The Delhi Capitals squad had not even emerged from their dressing room at the Wankhede Stadium, but their head coach Ricky Ponting rushed down the stairs of the visiting dressing room and asked the local net bowlers: “You guys ready? Who bowls left arm? Get ready guys, you will need to bowl in 10 minutes.” Then he ran towards the empty nets.
Ponting is known as a proactive coach, always talking to players while training, taking on most of the questions in press conferences even if he’s with the captain – it happened again on Saturday, on the eve of Delhi’s season-opener against Mumbai Indians – and trying to put the best preparations together for his team. After finishing bottom last year, what Delhi need desperately this season is for some of that proactiveness to rub off on some of the players.
One such group of players could be their top order. These four Indian batsmen, known for their aggressive strokeplay, could hold the key to Delhi as they look to rebound from a poor 2018 campaign.
He is likely to open with Shikhar Dhawan and, like his captain Shreyas Iyer, Shaw will have the advantage of batting at his home ground against Mumbai on Sunday. Among Delhi’s top-order batsmen, Shaw will be itching to hit form the most. After suffering an ankle injury that cut short his Australia tour prematurely, he comes to the IPL on the back of a string of low scores in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, where he averaged just 16.75 in eight innings before being left out for the Super League stage.
On Saturday, Shaw hit the nets before anyone else and hogged one net all by himself for more than an hour, unfurling stylish drives and pulls. One thing he will be wary of this season is is record against spin.
In 53 balls against spinners in the IPL, Shaw has scored only 68 runs while being dismissed as many as five times, to average 13.60. With Shaw set to open, you could expect Mumbai to bring on legspinner Mayank Markande to bowl to him in the Powerplay; Shaw has managed only 28 runs off 23 balls against legspin in the IPL while being dismissed four times.
Shikhar Dhawan was being Shikhar Dhawan on Saturday. He casually walked out of the dressing room, shared a few handshakes, and then some jokes with Delhi’s assistant coach Mohammad Kaif, even as Shaw sweated it out at an adjacent net. Apart from his ODI century in Mohali, Dhawan has not been in great form since the Asia Cup in September.
However, his presence in the Delhi dressing room might be the biggest boost because if he fires the way he has in the past for Sunrisers Hyderabad. Delhi’s batsmen only need to bat around him. His record against Mumbai Indians is the best among this current Delhi squad: 586 runs in 18 innings at an average of nearly 42, striking at 128.50, and four half-centuries.
As soon as Shaw finished his nets, Dhawan took over to smash a few balls around the park and then went back to chatting jovially with the support staff.
Unlike Dhawan and Shaw, Iyer, who won the Emerging Player award in his debut IPL season, has form on his side. He was Mumbai’s highest run-scorer in the Vijay Hazare Trophy with an average of 93.25, with two centuries and two half-centuries; he played only three Ranji Trophy matches but averaged over 50 with a century and half-century; and in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy he was Mumbai’s leading scorer again by a distance with two more centuries in 10 innings and a strike rate of 152.20.
Iyer has been a consistent performer in the IPL too, and Delhi will hope he will continue with the same free-flowing strokeplay he showed off after he took over captaincy from Gautam Gambhir last season.
Pant still has a chance to make it to the World Cup squad, and there can be no better platform to show his skills than the IPL. More than his batting, he will need to show the selectors that he can be a solid wicketkeeper.
Pant began Saturday’s training session with keeping drills before putting on his batting gloves. He then displayed his powerful, clean hitting on the same ground where he had smashed a record-breaking triple-century two seasons ago in the Ranji Trophy. Pant is one of the biggest match-winners in the Delhi squad but the Mumbai think tank may also have plans for him.
Even though Pant can unleash ferocious slog-sweeps against the spinners, he has a poor record against left-arm orthodox in the IPL: 88 runs off 55 balls but with five dismissals. Mumbai could bring on Krunal Pandya as soon as Pant walks out to bat, even if they have to be at the receiving end of a few sixes from Pant first. Pant’s strike rate shoots up above 200 in the death overs, so Delhi could possibly hold him back for the end when Krunal is unlikely to bowl.
Pant’s form has also dipped since his phenomenal run in the IPL last year. Since then, he has managed only 160 runs in 10 T20 innings at an unimpressive average of 17.70.
What better tournament than the IPL to turn his form around?