Delhi Daredevils v Chennai Super Kings, IPL 2012, Chennai May 25, 2012

The madness of benching Morne Morkel

To make up for Irfan Pathan's absence, Delhi Daredevils made two changes, one of which was leaving out Morne Morkel. And that made a significant difference

In the end, the blow that had the most telling impact on the second qualifier was struck by Jacques Kallis.

Three days ago, in the first qualifier between Kolkata Knight Riders and Delhi Daredevils, Kallis drove a ball hard back at Irfan Pathan, who stuck out his right hand and tried to catch it. The blow cut Irfan's hand severely and though he completed his spell and batted in that match - which Knight Riders won to make the final - the Daredevils management decided to leave him out of the knockout clash against Chennai Super Kings. Irfan's absence threw Daredevils' team composition into disarray.

To fill the allrounder's slot at No. 7, and maintain the balance of six batsmen, one allrounder and four bowlers, Daredevils brought Andre Russell into the team. Had they played a specialist bowler instead, the tail would have been five batsmen long. To include Russell, however, they had to leave out one of the overseas players that played in the loss to Knight Riders - David Warner, Mahela Jayawardene, Ross Taylor or Morne Morkel.

They chose to bench Morkel - IPL 2012's highest wicket-taker, with 25 scalps at an average of 18 and economy of seven per over. Morkel, the bowler who had inspired the season's most improbable victory by conceding two runs in the penultimate over of the defence against Rajasthan Royals. Despite having three leading overseas batsmen and Virender Sehwag, Daredevils decided they needed the insurance of Russell's batting.

The more baffling decision, if such a thing were possible, was the replacement for Morkel. Instead of picking the proven left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem - unless he was not fit - or the experienced Ajit Agarkar, Daredevils brought in Sunny Gupta. Sunny Who? An offspinner who had never played in the IPL before; they gave him the first over as well.

It started badly, and never improved. Murali Vijay danced down the pitch to Gupta's first ball, and hit him to the long-off boundary. Agarkar's economy this IPL has been poor - 9.34 - but he'd have had to experience the most horrendous day to do worse than Gupta's 15.66 in three overs. While Russell had satisfactory figures of 0 for 30 in four overs, Daredevils' fifth bowler - three overs from Gupta and one from Sehwag - went for 0 for 68. Their fourth bowler, Varun Aaron, went for 2 for 63.

In the only other match Morkel missed in this IPL, Daredevils conceded more than 200 against Royal Challengers Bangalore. Today they conceded 222, the highest total of the season.

"Unluckily, Irfan got injured so we had to change the combination," Sehwag said after the defeat. "It was difficult to pick four foreigners, but we backed Russell to do the job. But yes we missed Morne Morkel."

Super Kings, on the other hand, went into the game with no injury worries and clarity of selection. Their side was unchanged from the one that swatted Mumbai Indians aside. And now, after M Vijay's 51-ball century, all of their batsmen have found some sort of form. Ironically, Dhoni also said he would have chased had Sehwag not won the toss, but was happy to have been given first use of a batting-friendly pitch.

"I think it was a very good wicket to bat on initially, second half I don't think it was 100% same," Dhoni said. "It changed a bit but it was not a very bad wicket … It was a wicket where 180-odd runs or 170-odd runs were chaseable, but 40-plus runs in a T20 game becomes very difficult to chase.

"I thought personally they had the line-up who could do that, but it is not an easy job. You have to keep hitting and you have to survive, that is a difficult task."

Daredevils did not threaten the target at all, and the tactic of opening with Jayawardene and dropping Sehwag to No. 3 did not pay off entirely. The most crucial tactical ground, however, had been conceded before the coin was tossed.

George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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