Delhi Daredevils didn't have a confident air about themselves at the beginning of the Indian Premier League's season five, neither did the fans or the league itself. The off-field pomp and show once again surrounded the 'Big Daddies' Chennai Super Kings, Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bangalore, and for some unceremonious and unfortunate reasons Pune Warriors India. But 25 days into the slam bang, Delhi finds itself lined up with the most number of suitors.
While Delhi's daredevilry has been evident in their game, it won't be wrong to admit that they have benefited from the indifferent form of the other favourites. Barring Deccan Chargers – who have won just one out of seven matches – and to some extent Kings XI Punjab – who are left with no choice than to make a late surge with six points from eight matches – others are on a level pegging. And that's because the likes of Chennai, Bangalore, Kolkata Knight Riders (all at nine points) and Mumbai (eight points) have been stung badly by the tournament's darkhorses.
Nobody gave Rajasthan Royals a chance, especially in their first season without the inspirational Shane Warne. But under Rahul Dravid, they opened with a victory over Kolkata at home, and when they beat Bangalore in Bangalore, the other teams stood up and started taking them seriously, especially the likes of tournament's top run-getter Ajinkya Rahane and finishers Owais Shah and Brad Hodge. Punjab can be clubbed with Rajasthan in making this edition the league's most open, with their victories of Pune, Kolkata and Mumbai.
Delhi have emerged as the only consistent team so far this season, while Deccan have proved to be the punching bag.
But as the tournament has grown older, the top teams are settling nicely into their groove. Bangalore have racked up three wins in their last three matches and Chennai registered wins in their last two encounters before missing a hat-trick of wins in the game against Bangalore, which was washed out by rain.
The same, though, can't be said about Mumbai, who are finding it tough to remain consistent under a terribly inconsistent skipper Harbhajan Singh, who has just one wicket in eight matches. But some inspirational batting by the middle order and wicket-taking spree of Lasith Malinga and Munaf Patel, they have managed to win four matches, giving themselves a chance to be in the play-offs.
Pune – with some inspirational captaincy by Sourav Ganguly – have managed to upset the big guns Mumbai, Chennai and table-toppers Delhi. Add to that a victory over Punjab, and the resultant eight points from eight matches keep them in the race for the playoffs.
At this juncture, when each of the nine teams has played seven or more matches, none can stand on the same ground as Delhi, who have opened up a three-point lead at the top with 12 points from eight matches. No praise is less for Delhi's top order, which should be credited the most for Delhi's consistent show.
Skipper Virender Sehwag has led from the front, and his 309 runs so far, including three half-centuries, place him second on the list of top scorers. Kevin Pietersen (264 runs, one century, one half-century) is sixth on that list, but has been the impact player for Delhi. His 19 sixes, which is the same as Chris Gayle’s, are the most hit by a player thus far. Mahela Jayawardene was not to be left behind and showed what he can do at the top with a half-century and 135-run opening stand in the match against Mumbai on Friday. And though Ross Taylor hasn't done the damage expected of him so far, his big-hitting prowess needs no introduction.
When it comes to bowling, Morne Morkel has been unplayable. And with 17 wickets, six more than second-placed Malinga, the Purple Cap sits nicely on the South African's head.
But moving towards the business end of the league, Delhi need to guard against two things. Kevin Pietersen will be leaving in a short while to play the Test series against West Indies at home. And although David Warner will be arriving to plug that hole, it won't be easy for the Australian to replace the Englishman, especially when he is just coming out of a Test series.
Now that the teams have played against each other and are well versed with each other's strengths and weaknesses, Delhi can't afford to be complacent. Bangalore and Chennai's winning run of late has suggested that they are peaking just at the right time. And if Mumbai too can pick themselves up in another week's time, Delhi's days at the top could be numbered.