Pawan Negi had a phenomenal start to 2016, only most of his success came off the field. The 23-year old left-arm spinner was a wildcard pick in the Indian squad for the World T20 but he couldn't break into the XI. Still, his elevation up the ranks had come in time for the IPL auction, where he was bought for INR 8.5 crores by Delhi Daredevils, who had made a conscious decision to recruit younger players this year. Negi had fit the profile, but after a dismal season - he played only eight of the team's 14 matches and bowled a mere nine overs in the entire tournament - he felt he was underused.
"I kept wondering why wasn't I given more opportunities," Negi told the Asian Age. "And the team management didn't tell me the reason either. When I was with CSK [Chennai Super Kings], Mahi bhai [MS Dhoni] backed my abilities. Maybe, I feel Delhi didn't back my skills with bat and ball. Maybe, it was a rotation policy, because I was never told that I was dropped.
"The hardest part was, before every match, I had no clue whether I would play or not. People kept asking me why I didn't play much. I didn't have a proper answer.
"Sitting on the bench was hard to digest as I never expected to watch the action from the sidelines. I was mentally down, but I didn't lose hope. After the season, TA Sekhar and our manager Sunil Valson pepped me up saying that I didn't get enough opportunities to showcase my abilities."
In the chances he did get, however, Negi was unable to make an impact. He was often used as a pinch hitter in the batting order but a strike-rate of 96.61 indicated his lack of form. On the bowling front, with Amit Mishra, Zaheer Khan and Chris Morris taking 36 of the team's 63 wickets in 2016 and establishing themselves as the frontline options, Negi was rarely needed. He picked up one wicket.
A mixture of injury and strategy contributed to Daredevils making 35 changes in 14 matches - an average of 2.5 changes per match - which also contributed to Negi spending time in the sidelines.
"I was told that it was sort of a combination [of poor form and tactics]," Negi said. "Though I'm a very positive person, I would say this IPL ended on a negative note for me. I wasn't surprised a bit that I didn't make the cut for the Zimbabwe series because I didn't perform well in the IPL. Now, I will practice hard for the upcoming Ranji season."
Negi has played one match for India - a dead rubber against UAE in the Asia Cup in March - but at the time of the auction in February, he was still uncapped and the INR 8.5 crores he fetched was the record for an uncapped player in the IPL.
When asked if the money had played on his mind, he said "it was never about money. The team management said not to get weighed down by the price tag and the pressure that comes with it. Coach Rahul Dravid told me to stick to my natural instincts. He wanted me to perform like I was doing in the Chennai colours for the last two years. I was excited to play for Delhi, my home."