope for bigger performances from him. If things are going for Irfan with the bat, he can unleash a late charge or a recovery. When the ball is swinging, he has what is needed to disturb batsmen and check the flood of runs. If a player is only as good as his last game, then Irfan's produced quite a signal: an allround performance in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy final against Punjab that helped Baroda win the title.

Availability

David Warner will turn up in May after the end of Australia's tour of the West Indies and Ross Taylor, when he has recuperated from his injury. Varun Aaron is building up towards recovery and should be ready by the third week. Unmukt Chand will be back from Australia in the second week but if he gets a game, he will have to make it count.

2011 in a tweet

Two semi-finals and a fifth-place finish followed by a crash landing. Law of averages be damned.

* April 3, 2012, 16:05 GMT: The article earlier said that Andre Russell played for the Chittagong Kings. This has been corrected

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

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