IPL 2019 Eliminator: Delhi, Hyderabad all set for knockout battle

Delhi Capitals has had a tremendous season so far and requires one final push in the playoffs of IPL 2019.

Sherfane Rutherford and Shreyas Iyer during a practice session ahead of Delhi Capitals Eliminator clash against Sunrisers Hyderabad.   -  K.R. Deepak

Delhi Capitals and Sunrisers Hyderabad have taken contrasting routes to Wednesday's IPL Eliminator at the ACA-VDCA Stadium here. For the better part of a fortnight, Delhi looked on a course for a top-two finish in the league table. Even first place seemed a distinct possibility before a heavy defeat to Chennai Super Kings set Delhi back, the side eventually slipping down to third on net-run-rate.

SRH, on the other hand, had given up control of its own destiny after losing its last two league games. No team had ever made it to the IPL playoffs with 12 points; it all depended on the result from Mumbai. As it turned out, KKR floundered at the Wankhede Stadium, and SRH advanced. Six points separate Delhi and SRH on the final league table, but that gap counts for nothing; they are now equals fighting to remain in the tournament.

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But Delhi should not be disappointed with this turn of events. This is a side that has reached the IPL playoffs after seven long years, one that finished rock bottom last season. A place in the playoffs should thus be seen as an achievement. In its overhauled avatar, Delhi has appeared a happy, reinvigorated outfit.

On Saturday, Delhi's young captain Shreyas Iyer was asked about the difference between last season and this one. "Players have become more open; there is more freedom to express ourselves," he said. "There are no seniors or juniors in the team; everybody is treated equally. That's what has changed this season."

The absence of Kagiso Rabada — who was in devastating form until he flew home with a back injury — is a blow but Delhi has a competent replacement in Trent Boult. The New Zealander allied with Ishant Sharma to break the back of the Rajasthan innings in the powerplay overs on Saturday. Taking them on will not be simple; nor will it be easy to put away Amit Mishra, who has only nine wickets this season, but remains a threat.

Read: Mumbai outshines Chennai, enters IPL 2019 finals

Delhi's batting has benefited from the consistency of the top four of Prithvi Shaw, Shikhar Dhawan, Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant. Dhawan, for whom Delhi traded three players to SRH, has scored five half-centuries this season. That deal is increasingly looking like a bargain.

In SRH, Delhi will be up against a side that is sorely missing its number one match-winner in David Warner. Williamson's return to form, after having scored 58 runs in his first seven matches, is good news; but there is simply no replacing Warner. Martin Guptill and Wriddhiman Saha, the current openers, have a huge responsibility against Delhi’s new-ball pair. Yusuf Pathan's form has been wretched (40 runs in 10 matches), and much now rests on Manish Pandey and Vijay Shankar in the middle order.

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SRH will also need to bowl better than it did in Bengaluru if it is to tie down Delhi’s top order. Rashid Khan had an off day, Shimron Hetmyer taking him apart, but the Afghan spinner has enjoyed his most economical IPL season yet. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Khaleel Ahmed cannot afford to be off target.

As this green coastal city welcomes the IPL caravan, the scenario is simple for both teams: win and advance to the second qualifier; lose and head home.