A new name and a new management have contributed to the Delhi franchise's success this season, but it would be quite unfair to credit their resurgence to these factors alone. Delhi Capitals have made the playoffs for the first time in seven years on the back of their Indian batting line-up and Kagiso Rabada. Capitals' top order comprising Prithvi Shaw, Shikhar Dhawan, and Shreyas Iyer drips with power and flair.
That rosy bit apart, their 80-run loss against Chennai Super Kings at Chepauk, where they were routed for 99, has reopened a few major weaknesses. If the Capitals are to have a second crack at the final, they need to address these issues quickly.
The non-existent foreign batting reserves
Capitals' top four have been their biggest strengths this year. They've amassed a combined total of 1529 runs, a contribution of nearly 75% to the team's total runs in the 13 matches this season. But, this has also exposed the rest of the batting line-up. There is an over-reliance on these four to do the bulk of the scoring, while the foreign batsmen who float in the middle order have been poor. Colin Ingram, the one who has featured regularly in the line-up, has made just 172 runs at an average of 19.11, while Sherfane Rutherford and Colin Munro, who've played four and two games respectively have contributed 43 runs each. It also goes back to an issue they had failed to address during the auction earlier this year. They have been forced to persist with these three names as they do not have any other foreign batsman left in their reserves.
What's more alarming is that it has been pointed out as an obvious issue by the opposition. Super Kings' coach Stephen Fleming had said on the eve of the game that they would look to exploit Capitals' lack of foreign batting resources. And yet, this issue wasn't addressed on Wednesday, with Ingram and Rutherford falling for 1 and 2 respectively.
Captain Iyer, however, is still hopeful of a turnaround. "To be honest, I'm happy it's happening at the right time, Iyer said. "The foreign players, they are game-changers, but when spin comes on they lack a bit of ability. But we've been playing on spinning tracks at home. When you see them in nets they're amazing players. It's just that they're not able to convert. I still believe in them. I know they'll be coming back strong. It's just that we lost wickets in succession. But I never doubt my players. I know they're capable of winning us matches. it's just a bad phase we're going through right now."
No Rabada? Big problem
Capitals were without their best bowler against Super Kings, and it showed. Rabada has been the standout quick in IPL 2019, taking at least two wickets in nine of the 12 games he has played. In the 23 overs he has bowled at the death so far this season, he has picked up 19 wickets at an economy rate of 8.7 while giving away just 201 runs. Capitals have won 73% of the matches when he has taken two or more wickets in a match this year. Considering all this, he seems to have mastered the art of death bowling; his ability to nail inch-perfect yorkers has been central to Capitals' rise this season. He is also the highest wicket-taker this season with 25 wickets in 12 games. On Wednesday, he was out with a back niggle, so Trent Boult, who had been on the bench for most of the season, slotted in.
While Capitals' bowlers managed to keep Super Kings' batsmen quiet in the Powerplay by restricting them to 27 for 1, they leaked 63 runs in the last four overs, which proved a big difference in the end. Boult and Chris Morris gave away 35 runs and 28 runs respectively off their last two overs at the death. They offered width to Dhoni, even tried shorter lengths, and slower balls, but nothing worked against Super Kings' captain. Iyer kept bowling his fast bowlers in the slog, even though both Amit Mishra and Axar Patel had an over left. A total of 10 boundaries were slammed in those four overs. Did they miss Rabada's yorker barrage or his cutters on the slow pitch here at Chepauk?
Is Pant's shot selection a concern?
Capitals' good start in the Powerplay was followed by a collapse, which included the wicket of Rishabh Pant for 5 off 3 balls. While there are no doubts about his power-hitting ability, his shot selection this season has been quite questionable. For instance, in a chase of 164 against Kings XI Punjab at home, he got down on his knee to pull a length delivery and top-edged it to deep midwicket, to be dismissed for 6. Then, in a taller chase against Super Kings, he had welcomed legspinner Imran Tahir with a four to the extra-cover boundary off a flighted delivery. The very next ball though, he went flat and hard at another tossed-up legbreak, which found Dwayne Bravo at long-off. This is his fourth single-digit score in the last five games. His dismissal in Chennai, in turn, triggered a terminal slide, and applied more pressure on Iyer, who had batted fluently in the Powerplay.
When asked about Pant's attack-first approach on a pitch where he could have been more patient Iyer said: "We've seen him [Pant] converting starts into match-winning knocks and definitely it was a ball to hit. It was just that it couldn't convert into the gap. So, it wasn't a bad stroke but he could have played a bit smarter and assess conditions and how the spinners are going to work because we needed a bit of partnership at that period.
"Pant is that sort of a player to whom you can't say [much] at that point because we know he can change the momentum of the game. If he would have connected, it would have gone into the stands. You need to give him a freebie and not restrict his flow. I personally feel you can't blame him."