" Their new ball bowlers have struck early, where they possibly haven't done that in…
What has brought about the turnaround in Delhi Daredevils after last year’s forgettable performance?
The team composition has become more flexible. Rahul Dravid’s mentorship has added value to the team. I always felt that if the coach or mentor is a former captain, it adds value to the team. And, Zaheer Khan’s captaincy has been top class. He really showed how he missed the Indian captaincy with his very precise field placing and changing in bowling. People did not give us credit for picking him as captain, saying Zak has never captained the team. Besides, we have picked a very good team. In the player auctions, we released a lot of players and got a young team. The youngsters are really putting up their hands and performing. The team selection has been horses for courses and that has helped us.
You said about Zaheer missing the Indian captaincy. What sets him apart?
Even when he was with the Indian team and Mahendra Singh Dhoni was captain, he was the fielding captain. He used to advice Dhoni on field settings and who has to bowl and what has to be happening. So, he had leadership skills in bowling. If he does that on the field, everything falls into place. Rahul is there to look after the batsmen. There is no problem.
You managed to pick a side with fearless batsmen and a mix of young and experienced bowlers. Do you think you have the best all-round side this IPL?
We always had young spinners in Shahbaz Nadeem, Jayant Yadav and, of course, Amit Mishra, who is a very experienced spinner. We have variety in our spin department so that we can play any spinner according to the opposition and the ground conditions. On top of it, we have double leg-spin attack in Mishra and Imran Tahir sometimes in the 11.
Our young batting line-up of Rishabh Pant, Sanju Samson are fearless. Quinton de Kock will be a great revelation in years to come. He is also young, only 23. Out batting of left-right combination was all planned and that’s how the turnaround has happened. Still, we have a long way to go. So far, it has been a turnaround performance and we are looking forward to a top-four finish.
How did you manage to strike a balance by changing the core playing group?
The core group has changed so much. From last year, we are playing only JP Duminy, Zaheer Khan and Amit Mishra. Shami has been in and out. De Kock was not a regular player last year and in the chances that he got towards the end, he scored runs. That is why we thought he is going to be our core player this year. Out of the 11, seven or eight are new to the playing 11. The team combination has changed in such a way that batting is not one dimensional. We have some correct players like Nair to bat at No. 3 and consolidate. And, Samson can become a finisher. Pant can open or bat lower in the order. We change our batting order according to our opponent.
How fearless are the young batsmen, particularly Pant. Samson and Nair have been around for a while…
You saw the other day that when everybody else was scared of Mustafizur Rahman, here was an 18-year old Pant playing delightfully (Pant scored 39* and DD won by seven wickets in Hyderabad on May 12). That shows he is not perturbed by the name or the skill of the bowlers. Even against Gujarat Lions, he scored 69 off 40 balls opening the batting. Today, the youngsters are exposed early to T20. Rahul has been with India U-19 team and that also helps. The think-tank is familiar with what he can do and when he can do. Accordingly, you talk to them and groom them, they are going to be better players. Pant is somebody who can really hit the ball long.
Another player who has shone for you is Morris. What makes him special?
Morris has been the fastest bowler this IPL (see box). He has been clocking between 145 and 150 kmph. He bowls very well in the death. He has got a terrific yorker and a very good bouncer. He has developed a very good slower one. The variety is there. If you bowl two-three deliveries at 148 kmph and slip in a slower one, the batsmen are caught unawares and invariably get bowled. His bouncers or yorkers at 148 kmph are lethal. At that pace, it is very difficult to hit over the top. And, his batting is really good. He almost won the game single-handedly against Gujarat Lions in Delhi (82 in 32 balls but DD lost by one run). Coulter-Nile can bowl. Our combination can be two foreign fast bowlers who can bowl really well. And Zak is there, he can bowl with the new ball, come back and bowl in the middle overs and an over in the death. Our death bowling is good. We also have spinners who can bowl in the powerplay, Nadeem or Yadav. The flexibility of the team combination is there this year, something that was missing in the past.
DD play with four wicketkeepers but only one can don the gloves. Do you see playing with four wicketkeepers as a necessity?
Previously, only one ‘keeper could be in the 11. That was how the team was built. Today, everybody is a wicketkeeper-batsman. And, wicketkeepers are excellent fielders. Sam Billings is an outstanding fielder. Samson took two brilliant catches in the outfield. He covers the field well, dives and saves runs. Billings has an outstanding throw. Pant is a good fielder. We feel that anyone can keep. Normally, teams go with a second ‘keeper. We go with four. Suddenly, if de Kock gets injured or has niggle, Samson or Billings can keep. Last year, we did not have that luxury. We had Kedar Jadhav as our wicketkeeper.
Seamers are topping the bowling charts this IPL with only Mishra being the lone spinner in the top-nine bowlers with most wickets. Any particular reason?
Basically, the pitches are good in some places. Seam bowlers who are dominating like Chris Morris, Mitchell McClenaghan, Andre Russell and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have the international experience and have been playing in IPL for three-four years. They know the conditions very well, are familiar with the opponents. Once you know the opposition and the conditions very well, it is like a second home for any cricketer. Previously, Lasith Malinga was doing it almost every year because he has played so many IPL tournaments in his career. Bhuvneshwar swings the ball, the conditions don’t matter to him. With Hyderabad using him and Ashish Nehra at the start, they bottle the opponents in powerplay. Then, Nehra and Mustafizur bottle the opponents in the death, for nearly 7-8 overs the opponents are not able to get even 5-6 runs an over. Thirty five runs in seven overs make it 150 runs in 20 overs when the opponent is capable of scoring 180. Chasing becomes easier at 7.50 an over. And, David Warner has been in terrific form. This is why they have been winning so many matches.
You must have looked at the three matches in Vizag so far. What adjustments do the players have to make on such conditions?
Vizag has never been a green top wicket. It has been a pitch that always helps spin and batsmen. And in summer, wickets will be dry and help spin. On a turning track, you win the toss and bat first, that is fine. In the MI vs KXIP match, Murali Vijay lost the toss but restricted the opponents to 124. There is a chance. It depends on how many spinners play in XI. If you have two-three spinners, then chasing becomes difficult. If you have one good spinner and the other is just a roller, then it is easy. That is what Vijay and Wriddhiman Saha, who is one of the better players of spin, did to achieve the target easily.
Zaheer Khan’s captaincy has been top class. He really showed how he missed the Indian captaincy with his very precise field placing and changing in bowling. People did not give us credit for picking him as captain, saying Zak has never captained the team
MORRIS, FAST & FURIOUS
Morris has the first two fastest deliveries this IPL – 150.02 and 149.99 kmph. He also features eight times in the first 10 and 45 times in the first 100 fastest deliveries, the speeds measuring between 145.57 kmph and 150.02 kmph