In the last edition of the IPL, Capitals were more of a nothing-to-lose team with the core built around Indian cricket’s Gen-Next. But by finishing runners-up, they now have a reputation to protect and an ego to satisfy.
In essence, Wednesday’s second qualifier between Delhi Capitals and Kolkata Knight Riders will be a test of nerves for the players who are supposed to carry Indian cricket forward.
KKR find themselves in the same spot where DC have been the last two years. World Cup-winning captain Eoin Morgan‘s team’s revival in the second leg of this year’s IPL in UAE has revolved largely around the younger generation of Indian cricketers. Varun Chakravarthy, Venkatesh Iyer, Shubman Gill, Rahul Tripathi and Shivam Mavi have stepped up in crunch situations just as Avesh Khan, Prithvi Shaw, Axar Patel and Shreyas Iyer have done for Capitals recently.
“I think we would have an edge against the Delhi Capitals,” Gill announced after defeating Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Eliminator on Monday.
The confidence stems from the familiarity with the Sharjah stadium-the venue for the match. “They (DC) are a really balanced team as we see it and hopefully we will give another cracker of a game. This was our third match here and we know what to expect from this wicket and I think right now everyone is adjusted to how the pitch plays and the conditions,” he added.
No one will be carrying the burden of expectations more than Rishabh Pant. He is someone who has evolved so drastically over the last year that he is being considered for elevation to the leadership group in the Indian team. In some ways, he has pulled away from contemporaries like Gill, Shaw and Shreyas Iyer.
The decision to give Tom Curran the last over against MS Dhoni the other night has attracted widespread criticism about his game sense though. It’s not that he isn’t used to harsh criticism. That has been the only constant in his career so far. Pant has done well to regain his form but he will be now judged more on his ability to lead a team through choppy waters.
There’s no denying that KKR have the momentum behind them. The tacky Sharjah pitch suits their game too. Yet, DC’s bowling has been outstanding in the last couple of seasons.
For all the promise they have shown, every young Indian cricketer playing on Wednesday, vying to cement a place in the Indian team, needs to show they have the temperament to do so. Avesh, for instance, has cracked under pressure twice in the last two matches. Shreyas has struggled to get going. Venkatesh’s strike rate has been dipping sharply.
As the seasoned CSK wait for rivals for Friday’s final, there will be a set of young boys eager to prove to the world that they are ready for the next grade.