KP will be missed

Bowling hero... Delhi Daredevils will hope for a repeat of last year’s show from their star bowler Morne Morkel.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

In Kevin Pietersen’s withdrawal, Delhi Daredevils has been struck a blow even before this year’s IPL season has begun. The Englishman injured his knee on the national side’s tour of New Zealand, and was ruled out of the IPL. The team mentor T. A. Sekar sought to put a brave face on it, saying on the Daredevils website that while “it is unfortunate to lose a player of KP’s class and it is indeed a big blow,” they had “the explosive Jesse Ryder, the exciting Andre Russell, the crafty Johan Botha and the big-hitting Jeevan Mendis to draw from.” But he and others in the team will know that Pietersen cannot be adequately replaced.

Last season, Pietersen scored 305 runs for Delhi in the eight matches he played; behind only Virender Sewhag (495) and Mahela Jayawardene (335), both of whom featured in twice as many games. At one-drop, Pietersen took control of contests, sustaining the momentum the openers may have built.

Last season, Delhi lost only one game when the 32-year-old played, where it was his dismissal (bowled, notably, by Sourav Ganguly) that turned the tide. Without him, Delhi lost four of eight, not including the defeats in the two qualifiers.

This is not to credit Pietersen alone for Delhi’s revival. Jayawardene picked up a team that had finished bottom in 2011 and led it to the top of the table. David Warner was brutal, an in-form Sehwag and he battering bowlers from the outset while Morne Morkel proved fiendishly difficult for rival batsmen to play. The team’s most successful bowler with 25 wickets, Morkel formed an able partnership with a fit Umesh Yadav (19 wickets).

It is not difficult to identify Delhi’s potential problems this season, beyond Pietersen’s absence. Sehwag has not been in the best of form, losing his place in the Test side. Umesh has struggled with injuries and the extent of his participation is not known. The success of Delhi’s big-hitting batsmen and fast bowlers last year camouflaged weaknesses elsewhere that were exposed in the qualifiers.

At the auction, Delhi bought Johan Botha ($450,000), Jesse Ryder ($260,000), and Jeevan Mendis ($50,000). Ryder will hope to fill the hole left by Pietersen, after Ross Taylor was sold to Pune Warriors, while Botha and Mendis will augment a spin-bowling group that had only Pawan Negi and Shahbaz Nadeem last season.

Much will rest on Sehwag, Warner, Jayawardene and Morkel. Irfan Pathan did alright last season; the likes of him and Unmukt Chand will have to deliver.

Shreedutta Chidananda