There are two ways of looking at where the Delhi Capitals stand in IPL 2020 right now. The optimists will say they just need to win two games and the title is theirs. The realists will point out that they have now lost five of their last six games, three of them when chasing, in what has become a tournament heavily skewed in favour of chasing sides.
If you want to find out what has gone wrong, you will have to look at what the Capitals did in the off-season when they released and acquired certain players, ending up with a lopsided, top-heavy squad. One of those acquisitions, from the Royal Challengers Bangalore, was someone to get excited about. Surely, if you asked the Royal Challengers now, they would regret not having that middle-overs power hitter in their squad? That man, Shimron Hetmyer, is with the Capitals now, but has played only ten of the possible 15 games. He was dropped for the last two at the business end of the tournament.
It is said – not without reason – that the quickest way for a player to improve in the public eye is for his side to lose in his absence. This is a different case altogether. Since the start of this decline, the Capitals have the poorest run rate in the middle overs, even worse than the notorious Royal Challengers. It could be argued that they have lost more powerplay wickets in this phase of the tournamnt than any other side, which is bound to have an impact on the middle overs, but the Kolkata Knight Riders have been similarly bad in that opening period and yet have scored at 7.68 in the middle overs to the Capitals’ 6.96.
The Capitals’ response to that flaky top order, in particular Prithvi Shaw’s form – 49 runs in his last eight innings – has been to drop Shaw first and then to add a steady top-order batsman at the expense of that middle-overs chaos. Doing that only works when you are chasing and know what total to get, and that too when the total is sub-par, like it was against the Royal Challengers in the match that sealed their second spot.
When you pick a team, you do so for difficult scenarios and not the best-case ones. And the difficult ones are being asked to bat first and put on an above-par score or chase down 190-plus. In both those scenarios, you need middle-overs chaos, and Rishabh Pant is not providing it at the moment. Hetmyer is the exact Nicholas Pooran-like batsman the Capitals need in the middle to make sure they can counter-attack if they lose early wickets or to make sure spinners or part-time bowlers don’t get away with cheap overs.
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Hetmyer will be the first to admit he has not set the IPL alight. His strike rate is good at 140 but he has not scored over 45 in an innings. Then again, he has been the most dispensable overseas player for them, what with Marcus Stoinis showing unexpected form at the start of the season. Even when Pant got injured, Hetmyer had to sit out for no fault of his as they didn’t have an Indian wicketkeeper in the squad and had to play Alex Carey. Even when playing in the XI, Hetmyer has often batted behind Stoinis. Of the nine innings he has played, five have come at No. 6, whereas his role with other teams is to bat higher than that.
Perhaps Hetmyer has not shown the team management enough for them to trust him with a more important role, but at this stage of the tournament they can’t play the same kind of cricket they have in their recent matches and hope for a different result. The returns from Pant and Shaw are a problem, but dropping Hetmyer is not a fix for that. The Capitals’ campaign has reached a state where they might not have an option but to bring Hetmyer in and give him the kind of freedom Pooran had at the Kings XI Punjab.
The switch is straightforward. One out of Shaw and Ajinkya Rahane sits out – matter of preference whether you want an out-of-form match-winner or a steady opener – and Daniel Sams opens up the overseas slot. If the possible dew in the night makes it tough to play Harshal Patel, who relies mainly on cutters, the Capitals will have to go with Tushar Deshpande.
The Capitals have two ways of going about it in what remains of the tournament. The first is to hope to win the toss, restrict the opposition to a below-par total, and chase conservatively, which is what their current XI is built for. Or, they can go back to their positive selves and give themselves a shot each way. There are no chances left.