IPL 2016 May 23, 2016

Tinkering costs youthful Daredevils

Zaheer Khan's astute leadership and Chris Morris' all-round brilliance stood out, but too many changes to the XI and stumbles at critical junctures cost Delhi Daredevils a playoff spot that was theirs to take

Zaheer Khan's leadership of a side that was reliant on its youngsters was brilliant © BCCI

Where they finished

Sixth, with 14 points, but behind Mumbai Indians due to a lower net run rate.

How they got there

After three consecutive years in the bottom two, Daredevils were one win away from making their first playoffs since 2012. However, their youngsters succumbed in a knockout match against Royal Challengers Bangalore, a sub-par batting performance paving the way for their exit.

Daredevils' first match ended in a demoralising loss to Kolkata Knight Riders, bringing back memories of three horrendous seasons. However, under the wily leadership of Zaheer Khan, Daredevils effected a turnaround and strung together five wins in their next six matches. In between, they lost a thriller to Gujarat Lions by one run. But Daredevils could take heart from the emergence of Chris Morris as a batsman for the first time in the tournament as the South African allrounder launched a frenzied attack on his way to the joint-fastest fifty of the season. With a young brigade that was performing consistently and a bowling attack considered one of the best in the tournament, a playoff spot was Daredevils' to lose.

Questionable exclusions and constant alterations to their XI left Daredevils unsettled. They faltered at a critical stage of the tournament, winning only one out of five matches, and were on the brink of elimination. A special knock from Karun Nair, one of their standout young performers, kept them alive with a last-ball win against Sunrisers Hyderabad, before it all went wrong when it mattered the most.

Highlights

Daredevils left many wide-eyed when they spent INR 7 crore on Chris Morris at the February auction. Less than a week later, Morris helped South Africa level their ODI series against England with a sensational 38-ball 62 in a chase of 263.

Morris also used his big-hitting ability to good effect. Against Lions in Delhi, Daredevils had slumped to 57 for 4 in a chase of 173 when Morris joined JP Duminy. With 115 required off nine overs, Morris put up an uninhibited display of six-hitting, plundering 82 unbeaten runs off 32 balls to take Daredevils to the brink of a win. They fell one run short.

Disappointments

A mammoth 2015-16 Ranji Trophy saw Shreyas Iyer amass 1321 runs at an average of 73.38. Talks of a call-up to the national team grew louder. But come IPL, Iyer's graph plummeted. After scoring only three runs in his first three outings, Iyer was dropped. In all, he only scored 30 runs in six innings at an average of 5.00.

Daredevils raised eyebrows when they splurged INR 8.5 crore on Pawan Negi. He went on to have an underwhelming campaign, picking up a solitary wicket and conceding 9.33 per over. Negi was often sent in ahead of Carlos Brathwaite and Chris Morris to add quick runs, but with 57 runs in six innings at a strike rate of less than 100, the move hardly worked. In the side primarily as a bowler, Negi did not bowl a single ball in three of the eight matches he played. And when he was thrown the ball, he was rarely given his full quota. A total of nine overs in eight matches left many wondering what his role in the Daredevils XI was.

Key stats

  • Karun Nair, Sanju Samson and Amit Mishra are the only players to feature in all of Daredevils' games this season.
  • Daredevils made a total of 35 changes in 14 games this season - an average of 2.5 changes per match.
  • Seven different players received Man-of-the-Match awards for Daredevils this season. No other team had more than five recipients.

Best win

In Daredevils' penultimate match, a must-win against Sunrisers Hyderabad, Karun anchored a chase of 159 with a composed 59-ball 83. With six required off two balls, Nair struck back-to-back two boundaries. "The season is all about having young energy around," Zaheer said at the post-match presentation. "Good things are in store."

Worst defeat

The final match of the group stage, between Daredevils and Royal Challengers Bangalore became a scrap for the last playoff berth, with the loser bowing out of the tournament. Daredevils had banked on their youngsters throughout. But under pressure, in the face of accurate bowling by Royal Challengers, Daredevils' inexperience came to the fore as they huffed and puffed to 138. Both captains agreed Daredevils were 20 short of the par score.

What they need to do next season

Embrace consistency. In the process of adopting a horses-for-courses selection policy, Daredevils' management chopped and changed to their detriment.

Zaheer's astute leadership was one of the standout features of Daredevils' season. But at 37, and with no on-field involvement in any other form of cricket, Zaheer's future is uncertain, and Daredevils may have to hunt for a new captain come 2017.

Nikhil Kalro is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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