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The Capitals have been underachievers in the IPL over the years, though they started strongly in the first two years. They also made the playoffs and finished third after topping the table at the end of the group stage in 2012, but finished last in 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2018.
In December 2018 the franchise was rebranded as the Delhi Capitals, and the change of name seemed to bring a change of fortune too – they made the playoffs in 2019, and in 2020, got to the final for the first time with a largely young team. It ended there, though.
In hindsight, some of the choices they made when it came to building their squads might have hurt them over the years. In 2008, they didn't pursue Virat Kohli strongly – the logic being that they had Virender Sehwag, Shikhar Dhawan, Gautam Gambhir, Tillakaratne Dilshan and AB de Villiers in their ranks. Then, after three years with the team, which included lots of runs and competent leadership in the 2010 season, Gambhir was released. Kohli, of course, hasn’t won the IPL with the Royal Challengers Bangalore yet, but is the highest run getter in the competition’s history, while Gambhir has led the Kolkata Knight Riders to two IPL titles. The list of players Delhi have let go over the years also includes David Warner, de Villiers and Andre Russell and Trent Boult.
Delhi had good years in 2008 and 2009, when they made the semi-finals, and though they got to the final in 2020, their best year was arguably 2012, when they won 11 of their 16 league matches, though they were knocked out in the qualifiers. That year, Sehwag, Mahela Jayawardene and Kevin Pietersen made over 300 runs (Sehwag made 495); and Morne Morkel and Umesh Yadav took 44 wickets between them. Under young Shreyas Iyer, with Ricky Ponting pulling the strings from the backroom, they seemed to turn a corner in 2020.
Delhi hit a trough from 2013 to 2018. Nothing they tried seemed to work, or even make sense. And when they didn’t finish at the bottom, they still failed to rise above No. 6 on the table.
Delhi started well, with two wins on the trot, and managed to win enough games - seven out of 14 - to finish fourth on the points table. But the Rajasthan Royals, who Delhi had beaten in their first game, were on a roll, and beat Delhi in the semi-final on the way to the title.
Delhi were the in-form team in the group phase of the competition, played in South Africa. They won ten of their first 14 games, and topped the table going into the knockouts, where they lost to eventual champions Deccan Chargers in the semi-final.
Delhi might have expected to build on the momentum of their first two seasons, but after winning their first two games, they only won five more, to finish tied on points with three teams behind the Mumbai Indians and the Deccan Chargers. Their net run rate worked against them, and the Chennai Super Kings and the Royal Challengers Bangalore went through.
When it all went wrong for the first time. The Pune Warriors India and the Kochi Tuskers Kerala joined the IPL, making it a ten-team affair, and the two new teams and Delhi made up the bottom three, with Delhi last.
The big-ticket stars - Sehwag, Pietersen, Jayawardene, Morkel, Warner - all came good, and Delhi ticked over like a well-oiled machine, finishing top of the table at the end of the league stage. But it would be so near yet so far again for them: losses to KKR and CSK knocked them out.
Delhi fell into perhaps their worst slump, with three wins and 13 losses. Their first win came in their seventh game, against the Mumbai Indians, and then, after two wins, there was another run of six straight defeats to end their campaign.
Another season, another woeful performance. If they won three and lost 13 the previous year, this time, with the tournament back to eight teams, they won two and lost 12, the two wins coming in their first five games, in the UAE. Delhi ended the tournament with a string of nine straight losses.
Around this time nothing, Delhi did really worked. Their performance was marginally better than in 2014, but five wins and eight losses only allowed them to finish above the Kings XI Punjab, another team that had made a name for finishing in the bottom half of the table.
Delhi’s fortune saw a small uptick, in that after having languished at the bottom, they moved one step up the ladder, with seven wins and seven defeats. Quinton de Kock starred with 445 runs; legspinner Amit Mishra and another South African import, Chris Morris, took 26 wickets between them.
Delhi hit a plateau with another sixth-place finish, though with six wins and eight losses this time. Still, with Sanju Samson, Rishabh Pant and Shreyas Iyer all scoring over 300 runs for the season, there was reason to believe that the core of a strong team was coming together.
Pant slammed 684 runs in 14 innings at a strike rate of 173.60, Iyer chipped in with 411 runs, and there were handy contributions from Vijay Shankar, Prithvi Shaw and Trent Boult (18 wickets), but Delhi still lost nine games and won only five. That meant a bottom-place finish for them for the fourth time.
Dhawan returned to his home team, and between them, he, Pant and Iyer and Shaw made close to 1500 runs. Kagiso Rabada led the bowling, with 25 wickets. This time, Delhi won nine games to finish at No. 3 on the table. They beat the Sunrisers Hyderabad in the eliminator - their first win in the knockouts ever - but were then knocked out themselves by CSK.
Dhawan and Iyer excelled with the bat, scoring 618 and 519 runs respectively; the pace attack of Rabada and Anrich Nortje picked up 52 wickets between them; and Axar Patel and Marcus Stoinis put in excellent all-round performances. The Capitals won eight of their 14 matches in the league to make the final after getting past SRH, before coming unstuck in the title game.
Sehwag, whose last game was in 2013, only slipped from the No. 1 spot for Delhi’s top run-getters in 2020, when Iyer went past his 2174 runs. He captained the side to the top four in both the first two seasons. They next made the playoffs in 2012, and Sehwag was key there too, becoming only the second man to hit five consecutive T20 half-centuries during the course of a season.Amit Mishra
Mishra has played for the Deccan Chargers and the Sunrisers Hyderabad too, but it was with Delhi that he achieved IPL greatness, taking 100 wickets in 95 matches, the most games anyone has played for the team.Rishabh Pant
Pant, just five seasons old in the IPL, is the third-highest scorer in the team’s history, with 2079 runs. More crucial has been his strike rate of 151.97, which has made him one of the most feared opponents for bowlers in recent years.Shreyas Iyer
Like Pant, Iyer hasn’t played for another IPL franchise yet, and his numbers tell you why Delhi haven’t let go of him: close to 2200 runs from six seasons. He’s the man Delhi have turned to for batting solidity and leadership nous, and he has led them to top-three finishes in the last two seasons.Kagiso Rabada
Rabada is one more player who has made sure Delhi cling to him, with 61 wickets in just three seasons. In 2020, he was the highest wicket-taker in the competition, with 30 strikes, but he was Delhi’s best in 2019 too, with 25 wickets from 12 games, and he has maintained an economy rate of 8.23 over three seasons.