Prior to the start of the Indian Premier League, the Delhi Daredevils were widely regarded as the favourites for the title. With a batting line-up boasting the likes of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, AB de Villiers, David Warner, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Dinesh Karthik and Manoj Tiwary, and backed by Daniel Vettori and Glenn McGrath with ball, they looked imposingly strong on the paper.
However, what the pundits failed to notice was the fact that Delhi’s top half offered little with the ball, meaning that they would be in deep trouble if any of their five bowlers were heavily attacked.
The situation presented itself last night with fatal consequences, when Yusuf Pathan clinically dismantled Daniel Vettori and Amit Mishra in the second half of the innings to guide the Rajasthan Royals to a win that had earlier seemed unlikely.
It was not the first time that Delhi’s bowling had been stretched either.
In their second match against the Chennai Super Kings, Delhi’s fifth bowler Aavishkar Salvi was savaged by Matthew Hayden, conceding 36 runs in his first two-over spell. Fearful that the increased air would play into the hands of big-hitters, Sehwag was loathe to bowl himself or the similarly-loopy off spin of Dilshan, so none other than Manoj Tiwary—normally a part-time leg spinner—took the ball and bowled an over of medium pace. Tiwary was plundered for 11 runs, meaning that Chennai needed only 66 runs from the last eight overs, including one from a weak bowler.
In the end, Delhi managed to wriggle clear and scrape home for a narrow win, but the problems remained. They had put themselves in a dangerous position by conceding 47 runs from the first three overs bowled by their fifth bowler.
Last evening, Rajasthan looked to be out of the match after they had collapsed to 5/64 after 11 overs. Shane Warne’s men still needed 80 runs, but with Delhi’s structure of three pacemen, two spinners and part-timers (all being spinners), the incoming batsman Yusuf Pathan would face four overs of slow bowling if he batted out the 20 overs.
There is hardly a hitter in world cricket more suited to taking on spinners, and Pathan quickly exploited the inflexibility in Delhi’s line-up.
After taking four balls to get his eye in, Pathan moved from one to 19 in the space of five balls, having hit consecutive sixes from Daniel Vettori. The New Zealander was taken off, but was put back on after a switch of ends.
In reality, Sehwag had little choice, as the only alternatives were loopy part-time spinners like himself and Dilshan, which would have appealed to Pathan more. Graeme Smith and Pathan plundered 13 from Vettori’s second and last over, before ripping 18 from the next, bowled by Amit Mishra.
The Royals eventually reached the target with nine balls to spare. The margin might have appeared respectable, but the unused deliveries saved Sehwag the headache of choosing the unfortunate spinner to face Pathan in the last over, be it Vettori, Dilshan, himself or even Gambhir.
Despite avoiding the possible embarrassment of a last over blow-out, Delhi’s plight will not have been lost on their opponents. Although the batsmen failed to do enough for their bowlers, Delhi’s lack of bowling versatility remains a grave concern.
Vettori may be the best T20 spinner in the world, but in this format of the game, everyone is vulnerable to a pummeling occasionally no matter how good they are.
While the dismantling of Salvi hardly raised an eyebrow amid the pulsating victory over Chennai, the attack on Vettori should turn heads. Most of the teams in the competition field an ODI-quality fast bowling allrounder in their XI, which widens their bowling options, but Delhi has opted to do without Farveez Maharoof, one of their leading wicket-takers last year.
Delhi’s selection policy has left their bowlers with almost no margin of error. With their next match on Thursday against the table leaders Deccan Chargers, who are riding high on the rare form of Adam Gilchrist, Herschelle Gibbs and Rohit Sharma at the top of the order, their rigidity could be exposed again. Sehwag would do well to consider a change in strategy.