Where they finished
Third place, at the end of everything with two deafening defeats in the playoffs to deal with. Yet, after their 2011 nightmare, their single big benefit from this edition would be a return to being one of the IPL's more consistent teams. What they would want now with all this consistency are some trophies. At least their consistency in the league phase has rewarded them with a place in the Champions League T20.
Despite the opening presence of Virender Sehwag and David Warner at the top, it was Morne Morkel
's venom that set Daredevils on its way to the playoffs at the start of the IPL. Height, pace, accuracy, the ability to generate awkwardness from batsmen and a calm persona helped Morkel signal the turnaround in Daredevils' fortunes and saw them sail through the first six weeks. A team of quicks supporting him certainly helped but Morkel led the pack like he was meant to but ask batsmen facing him about the 160 dot balls in the 378 bowled. Umesh Yadav was a good partner and the reasons to keep Morkel out of the XI versus Chennai Super Kings will forever be debated
. Team balance, he said. More foreign players in an XI, grumbled others. One way or another, more Morne anyway.
For all the cursing about a lack of spinners, Daredevils would believe that its uncapped left-arm spinner, Shahbaz Nadeem
(bought for Rs 30 lakh), at least gives them a tidy option. He had an ordinary run in his last half of his 12-match IPL, taken to the cleaners by Jesse Ryder and Sourav Ganguly but surely that is a 22-year-old's rite of passage. Of all the slow bowlers tried by Daredevils, it was Nadeem who got more wickets than anyone else and had a better economy rate than Morkel, Yadav and Varun Aaron. A place in the XI heading into the final week of the tournament could have been argued for.
Surely $700,000 is match-winner's money. It's what Venugopal Rao
cleaned up at the 2011 auction, so to have played only ten matches out of a season's total of 18 with a return of 122 runs means that some numbers are not acting up. Rao turned up in the middle order, often at No. 3, ahead of Mahela Jayawardene and Ross Taylor on a few occasions, but was unable to return a strike-rate higher than 104. It is the new statistic that batting signings will be judged on in Twenty20 and by that count, Rao needed better numbers than he had this season.
Without doubt, David Warner's decimation of the Deccan Chargers' hopes in the team's chase of 187 in Hyderabad
. Not because it was a batsman smashing bowlers all around - this was the Chargers minus Dale Steyn, remember - but because Warner brought to bear in splendor, abandon and just crazy hitting, his impact in the shortest form of the game and why his name had travelled far. Just like Warner himself who was playing in only his second IPL 2012 match having stepped off a plane and a Test series in Dominica just a fortnight ago. Often, matches in the IPL go past in a blur; Warner's 109 not out off 54 balls, with seven sixes, was memorable for its aggression and the fact that he won Daredevils the game by nine wickets, with 20 balls to spare.
Naturally the final-week qualifiers. Daredevils won both tosses and botched it twice. The quicks had given Daredevils much fuel all through the IPL but the omission of spinning options in Roelof van der Merwe or Shahbaz Nadeem to start with cost them on the slow-spinning Pune
track against Knight Riders. To keep Ross Taylor back behind Venugopal Rao and 19-year-old left-hander Pawan Negi when the run-rate began to climb, had an explanation in theoretical tactics but on the field it just looked plain illogical. Then in the last-chance saloon versus Super Kings, Morkel, the tournament's highest wicket-taker, sat out because of Andre Russell's all-round skills. The result met a logical end: no wonder, the short cut to the final was cut short.
All the way to the final week, it looked as if Daredevils had got their mojo back or rather got the formula right. Two semi-finals in the first two editions followed by a narrow miss of the knockout through net run-rate in the third shows that they remain one of the more consistent teams of the IPL. Yet the bottom-placed finish in 2011 could be the blip that was needed to get their shape back. It may look like a love for quick bowlers - there are nine on their roster, including two of India's fastest - or to keep looking for the allrounders perfect for Twenty20 or just the ability to identify batsmen who can do the business. The razzle-dazzle of Virender Sehwag, Kevin Pietersen and Warner was strengthened by the low-on-noise high-on-quality Mahela Jayawardene. It should have surprised no one that they marched through the first six weeks of the IPL with few who could them. This is what they need but all the way to the business end will require a rethink and maybe more trust in their own spinners.