This was the story of Delhi Capitals’ IPL 2022 campaign. A season full of ups and downs; from extraordinary powerplay hitting against Punjab and Kolkata to underwhelming death bowling against Rajasthan and Bangalore. In their first match versus Mumbai, they easily chased down 56 runs in the last 5 overs despite being 6 wickets down; in their second match against Gujarat, they failed to chase down 54 runs from the last 6 overs despite having six wickets in hand.

Those first two matches against MI and GT summarize DC’s campaign, a season where they have been brilliant at times but mostly failed to capitalize on good starts and crumbled under pressure during key moments. To sum it up, they have just not been clinical enough when it matters. 

DC easily had one of the strongest sides on paper, with most basis covered; however, they were also the unluckiest team of the tournament. With the IPL now over and teams already looking ahead, what can Delhi Capitals do to turn around their luck and improve their already formidable team?

Probable Players released: Mandeep Singh (1.1 cr), KS Bharat (2 cr), Tim Seifert (50L), Praveen Dubey (50L), Lungi Ngidi (50L) + 5 Crores

Although Chetan Sakariya cost them 4.2 cr, we expect DC to retain him as a backup, given the injury record of Khaleel Ahmed. And in the limited opportunities Sakariya got this season, he did a decent job, picking up three wickets at an economy rate of 7.64. They’re also expected to let go of Seifert and Ngidi and look for better backup overseas options, especially a middle-order overseas batter as a backup to the injury-prone Mitchell Marsh. They can look at Rassie van der Dussen as a backup to Marsh, provided Rajasthan releases him.

If DC do decide to release these players ahead of the auction next year, they will have a small purse of around 9 crores, not allowing them to make any significant improvements to their side. But that’s the thing, with the players they currently have, they do not really need to make any substantial changes to their squad. All they need is for their players to remain available throughout the season and play to their full potential, which many failed to do this season.

The Shardul Thakur conundrum

If Delhi decide to do the unexpected and completely overhaul their side, they will need to release their most expensive pick of this year’s auction: Shardul Thakur, at 10.75 crores. And they won’t be unjustified in releasing him as he did have a fairly below-par season both with the bat and ball.

However, it is highly unlikely that DC will release Thakur after just one bad season, having spent more than 10 crores on him. Thakur remains a big name in Indian cricket and is usually in contention for a spot in the lineup in all three formats of the game. Moreover, he adds all-round value to the team – skills rarely available among Indian players – and DC would like to use him better next season. As a bowler, use him mainly with the old ball where he is most effective, and as a batter, occasionally promote him as a pace-hitting floater in powerplay to disrupt opponents’ game plan.

Stars need to step up

With DC unlikely to release Thakur, a purse of 9 crores will ensure that they cannot acquire the services of some of the most venerated players at next year’s auction, including the likes of Ben Stokes, Sam Curran and any other top star that might be released by another team.

What, then, can DC do to improve their team and performance going into next year’s IPL? Well, the answer couldn’t be simpler. First and foremost, they need to make sure their top players remain injury/covid free throughout the season and don’t miss key matches like they did this year. From Warner to Nortje to Marsh to Shaw and Khaleel, most of their key players missed crucial matches across the tournament for different reasons, resulting in them barely fielding their best 11 in the IPL this year.

Scheduling of international matches is not in the team’s control, but DC will be seriously hoping that Australia do not schedule another international series that clashes with the IPL as two of their overseas stars – Warner and Marsh – missed the start of this year’s tournament while fulfilling their national duties.

As we mentioned earlier, on paper, DC remain one of the strongest sides in the IPL. Besides player availability, another reason the team fell short of a playoff spot this year was their captain not playing to his full potential. Pant blew hot and cold this season, failing to put up a single match-winning performance and finishing the campaign without a single fifty for the first time in his IPL career.

