A glance at Delhi Capitals’ batting line-up for their game against Royal Challengers Bangalore will tell you that Lalit Yadav, averaging 30.67 with a strike rate of 137.82 in T20s before this game, walked in at No. 9. That looks like some batting depth. Except it wasn’t.
That Lalit was slotted at No. 9 was Capitals’ attempt to guard against their batting failures so far in IPL 2023. In fact, their long batting line-up came at the expense of a bowling resource. They started with four frontline bowlers, with Lalit and Mitchell Marsh expected to fill in the fifth bowler’s quota.
The extra batter made little difference. Chasing 175, they were 2 for 3 inside three overs, then 53 for 5 and finished with 151 for 9. It was their fifth successive defeat, pushing them further down on the points table.
Losing wickets in the powerplay has been Capitals’ biggest headache. No team has lost more wickets in that phase this season, and only Sunrisers Hyderabad have scored at a slower rate than Capitals in that phase.
Nothing illustrates this better than how David Warner and Prithvi Shaw have fared so far this season. Currently, Warner is the second-highest run-scorer, with his tally of 228 just five behind Shikhar Dhawan’s. However, Warner has scored his runs at a strike rate of 116.92. Even more surprisingly, he is yet to hit a six in the tournament.
It could be argued that the fall of wickets around him hasn’t allowed Warner to play his natural game. But even when he has tried to up the tempo, he hasn’t succeeded.
Capital’s assistant coach Shane Watson said before this game that Warner was “so close to setting the tournament alight”. It looked like he could actually do that on Saturday. Despite the loss of three early wickets, he was positive, hitting Mohammed Siraj for three consecutive fours in the fifth over. But he fell soon after, toe-edging a pull off IPL debutant Vijaykumar Vyshak to short midwicket.
While Warner’s struggles are there in open, we have little idea what’s wrong with Shaw. According to head coach Ricky Ponting, he has looked like “a million dollars” in the nets. In the middle, though, he hasn’t been able to buy a run; in five innings, he has managed just 34 runs.
In Capitals’ previous three games, including this one, Shaw was part of their Impact Player pair, and was actively involved only during the batting innings, something Watson didn’t like about the new rule.
On Saturday, Shaw came in only for the chase, and didn’t look fully switched on. On the second ball of the innings, he sent Warner back when a second run was on. Two balls later, an excellent piece of fielding by Anuj Rawat – a one-handed diving stop followed by a direct hit – saw him being run-out at the non-striker’s end.
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“The one thing with the Impact rule that I certainly don’t like is that it cannot be batting hours only for certain batters,” Watson said after the game. “That’s a challenge they have got to work through, with this new rule how you can maintain someone’s energy to a point where when they go out in the first over, because they have been sitting on the sidelines they are ready to actually move quickly.
“Incredible piece of fielding as well but that’s the thing about Impact Player that we all got to be better at, and certainly tonight exposed that. Prithvi came off sitting down for 20 overs when up until the Impact Player rule came in. If he were out there running around, he would have been ready to take off and run that little bit faster. I think that will be a learning that he takes out but also from a team perspective we certainly have to as well.”
But have the coaches spoken to Shaw about his batting failures?
“The talks with Prithvi has been really just to have the freedom to go out there and trust his skills,” Watson said. “Prithvi is skilled as any batter in India. The biggest thing for him is to just continue allowing himself to access those skills with no fear about making a mistake or getting out. That’s the real big reinforcement we are having as a coaching group with Prithvi because we all know the skill he has got. When he is batting at his best, he can take down the best bowlers in all conditions.
“And that’s why the franchise has been patient with Prithvi because everyone knows the skill that he has got. Players like Prithvi don’t just fall off trees. Someone with his skill doesn’t come along that often and that’s why we just want to help him as much as we possibly can to allow him to show the incredible batting skills he has got.”
With the opening pair not living up to expectations, Capitals’ already weak middle order has looked brittle. Rishabh Pant’s unfortunate accident in December not only robbed Capitals of their captain but also one of the most destructive batters in world cricket. Even though Pant’s T20 numbers had not been great of late, the oppositions couldn’t afford to relax till he was batting.
In their opening match, Capitals tried Sarfaraz Khan as their wicketkeeper-batter but he neither impressed behind the stumps nor in front of them. Abishek Porel has been almost flawless with the big gloves, but he does not look like a top five batter as of now.
To overcome those hurdles, Capitals have been making multiple changes every game. Some of them were forced as well, with Mitchell Marsh going back to Australia for his wedding. But nothing seems to be working. Amid all that, Axar Patel has been their second-best, if not the best, batter, and Watson even half-joked that he might consider sending Axar up the order in the upcoming games.
After their defeat to Rajasthan Royals, Ponting had said he couldn’t put his finger on why they had lost three games in a row. Now, it seems there are way too many holes in their batting line-up to put a finger on.