Dravid rues Daredevils' inability to win tight games
Delhi Daredevils failed to qualify for the IPL playoffs for the fifth year in succession, finishing like they did in 2016 - in sixth place, but with two fewer points. They had made a good start to the 2017 season, but a five-match losing streak ruined their prospects. In his evaluation of the campaign, Daredevils mentor Rahul Dravid they were done in by their inability to close out tight games.
"You need eight wins to qualify in this tournament, we got seven last year, six this year and I think the close games we lost probably cost us," Dravid said after Daredevils lost their final game, against Royal Challengers Bangalore. "If I look at five or six of the games, we were actually ahead and we couldn't close out those games. Maybe that's a lack of experience, maybe that's something we can learn from and take ahead in the future.
"There were probably seven or eight games that were close and we probably won only two of them, five or six we lost and you can't afford to lose that many. Obviously, it is a little bit disappointing but there were positives as well right through the season."
Some of Daredevils' tactics came in for criticism this year. Left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem, who eventually was their most economical bowler, played only half the games. And while Karun Nair was given an extended run despite his poor form, Rishabh Pant wasn't batted at the top of the order in the early games. Dravid said some of the decisions were dictated by injuries.
"Corey Anderson, at the start, was the Man of the Match against Kings XI and then he got injured for two games. Zaheer Khan got injured in the middle for two or three games. Chris Morris got injured towards the back end of the tournament. There are some injuries, sometimes you do take calculated decisions. Shreyas Iyer was not there for the first two games due to chicken pox.
"Few of the changes were obviously forced due to injuries, sometimes you do make tactical changes as well when people are not in form, so it's hard to assess. Each and every game was different. That's not really an excuse. I believe we had the squad and the players to make up for that. I think the team was really good, maybe a little bit inexperienced in the batting because of the injuries early on but I still think we had the ability and a lot of opportunities in a lot of the games."
There was also an element of predictability in their pace-heavy attack, featuring Zaheer Khan, Pat Cummins, Kagiso Rabada, Mohammad Shami and Chris Morris, with Corey Anderson as the back-up seamer. The emphasis on beefing up the bowling, according to Dravid, was to compensate for a weakened batting line-up.
"Unfortunately for us at the start of the season, after the auction, Quinton [de Kock] and JP [Duminy], who were probably our two experienced players, pulled out of the IPL because of injury and we had to look for replacements at the last minute and, which, I guess, isn't easy when most of the players are taken.
"So, to balance it out, we tried to go with a slightly more experienced bowling attack because we knew we had young Indian batsmen. I think there is a lot of talent … but, maybe, sometimes you have to get the balance right. Maybe we didn't have a little bit of luck as well: injuries at the wrong time, maybe a couple of guys didn't kick on as well as we would have liked."
While three of the Daredevils top four - Nair, Sanju Samson, Iyer and Pant - aggregated over 300 runs, none of them made defining contributions. The absence of an experienced Indian batsman, and the reluctance to give England batsman Sam Billings a longer run at the top, hurt Daredevils.
"When you look at our batsman, yes, they are all very talented and, yes, they are probably less experienced than some other people but you got to see it in a different context - in a larger context," Dravid said. "Because, a couple of years ago, in the middle of a big auction, you are not going to get experienced Indian players, nobody releases experienced Indian players.
"Once the Indian players are in a franchise, it's very rare that they get released in the middle of an auction. We obviously took that decision to back some of the young Indian talent and balance it out with some foreign experienced players."
Through the example of Samson, Dravid illustrated the need for in-form batsmen to not let the momentum drop. While Samson scored the first century of IPL 2017 - a match-winning 102 off 63 balls - he only made two more 50-plus scores and finished with 386 runs at an average of 27.57. He scored 0, 2, 10 and 0 in his last four games.
"We have all seen flashes of brilliance, we have seen some fantastic performances, he scored a hundred and some of the innings that he has played but, by his own admission, he probably would have liked to be more consistent," Dravid said. "That's the nature of the tournament as well: sometimes when you are on a roll, when you are playing well, you can't afford to relax. You got to keep going because it's tough if you get into a slump and if you have a few bad games."