Delhi and Pune, whose match-up comprises this Saturday night’s IPL attraction at the Ferozeshah Kotla, offer interesting studies in contrast. Circumstances in the lead-up to the season ensure an intriguing clash between the IPL’s haves and have-nots.
Delhi, rebooted after a horrible IPL 4 run, have played their cards well and scythed through opponents all the way to the top of the charts. They have a captain in Virender Sehwag who leads as instinctively as he bats but brings the same intensity to excel as well.
The squad is lucky that Mahela Jayawardene, Kevin Pietersen, Ross Taylor and Morne Morkel are all available at the same time. All the stardust seems to be rubbing off on domestic talents like Shahbaz Nadeem too. Delhi wear a settled look. The scary part is Sehwag hasn’t even come to the party with the bat!
All that success hasn’t made them the most popular team, though. Judging by the demand for tickets and complimentary passes wherever they play, that honour belongs to Pune and its evergreen leader Sourav Ganguly. Everybody loves the underdog, and that perhaps explains the fascination with a team that didn’t participate in the auctions and merely managed to cobble together a competitive squad.
Their captain retired from international cricket in 2008 and is struggling with the bat. The batting mainstay, Jesse Ryder, has struggled with alcoholism and travels with a clinical psychologist. Marlon Samuels has just emerged from a ban for hobnobbing with spot-fixing-related characters. Dasher Robin Uthappa is forever trying to raise his game. Manish Pandey is a young batsman struggling to justify the ‘next-big-thing’ tag.
It’s a squad full of characters kept afloat by the still-astute mind of Ganguly. Pune have done well to remain in the top half of the table but their position may prove hard to sustain. Given the back-to-back losses to Bangalore and Chennai, the problems with the death bowling, the middle order’s occasional inability to accelerate and Ashok Dinda’s fitness problems, Delhi will start firm favorites.
You can never discount Ganguly and Pune, though, and that’s where the fun begins. “It will be an exciting match for the fans,” said Delhi mentor TA Sekar. “Pune have been doing well. They have batsmen who can finish the match. They have good Indian bowlers.”
Jayawardene, meanwhile, suggested that at some stage Sehwag’s team would have to flirt with the bogey of rotation. Pune will be hoping Delhi keep their big guns back in the hotel!