The world of cricket is in turmoil. Because the Indian Premier League (IPL) is in turmoil. The IPL stands devastated by the Supreme Court, which passed strict strictures on the conduct of the cash-rich league launched with much fanfare in 2008. Some of the iconic figures of international cricket had promoted the IPL which, we were given to understand, was a platform for the young talent to showcase their skills in the company of established stars. So far so good, until allegations of corruption made their way into the dressing rooms of the IPL teams.
Spot fixing hit the IPL hard in 2013. Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Rajasthan Royals (RR) came under scrutiny, inviting an investigation that culminated in far reaching repercussions. It was alleged that owners of CSK and RR had indulged in betting and match fixing. Led by Justice Mukul Mudgal, the investigating team came to some scathing conclusions which found support in the Supreme Court. CSK and RR stood barred from competing in the 2014 edition of the IPL. The Board of Control for Cricket in India’s reputation suffered a heavy dent and cricket stood wounded.
Regardless of IPL’s future, what has struck the discerning is the defeat of the very concept that marked the composition of the teams. Local talent and domestic players were supposed to benefit the most, but down the years the franchise chose to grab the stars. To the extent that teams like Delhi Daredevils (DD) and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) have little to show in the local recruitment segment. But IPL, provided it is held as scheduled, is here again and DD is aiming high.
A new-look DD, ready to re-launch its ambitious journey for the elusive title, has taken shape under the guidance of the astute Gary Kirsten, the South African who shaped India to the World Cup triumph in 2011. A new coach and a new captain — Kevin Pietersen — bring energy and innovation in the think tank even as fans in the Capital wonder if it is a truly a team that represents Delhi.
It is not.
The technical response from DD is the squad is “well balanced” even if it is not representative of the local flavour. Milind Kumar is the lone player from the Delhi first-class team to have found a place in this IPL. He has thus far figured only in seven matches in the Ranji Trophy.
There is reason for local fans to resent the absence of stars like Virender Sehwag and Ashish Nehra, who served DD with distinction. Critics would point out Sehwag’s average contribution in the last edition, but the franchise was clearly looking to raise a new combination.
DD, it must be said, entertained home talent in the past few editions. Mithun Manhas, Unmukt Chand, were some of those who earned the trust of the franchise and coach mentor T. A. Sekar. The presence of West Indian batting great Vivian Richards as a batting consultant was expected to galvanise the squad, but DD slipped and ended at the bottom.
The effort now is to attain its potential. It does not matter if there is no Delhi in DD. Sehwag has moved. So has Nehra. The other local stars, Gautam Gambhir, Shikhar Dhawan and Ishant Sharma, gained lucrative pastures elsewhere. It was Sehwag alone who lent glamour to the squad. He was lost to Kings XI Punjab in this year’s auction. The iconic Delhi entertainer’s absence would certainly impact the team’s popularity at the Ferozeshah Kotla ground.
A title triumph would not have been out of place for the combination that he had strung so meticulously. A packed Kotla would cheer the DD team every time it took the field. It won some and lost some, but there was never a lack of effort. Two semifinal appearances have not justified the investment in the team, which boasted big hitters like David Warner, Kevin Pietersen, Aaron Finch, Ross Taylor and Glenn Maxwell.
Sekar, former Test fast bowler and an excellent analyst, worked tirelessly to help DD achieve its best. He returned to DD after a two-year stint with Mumbai Indians but things did not quite work as he had perceived.
“Would have loved to play for DD,” a sad Sehwag had remarked after he was not picked at the auction. For DD, the priorities lay in setting up the house again. The announcement of Pietersen as captain was on expected lines. Kirsten also brought in his choice of support staff. The team wears a new look now.
The new look obviously is the decision of the management. Kirsten was given a free hand to make his choice. “It was not that we were for and against someone. The team was decided as the auction progressed. When you pick an IPL team you have to ensure that the local player has to fit in,” said Sekar.
The absence of Delhi in DD can be attributed to the fact that worthy talent is hard to come by. Since Kirsten has been with the Indian team, he understands the conditions well. The management's faith in the South African’s ability has decided the course DD would adopt this season.
Having picked a superb combination in the first three editions beginning 2008, when DD looked a champion squad, it failed to live up to expectations in the subsequent tournaments. There have been some excellent ‘buys’ this time, with Pietersen being the decisive one. His leadership is expected to be the crucial element.
A new opener, M. Vijay; a hugely gifted wicketkeeper-batsman Quinton de Kock; Mohammad Shami and Jean Paul Duminy — all new imports in the team — raise hope for the management. This team, though lacking in local component, looks formidable enough to attract the supporters to Kotla. “We expect support from the fans. It matters a lot when you take the field,” noted Sekar.