Pant in IPL 2022: Runs – 340, Average – 30.9, Strike Rate – 151.8, Outs – 11

The worry for Delhi would be that this was not the first time when Pant’s performance was underwhelming in an IPL season. Ever since his blockbuster 2018 IPL, his batting output has been on a decline, especially since 2020. The silver lining for DC is that at least his strike rate is back above 150, which was a major issue for him during the 2020 and 2021 seasons, when he scored at a measly 113.6 and 128.5, respectively. With his natural aggressive intent back, DC would hope that his T20 re-invention is complete and the real Rishabh Pant finally shows up at the IPL next year, balancing aggression with caution.

Despite Pant having another mediocre IPL, it was not the batting that led DC down this season; it was their bowling. Having retained him, DC were heavily banking on Nortje to lead their otherwise meek pace bowling attack. Unfortunately for them, Nortje missed the first half of the season due to fitness issues and even when he played, he seemed a pale shadow of his former fiery self.

He leaked runs at an economy rate of 9.72, picking up 9 wickets in the 6 games he played. In contrast to this year, he picked him up 34 wickets in 24 innings at an economy of 7.66 in the last two seasons combined. DC would need him to be back to his best and lead their pace attack.

Since Nortje is yet to prove himself in Indian conditions, DC would not want a repeat of this year by putting all the pace bowling responsibilities on him. They should ideally release Lungi Ngidi and replace him with someone who can bowl express pace. They could look at Adam Milne and Mark Wood as potential backup options to Nortje (provided CSK and LSG release them). Or else, they could even bring in the talented Zimbabwean pacer Blessing Muzarabani as a potential reinforcement to their pace attack.

Axar Patel, another DC retention, also had a below-par season with the ball, picking up just 6 wickets at an economy rate of 7.47 in 13 matches this year. In the 2021 season, Axar had picked up 15 wickets from 12 innings at an economy of 6.65. Axar’s pale returns were evident as DC was the worst-performing bowling side against right-handed batters, conceding 8.55 runs per over while averaging 35.7 in the league stage of IPL 2022. Clearly, DC has a lot of potential for improvement with their current bunch of players. With their auction purse small and hopes sky high, they would want their star players to step up and lead their maiden title charge.

What will DC playing XI look like next season?

As we have already mentioned earlier, DC will have little scope for improvement from the outside as 10 of their 11 players pick themselves. Their playing XI could look something like this: 

Warner, Shaw, M Marsh, Pant, Player X, Powell, Axar, Shardul, Kuldeep, Khaleel, Nortje. 

DC’s obsession with Lalit Yadav’s all-round value and his continued failure with the bat meant that this player X slot was the weak chunk in their otherwise strong batting armour. In the limited opportunities Sarfaraz Khan got towards the end of the tournament, he played 2 good knocks, which could see him start ahead of Lalit in the Player X spot next season unless they buy another player for this position.

With Delhi being one of the worst-performing batting sides against right-arm off-spin and right-arm leg-spin, they should play someone who can comfortably control the 7-16 overs phase against slow bowlers. Hence, they should either look for Indian spin power hitters in the auction to do what Rajat Patidar did for RCB in the second half of the tournament or continue with Sarfaraz for the next season and try and transform him into their own spin hitter.

  • DC vs leg-spin in IPL 2022: Runs – 300, Average – 25, Strike Rate – 122.4, Outs – 12
  • DC vs off-spin in IPL 2022: Runs – 338, Average – 22.5, Strike Rate – 117.3, Outs – 15

DC is likely to have the same playing XI for their first match next season as they had for their last match this season against MI. If their star players play closer to their potential, DC can go all the way and win their maiden IPL title. However, they still remain a batting-heavy side with question marks over all their 3 pace bowlers and no off-spin option in the XI. 

Next season will be Ponting’s sixth year as DC coach and Pant’s third year as captain – can the dynamic duo finally bury the ghosts of the past and lead a formidable Delhi team to the elusive IPL trophy? Or will it end up as yet another heartbreak for Delhi fans? We will have to wait and watch.

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