In the last IPL, it took 16 matches for a team to choose to bat after winning the toss. It is a trend that was established last year: when the tournament and pitches are fresh, bowl first and win; when pitches get slower, it becomes a more even game. In this season, though, Delhi Capitals decided to bat in as early as the fifth game of the season, and despite losing it they are not discarding defending totals as their strength. Not on a dry Feroz Shah Kotla square at any rate.
At 118 for 2 after 15 overs, Capitals looked good for a total of around 165 with Rishabh Pant and Shikhar Dhawan at the crease, but they lost their way to end up with 147. In reply, Chennai Super Kings' experience showed in how they attacked the new ball and took 58 off the Powerplay because they knew this dry track was going to get difficult to bat on. In the end they won with just two balls to spare. Despite the result, don't be surprised if Capitals bat again should they win their next toss in Delhi. Part of the reason is, they don't expect the pitches to be any different from the dry surface they played on.
Capitals coach Ricky Ponting has the numbers to support that plan. "Batting looked difficult at the end," he said when asked if batting first might be the way to go despite this result. "[And] through the middle parts of the innings. If we hadn't given away so many runs in the Powerplay, I think CSK would have found that target really hard to chase down. Through history, 165 is our average score here. Last year, our average score here was about 190. So, we are a long way off from what we wanted to achieve today. If we had posted even 165, I reckon it would have been a really tough run-chase."
To Ponting it was no risk to bat first even though it goes against the usual early-season trends in IPL. "We won batting first in Mumbai," Ponting said. "It worked for us there. So, whatever you do first, you just have to do it well. We know at the toss [MS] Dhoni said he would have bowled first. That doesn't worry us. [At the] end of the day, every team has to do what they think suits their team the best. With that wicket looking as dry as it did before the game started, we thought it would be a lot harder to bat in the second innings. If we had got a few more runs, the wicket would have looked even harder to bat on."
The thinking and the planning wasn't off, but the execution was. Dhawan went a majority of his innings - despite starting against the new ball - at a strike rate of under 100 before getting dismissed for 51 off 47, and the middle order proceeded to fall in a heap around him. This is a big test of a coach. While Ponting refused to divulge what sort of role Dhawan has been asked to play, it seems like he has been asked to be the glue to bind the more explosive batsmen together. But should he have scored slightly quicker while doing so?
"Ideally," Ponting said. "Yes you'd like that. Obviously, it wasn't an easy wicket either for anyone to come in and strike, especially at the end of the Powerplay. There's a certain role we want Shikhar to play in this team. Even by his own admission, he probably would have liked to score a little bit quicker today."
This is often when you look at the batsman's intent. If he is doing his best and is still finding it difficult, chances are it will be even more difficult for the next batsman in. Ponting suggested as much. "In an ideal world, yes we would like Shikhar to score quicker but it was difficult for him. He did his ankle while he was batting as well so his usual running between the wickets was a little bit hampered tonight.
"We need to sit down in the next couple of days and talk about how we are going to bat better on that surface. The wickets we are going to get right through the season are going to be quite similar to the one we got tonight. We need to get a little bit smarter on that wicket."