Injuries plague perennial underachievers
Big PictureDelhi Daredevils are fast earning themselves a reputation of being the underachievers of the IPL. Almost every year they start among the favourites, and despite a line-up that includes the likes of Virender Sehwag and David Warner, the title, and a place in the final, has eluded them so far. They've finished as semi-finalists in 2008 and 2009, and were in the play-offs in 2012. They were also semi-finalists in the Champions League Twenty20 in 2012.
This year may be their toughest in the IPL. Kevin Pietersen has been ruled out for the entire tournament due to injury, while Jesse Ryder is recovering after being assaulted in New Zealand. Captain Mahela Jayawardene is coming off injury, while Virender Sehwag is going through a lean patch. On a positive note, it's a good opportunity for the Indian youngsters in the squad to make an impression. Unmukt Chand, Siddarth Kaul, Manprit Juneja and Kedar Jadhav have all shown glimpses of good form in the recent domestic matches.
The bowling department relies heavily on pace, but some of their key bowlers head into the tournament with little match practice. Ashish Nehra played his last game in January this year, and played just three Ranji matches prior to that for Delhi this season. Umesh Yadav and Irfan Pathan are making their way back after injury lay-offs. While Daredevils can take heart from Yadav's five-for on his return to competitive cricket, the pair's fitness and workload will be a concern for them, even as the franchise seek a replacement for Varun Aaron.
With some of their major players missing, Daredevils may get a chance to make the most of the allrounders in the squad. Jeevan Mendis and Johan Botha will join a squad that has Andre Russell, Roelef van der Merwe, Irfan, Sujit Nayak and Yogesh Nagar.
Key playersMorne Morkel has regained his fitness after a hamstring injury, and will once again spearhead the Daredevils pace attack. He was the leading wicket-taker in the IPL last season, taking 25 wickets at an average of 18.20. He played an influential role in a side that finished at the top of the league stage. Daredevils will again look to him to lead the bowling as they seek an elusive title.
David Warner's importance to Daredevils has increased considerably with the absence of Pietersen and Taylor. With Sehwag's form patchy, and Jayawardene out of match practice, Warner will be the player Daredevils will look to for high-octane starts. He was all at sea during the recent Test series but has a well-earned reputation as one of the premier Twenty20 batsmen in the world.
Big players inDaredevils have strengthened their spin department with Johan Botha and Jeevan Mendis, both of whom were picked at the IPL auction. Botha has captained South Africa and Rajasthan Royals, and will be expected to bring his experience to a fairly young spin attack - left-arm spinners Shahbaz Nadeem and Pawan Negi have only 25 matches between them.
Ashish Nehra returns to the Daredevils squad after two years, after Pune Warriors traded him for New Zealand batsman Ross Taylor. The team would be worried about Nehra's match-fitness. The fast bowler played his last match in January 2013 and has faced injury issues over the last year. He suffered a hamstring injury in November last year and played just four domestic matches for Delhi this season. Nehra will be hoping to replicate his 2009 form for Daredevils, when he picked up 19 wickets from 13 matches at an average of 18.21 to emerge as the third-highest wicket-taker in the tournament.
Big players outDaredevils will miss Kevin Pietersen's big-hitting ability in the batting order. He scored 305 runs at an average of 61 in eight matches, including an unbeaten 103 against Deccan Chargers. With Sehwag and Warner in scratchy form, and Jayawardene short of match practice, Pietersen's absence becomes even more of a blow.
By his own standards, Ross Taylor had an indifferent IPL 2012, scoring 197 runs at an average of 19.70. The trade-off to Pune will mean that this will be Taylor's fourth franchise in six IPL editions.
Under the radarAfter hitting the headlines as captain of India's World Cup-winning U-19 team, Unmukt Chand has landed himself a high-profile contract with Pepsi, which has him featuring in ads with the heavyweights of Indian cricket, including MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli. The buzz has only increased after his consecutive hundreds in the domestic T20 competition and the century in the final to lead Delhi to the Vijay Hazare title. The next two months will reveal whether he can translate that form to the high-pressure environment of the IPL, and use that as a ladder to the national team.
Availability None of Daredevils' players have international commitments during the IPL.
Rachna Shetty is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo