IPL Preview — Delhi Capitals

Serial under performers in the past, a rejuvenated Delhi will be looking to go one better than least season to claim their first ever IPL title. The Capitals have made good progress under head coach Ricky Ponting, after finishing bottom in his first season as coach in 2018 they’ve finished in the play off spots in back to back seasons. Ending a seven year run of missing out on the play offs.

At the time of writing their captaincy situation is uncertain, Shreyas Iyer picked up an injury in the ODI series between India & England, which is likely to rule him out of the majority of the IPL, possibly even the entire tournament. A big blow for Delhi, who have invested a lot of time in Iyer; making him the youngest ever IPL captain in 2018. There will be plenty of names touted to replace him as captain, as of now, there isn’t a clear favourite.

Note - Rishabh Pant has now be announced as captain.

Delhi have assembled the following squad for the coming season:

Released: Keemo Paul, Sandeep Lamichhane, Alex Carey, Tushar Deshpande, Mohit Sharma & Daniel Sams (trade with RCB)

Auction purchases: Tom Curran (5.5 cr), Steve Smith (2.2 cr), Sam Billings (2 cr), Umesh Yadav (1 cr), Ripal Patel (20 L), Vishnu Vinod (20 L), M Siddarth (20 L) & Lukman Hussain Meriwala (20L)

Not going to comment too much on auction purchases but deciding to bid such a high amount for Tom Curran was interesting to say the least. Considering he has the highest economy rate of any IPL bowler that has bowled at least 20 overs since 2018, I’m not too convinced by this move. His economy rate of 11.51 is the highest by a distance, as the next highest is 10.77, he is also one of the most expensive bowlers in t20 internationals. Maybe there is a master plan somewhere, after all he keeps getting IPL gigs and is regularly in England squads but as of right now, I’m failing to see it.


Screenshot from Delhi Capitals official twitter account

As you can see above these are their fixtures for the 2021 group stage phase. So they’re likely to have 6 games at venues where we expect conditions to be most suited to spinners. While they may lack an overseas spin option, they have plenty of domestic options. Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel are certain starters, two wrist spin options in Amit Mishra and Pravin Dubey, as well as a better than part time off spinner in Lalit Yadav.

Where were Delhi strong last season?

Taking powerplay wickets - 2nd best in this regard, though some distance behind Mumbai. The source of their power play wickets are perhaps not from where you’d expect, 11 of their 24 wickets in this phase came from Axar Patel and Ravi Ashwin. Contributing to nearly half of their wickets, depsite only bowling 27% of the total deliveries in this phase. It will be interesting to see if this continues this season, I expect it will depend on who plays as the 5th bowler. If it’s an Indian pace bowler, likely Ishant Sharma or Umesh Yadav, who are both primarily new ball bowlers, this could see the need to bowl spin in the power play decrease. If they went with Mishra as another spin option, it leaves them potentially having 12 overs of spin available to them, so they’d almost certainly be bowling at least a couple of spin overs in the power play. The need to bowl spin in the power play last season was a consequence of their overseas pace bowlers not being productive enough in this phase. Between KG Rabada and Anrich Nortje, they managed to take just 8 wickets in 50 overs, at an average of nearly 50.

Middle overs batting - Delhi were above average in terms of scoring rate and boundary percentage through the middle overs last season. Managing to do this when Rishabh Pant had a poor season by his standards is a big positive.

Death overs bowling- In this regard they were well above average for economy rate and strike rate. In thanks, mainly to KG Rabada, who took 17 wickets in 118 balls, with an economy rate of 8.95. Nortje had an even better economy rate at 8.44, though he was less of a wicket taker.


Powerplay batting - Below average scoring rate and dismissal rate - not the ideal combination. Prithvi Shaw is the main culprit for getting out early, of openers that have faced at least 300 balls in the last 3 seasons as an opener, he has the lowest number of balls per dismissal. Even if you lower the parameter of balls faced to 200, Sunil Narine is the only opener that get dismissed more regularly.

Middle overs bowling - Slightly surprising that they were the worst side economically, in this phase, considering the quality of their spinners. However, with the injuries to Ishant Sharma and Amit Mishra, the fifth bowling option for Delhi last season was a huge problem. Most commonly using Harshal Patel, Marcus Stoinis or Tushar Deshpande, these 3 went at a rate of 9.72 during the middle overs. Ashwin was only slightly better than the team average at 8.09, while Axar Patel was excellent, going for just under 6.5 runs per over.

Death overs batting - Really poor in this phase last season, not helped by Pant having his worst ever season in terms of overall strike rate and his worst since his debut season in terms of runs scored. They’ll be reliant on Pant and whoever plays out of Stoinis/Hetmyer to do the majority of the work. Even when Dhawan bats through the innings, he seems to run out of steam towards the back end. Axar Patel can bat but I’m not sure hitting pace at the death suits his skillset. I expect death over hitting to improve this season, though over reliance on a couple of players will still be a concern.

Team selection

DC are much easier to predict than a few of the other teams, though the injury of Shreyas Iyer has complicated things a bit more. Despite the absence of Iyer, I think there are still 8 players who are almost certain to be in the XI:

Shikhar Dhawan - Since moving to Delhi 2 seasons ago, he has been a reliable run scorer for them. Perhaps not a huge surprise, given he his lowest scoring season in the last 5 seasons is 479 runs. Dhawan has scored the 2nd most runs in the last 3 seasons of IPL and is fresh off his best ever season in terms of runs scored and strike rate last time out. Managing 618 runs at a strike rate of just under 145, he was one of the best openers in the tournament last season:

Balls per dismissal and strike rate for openers in the 2020 IPL season, with colour of the dots indicating boundary percentage — red to green = from worst to best

Dhawan was in the top 3 for both; balls per dismissal and strike rate, with a respectable boundary percentage. The only opener you could say with a reasonable amount of certainty that had a better season than him was Mayank Agarwal.

Prithvi Shaw - The above graph also highlights the struggles of Shaw. A dismissal rate of 12.85 is only slightly above what you’d expect from a pinch hitter, nevermind someone of his talent. In truth, Shaw has struggled to crack the IPL but at only 21 it’s too early to give up on him. The potential is there; a career boundary percentage in the IPL of 21.3% is excellent and in his debut IPL season he managed 245 runs in 9 innings at a strike rate of over 150, showing how destructive he can be. Two fairly lean seasons have followed, where he has struck in the mid 130’s and averaged around 20. One positive is that he is coming to the IPL in great form. In 8 innings, Prithvi managed a ridiculous 827 runs at a strike rate of nearly 140, in the recently concluded Vijay Hazare trophy. A timely reminder of his ability, he has huge upside as a player but will need to show more than he has done in recent seasons for Delhi to have a chance at winning their first IPL title.

Rishabh Pant - To be a star of the IPL at such a young age, is testament to what he has already achieved as a T20 player. With that said, his drop off last season was astonishing and absolutely no one expected it.

Pant had the highest strike rate of any batsmen to face at least 500 balls in the previous 3 seasons, heading into last season. He was also top run scorer in this period (KL Rahul and Warner missed a season.) You could argue he was the best batsmen, certainly one of the best in the IPL. Everyone was surprised with the season Pant had last time out, managing 342 runs at a strike rate of only 113. I refuse to believe this is anything other than a one off for Pant, I expect him to bounce back this season. He’ll be coming into the season with confidence, following some brilliant performances in test matches and some valuable contributions in the t20 series vs England. With Shreyas Iyer missing, the Indian trio of Dhawan, Shaw and Pant will be vital to any success Delhi have and they’ll need big seasons from each of them.

Marcus Stoinis - After failing to really crack the IPL in previous seasons, plenty were pessimistic about Stoinis heading into last season. Between the 2017–19 editions of IPL, Stoinis only scored 327 runs in 20 innings at a strike rate of under 130. Last season he finished with 352 runs at a strike rate of just under 150, playing in various different roles, a big improvement on what he’d shown previously. Was it just because he got a consistent run in the side or was there something else? In my opinion one of the main reasons for the increase could be his improvement against spin:

Stoinis against spin since 2017 (all t20 games)

I grouped 2017 & 18 together as the sample size was too small for each individual year. As you can see he has clearly improved against spin, particularly in terms of strike rate. A dismissal rate in the mid 20’s against spin isn’t too much of an issue anyway. A big improvement against spin is part of the reason why I expect him to bat at 5/6 rather than opening, like he does in the BBL.

Stoinis can also be a handy contributor with the ball, not someone you’d want to rely on for multiple overs every game but he is perfectly acceptable if you need 1–2 overs from somewhere, if one of your main bowling options has an off day. His tally of 13 wickets last season was his best in IPL by some distance.

Axar Patel - A key part of the Delhi side, Axar has been a mainstay since his move from KXIP two seasons ago. His numbers in the last two seasons have been seriously impressive, not necessarily a big wicket taker but an extremely effective defensive bowling option. Which is okay, amongst the two overseas quicks & Ashwin, he just goes about his business. In the last two seasons he has figures of 19–691 in 102 overs, an economy of 6.77 which puts him right up there with the best. He is also a genuine option in the powerplay, bowling over 20% of his deliveries in this phase. Handy with the bat, though I don’t think his role will alter too much from the number 7 position.

Ravichandran Ashwin - Another former KXIP player, Ashwin had a solid debut season for Delhi in 2020, taking 13 wickets, with an economy rate of 7.66. Solid but not spectacular would be a good way to describe it. He had a four game period during the middle of last season where he really struggled, where he bowled 13 overs 2–137. Either side of that he had above average figures almost every game. Like Axar, he is an option in the powerplay, bowling a third of his overs in this phase last season. His role with the bat has been diminishing over the last few seasons and I don’t expect him to bat any higher than 8.

KG Rabada - The man who currently has the best strike rate ever in IPL of the players that have bowled at least 100 overs and the top wicket taker in the tournament last season. Needless to say that his three IPL seasons have been a success. The one possible concern with his bowling is his lack of threat in powerplay’s, as mentioned before he isn’t productive in this phase. He has picked up 5 wickets in 40 powerplay overs in the IPL, this is consistent with t20 international data as well, where he has only managed 3 wickets in 17 overs. Definitely concerning, though what isn’t concerning is his record in the death overs (17–20), Rabada picks up wickets at a ridiculous rate:

Strike Rate vs Economy rate for IPL death bowlers (2018–20) and size of dot relates to how many overs they’ve bowled in this phase — Bumrah has bowled the most by a distance. Narine and Undakat were excluded because they made the graph too cramped. Narine had a SR and ER of 24.33 & 10.15, while Undakat was 13.47 & 12.77 respectively. Averages are based on IPL bowling stats from the last 3 years, so leg byes & byes aren’t included in the calculation.

Rabada is comfortably inside the ideal bottom left hand corner, with an outrageous strike rate of 7 and an economy rate that is considerably better than average. With the fifth best economy rate and best strike rate, he is one of the best bowlers in this phase.

Anrich Nortje - Signed as a replacement last season for Chris Woakes, Nortje had a very strong debut season. He finished the tournament as the fourth highest wicket taker, with 22 wickets, he only finished behind his teammate Rabada and the MI duo of Boult and Bumrah. He bowled with great pace throughout the tournament, according to data on the official IPL website he bowled 27 balls that were 150kmph or higher, a tally no one else could match.

He wasn’t just a pace merchant though and often bowled in all three phases. As I mentioned earlier, he was excellent at the death, going at only 8.44 runs per over and had solid powerplay numbers. He was slightly expensive through the middle overs, which is probably the opposite of what you’d expect for an ‘enforcer’ type bowler - could be something to watch out for.

That concludes the players who are all but guaranteed to be in the XI. With three spots, including one overseas slot remaining, who will fill the gaps in the side? Two batsmen; possibly a batsmen and a batting all-rounder and a bowler are needed. I think it’s highly likely they’ll include an anchor-type batsmen with the loss of Shreyas Iyer, this leaves us two main options, either Steve Smith or Ajinkya Rahane. This is a really important decision as it impacts their flexibility, in terms of being able to play another overseas batsmen. So, how do they compare?

As you can see, they’re very similar players. The biggest difference between the two is that Smith is better at preserving his wicket, in general and against spin. Neither are particularly great T20 players, though I definitely believe Smith is trying to adapt his game to become a more sought after t20 player. I don’t particularly like comparing formats but I think it’s worth mentioning that in 2020 Smith had a strike rate of 106.6 in ODI cricket. His best in any previous calendar year was 94.6, in 2010, when he was most commonly batting at number 7. This combined with the fact that Rahane has a relatively poor t20 record when not opening the batting, means I’m leaning towards Smith.

If they pick Smith, the final batting slot will likely be either Lalit Yadav or Ripal Patel. There’s an outside chance that it could be Vishnu Vinod but based on the rest of their team line up, I think they need a lower order hitter. All three played in the two domestic tournaments played earlier this year, here is how they compared:

SR — Team SR = Player’s strike rate minus team’s strike rate, BP — Team BP = Player’s boundary percentage minus team’s boundary percentage

Based on the stats and what the role is likely to be in the team, Lalit Yadav and Ripal Patel look much better suited. Lalit Yadav was excellent in the Syed Mushtaq Ali, though Ripal Patel is a better six hitter. What might edge if for Yadav, is that he seems to be a genuine bowling option; he bowled his full quota in every game in the Syed Mushtaq Ali, picking up 7 wickets at an economy rate of 6.6 & bowled 56 overs in the 7 Vijay Hazare games, picking up 11 wickets at an economy rate of 5.56. Both of the other players bowled in the tournaments but don’t seem to be anything more than part time bowlers.

I believe the bowling slot will be a toss up between Mishra and Ishant Sharma, unless Umesh Yadav can re-discover some form. It’s most likely that Ishant will play given the struggles their overseas pacers have had in the power play. Ishant has a powerplay economy rate of 6.83 and bowls around 70% of his overs in this phase. Maybe a touch one dimensional but I think the team’s needs will come first here. Here is a look at what the final team could look like, depending on who they pick out of Smith and Rahane:

In terms of Hetmyer vs Billings, Hetmyer probably has more upside as a t20 player however he has been very hit and miss. In his IPL career so far he has scored at a respectable strike rate of 140 but has been dismissed every 15.23 balls, DC will want more consistency from him given the price they purchased him for.

Whatever option they go with I think Delhi have enough to make the play offs. Their success beyond that will likely depend on the form of their key batsmen, they’ll need big seasons from their openers and Pant if they’re to have any hope of challenging Mumbai.

Thanks for reading!