It’s 2009. A Delhi-based franchise (Delhi Capitals [DC] now, Delhi Daredevils then) has cruised into the semi-finals of the Indian Premier League. They’ve mustered 20 points from 14 games, losing just four matches. Virender Sehwag has led the side with distinction and there is a certain flamboyance about them too. So, when the penultimate stage begins, the IPL is dubbed to be theirs to lose.
But nothing thereafter goes according to plan. In the semi-final against the now-defunct Deccan Chargers, they lose two wickets in the opening over. They then crawl to 153/8 courtesy Tillakaratne Dilshan and Sehwag, meaning that they have something to bowl at. Adam Gilchrist, though, eats up the target for breakfast.
He sparkles his way to a 35-ball 85 and before DC know it, they are dumped out of IPL 2009. To many, it was that sort of exit that prompted the IPL to introduce a play-off system – a system where such teams, who dominate the league stages, don’t suffer because of one bad outing.
In 2012, however, DD defy each of those notions. They finish in the top two, play the Kolkata Knight Riders in the Qualifier at Pune and come up short. They have another bite at the cherry but when they meet the Chennai Super Kings juggernaut, DC are stopped dead in their tracks.
In 2019, they decide to do things the hard way. They finish outside the top two, yet manage to get through to Qualifier 2. Another date with CSK awaits, and as you might have guessed by now, they don’t really put their best foot forward. A year later, they actually get to the final before meekly surrendering to the Mumbai Indians.
Thus, when they arrive for the 2021 edition, it seems they are almost on the brink of greatness. A season ago, they were outplayed by an excellent cricketing outfit but they now know what pressure feels like and how it can be overcome. They qualify as the top-ranked team in the league phase too. Two games later, they watch the summit clash between CSK and KKR.
This year, they weren’t as good as they were in 2020 and 2021. The mega auction meant that several players left for newer pastures. The players that came in also took a bit of time to get acclimatized to their surroundings. But because of the sheer match-winners at their disposal, they still had their fate in their own hands before their final fixture against MI.
DC are poor in a must-win clash against MI
A win, despite the Royal Challengers Bangalore fans rooting for MI, would render all calculations useless. This was probably the simplest brief DC could ever have received. The only thing they had to take care of was their own performance. So, it was only fitting that they botched it. Not because MI were exceptional on the night, but because DC, for the lack of a better word, were pretty ordinary.
It began in the powerplay when they lost three wickets. David Warner perished to a loose waft. Prithvi Shaw nearly had his head taken off by Jasprit Bumrah. And Mitchell Marsh prodded at a delivery in the channel. Sarfaraz Khan followed suit after the powerplay with another needless poke away from his body.
Rishabh Pant and Rovman Powell rebuilt the innings and tried to sprinkle their inimitable flair over it. They succeeded to an extent as well, setting DC up for a total in excess of 170.
But just as they were building momentum, Pant had a fish at a delivery that might have landed on the adjacent strip. It also occurred after 19 runs had been scored in that over. Against Ramandeep Singh, a part-time bowler at best. Powell then decided to move away from his power game and attempt a cute sweep off Bumrah. The result, well, was an uprooting of the off stump.
It didn’t end there. Fortunately for the RCB faithful and unfortunately for the DC fans. Pant dropped an absolute sitter to hand MI the momentum. He then somehow bungled a review despite seeming very confident when appealing initially. That caught-behind appeal, by the way, involved Tim David – a batter who ultimately booted DC out of IPL 2022. To add to the drama, Pant then opted for an LBW review off a delivery that had pitched at least a foot outside leg stump.
There were countless other errors too. Khaleel Ahmed, like he has been doing for most of this season, was breathing fire with the new ball. He had the ball on a string and caused Rohit Sharma quite a lot of grief. He only bowled two overs at the top, though. The pacer was brought back towards the end and was pummelled into submission.
Among all of this, there were also several misfields and a dropped chance by Shardul Thakur – a chance that could’ve been snaffled up had he been stationed on the fence rather than five yards off it. In isolation, each seems a mistake that can happen to anyone. No cricketer drops a catch on purpose and hindsight is possibly the greatest captain/coach/pundit to have ever played the sport.
But if you are in the DC camp, and such indiscretions keep happening in clutch situations, you begin to wonder if there is a mental block they need to overcome. It’s not as if they didn’t have a squad capable of making the play-offs. It’s just that they almost always failed to win the moments that mattered.
Not just in 2009. Or 2012. Or 2019, 2020 and 2021. In 2022 too. That is quite a long sample space to keep making the same mistakes. The game against MI was the game that mattered this season for DC. And they lost. The heart-breaking part, though, is that this doesn’t even seem to be an aberration anymore.