It has been a "disruptive sort of season", according to Delhi Capitals' head coach Ricky Ponting, but it has worked out well for his team in at least a couple of ways: they are up at No. 2 on the table and their captain Rishabh Pant who is getting better with each passing day, and the gap between IPL 2021 Part 1 and Part 2 means Shreyas Iyer, who Ponting feels makes "the make-up of our team look a little bit more complete", is back from his shoulder injury and ready to do his thing again.
"I am absolutely delighted to have Shreyas back into our line-up," Ponting said in a press interaction on the eve of Capitals' first match in the UAE leg of the tournament, against Sunrisers Hyderabad on Wednesday. "It was devastating for him and the team when he hurt his shoulder just before the start of the IPL earlier in the year. He is a world-class player, and he has been an exceptional player for Delhi Capitals for a long time now. Him slotting back into our line-up, I think it makes the make-up of our team look a little bit more complete.
"The first part of the tournament, as well as we played - we won six of our eight games - our overall balance didn't quite feel like it was just right. But Shreyas coming back in now, it does give us the opportunity to play the two overseas fast bowlers, which we had [done] successfully in the past.
"We know that [Kagiso] Rabada and [Anrich] Nortje are world-class performers, and have done well when they have played together for Delhi Capitals as well. So it does give us that option, but at the end of the day, we still need to pick the best playing XI. We have someone like Avesh Khan, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Amit Mishra as well; any of those guys can slot into our XI, and it ends up being a really well-balanced team."
In Iyer's absence, either Pant or Steven Smith slotted in at No. 3 after Shikhar Dhawan and Prithvi Shaw, with Marcus Stoinis and Shimron Hetmyer completing the batting line-up on most occasions. Of the lot, Ponting has high expectations of Stoinis, who has done the job for Capitals in the past too, and gives the XI a lot of depth with his versatility.
"When you start respecting your players and support staff around you, special things happen. If you respect them, they are going to give everything, whatever they have, for you. As a skipper, that's the only thing you want"
"He is very highly regarded here at Delhi Capitals, he's actually had a lot of big impact on a lot of the games he has played for us in the last season and a half, and I think he has the talent and the capabilities to be one of the better allrounders in world cricket, certainly in the white-ball format," Ponting said. "We use him in any number of different roles. We saw in the IPL final that we played last year, he opened the batting in that one [but scored a first-ball duck], we know that he can open the batting, we know that he can bat at five or six, and finish off games, and we know that he can chip in with the ball and take some handy wickets. And he is very good in the field.
"So with Rishabh four, Stoinis five, Hetmyer six, we've got lot of finishing power. If the top order can continue to do the job they did in the first part of the tournament, and obviously having Shreyas Iyer back in our group as well, it makes that batting line-up look really strong and really deep."
Ponting: 'Pant's level of maturity in the last couple of seasons has gone through the roof'
And then there is Pant. He has 213 runs from eight innings this IPL, the runs coming at 35.50 and a strike rate of 131.48. Since the end of the first leg of this year's IPL, he has had a mediocre run with the bat, though all of it has been in Test cricket, in the WTC final against New Zealand and then against England.
"I think his level of maturity in the last couple of seasons has gone through the roof," Ponting said of his captain. "When I first came here, Rishabh was just starting to burst on to the scene, if you like, and I made a pretty big call in the Australian summer last year when Rishabh finally made his way back into the Test team, that I felt there and then that we were going to see the unearthing of someone who could be a star Test-match player for India for some time, and what he has done since then, the last 18 months now, in the international stage is nothing short of sensational. And I could see that coming. Because I could see how much his game had developed, I could see how much he had matured, and I could also see how much he wanted to be in every Indian team. Now I think it is going to take a very good player to knock him out of one of those positions in any of those three teams.
"When he wasn't captain [at the Capitals], he was an exceptional vice-captain. He has taken over the reins for this IPL and he has done a terrific job so far, and I have enjoyed every moment of working alongside him, as I have with all the rest of the boys. We are all striving for something special around the Delhi Capitals franchise. We got close last year, making it to the final. But this year we want to go one step further. And obviously Rishabh is going to be a big part of that."
For his part, Pant is aware of what is expected of him, and as far as he is concerned, he can only do it by being himself, and by making himself slightly better as a person.
"I just try to keep the environment light," Pant said. "I am open to anyone in the team. If anyone has any problem, you can come and discuss it with me, or Ricky, for anything at any point of time. We have a good mix of youth and experience in the team, which [will] help us going forward all the time, and we stick to our basics, our processes, and everything will follow.
"As a skipper, I have learnt from Ricky that you have to treat everyone equally, whether he be a senior or a junior, even the coaches. If you respect each and every player in the team, it's going to be a good combination because when you start respecting your players and support staff around you, special things happen. If you respect them, they are going to give everything, whatever they have, for you. As a skipper, that's the only thing you want. That whatever you want the team to do, they just stand by you each and every time."