Delhi Capitals dealt with injuries to two key players – R Ashwin and Amit Mishra – in the first half of the tournament pretty efficiently but the third one seems to have left them, well, hamstrung. Rishabh Pant, who possibly injured his hamstring during their sixth game, didn’t make it to their seventh, against Mumbai Indians, and his captain Shreyas Iyer later said the doctor told him Pant will be resting for a week.
This injury proved to be hugely significant because the only other specialist wicketkeeper in the Capitals squad is an overseas player, Alex Carey, which necessitated a double change. To accommodate Carey, Capitals had to sit out Shimron Hetmyer, in whom they had invested six matches and who had started to yield results in the lower middle order. Assuming Pant does get fit in a week’s time, Capitals still have two games to play in that time, and one just at the end of the week. There is less margin of error now that the tournament has entered the second half. On the line is not just a spot in the next round, but a top-two finish, which gives you two chances at qualifying for the final.
Here are Capitals’ three options on how to manage Pant’s absence.
Do what they did against Mumbai Indians
If they don’t go out of the box, Capitals will have to keep sacrificing Hetmyer and hope that Carey does the job Hetmyer does with the bat. That still leaves them short of the power Pant brought at the most difficult batting position: No. 4. His Indian replacement, Ajinkya Rahane struggles once the field is spread so he was sent in to bat at No. 3, disrupting the flow of the innings and making Iyer sacrificed the position he has flourished in. With two anchors – Dhawan and Rahane – stuck together in the Powerplay, Capitals also had to contend with their leanest Powerplay since their coach Ricky Ponting asked them to show more intent at the turn of the month.
Make Hetmyer keep
Hetmyer is an occasional wicketkeeper. So occasional that his profile page on ESPNcricinfo doesn’t even mention that. He has started one official List A match and one Under-19 ODI as a designated wicketkeeper. Would you want to give him the big gloves for the quickest of strike bowlers in the tournament and two wily spinners?
Even that solves only half their issues, unless they feel confident to play Lalit Yadav ahead of Rahane. Yadav struck at 150 in the last Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy but batted only 67 balls, which tells you he is more of a bowling allrounder and thus not quite the ideal replacement for a specialist batsman.
Bring in a new keeper
It is highly unlikely another team will lend them a hand by offering an Indian wicketkeeper in a mid-season transfer – not least because teams want to protect their plans from other change rooms – but they have another opportunity available to them. Mishra is out of the tournament, and they can opt for an Indian wicketkeeper. KS Bharat has previously been among their reserves. They could ask for him. Bharat doesn’t have a great T20 record, but struck at 139 in the last Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. There is no other standout wicketkeeper-batsman in the country who is not already in some other IPL squad. Bharat is slim pickings compared to Rahane, but that might free up Hetmyer.
However, this is not as straightforward. A replacement player will have to serve the quarantine period and might not be available to play during the week that Pant is estimated to spend on the bench. Still, it is good to keep a back-up ready should Pant not recover in time or should he injure himself again.
Given the resources in hand and the logistical issues of flying in a replacement, playing Carey and Rahane might seem to be the most practical option right now. Unless there is a master influential negotiator know that Capitals know who can make another team an offer it can’t refuse. In the meanwhile, Capitals will be hoping that the one-week rest is enough to get Pant back on the park and that they don’t lose the two matches this week.