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Delhi Daredevils

Delhi Daredevils enter the third IPL with the same label as they did the past two - as the team to beat. That is, however, until they reach the semi-finals. Two seasons, two semi-final games, two poor performances. The Delhi juggernaut is a formidable one at normal times, but when the stakes get higher, they have failed to bring out a facet that is only the preserve of champions. Simply put, in two semi-finals they failed to lift their game to an even higher level.

Boasting the best batting order of the tournament, a very reliable wicketkeeper-batsman, the best Twenty20 spinner with an economical Indian ally, and an enviable new-ball attack, Delhi have everything going for them three days before the IPL starts. If Virender Sehwag and David Warner provide sheer belligerence with the bat, Tillakaratne Dilshan and AB de Villiers bring a mix of calculated big-hitting and superb running between the wickets. Gautam Gambhir can score at a clip without being half as audacious as these four names, while Dinesh Karthik holds up an unassuming lower middle order with his brand of Twenty20 batting.

Dirk Nannes and Ashish Nehra proved a highly successful pair in South Africa and later in the Champions League Twenty20 in India and are fitting prelude to what follows. Daniel Vettori, when he links up with the team in the second half of the tournament, brings talent and experience and Rajat Bhatia, Pradeep Sangwan and Aavishkar Salvi are more than capable medium-pace options.

The buzz


The pitch at the Feroz Shah Kotla, which was severely criticized following the abandonment of the India-Sri Lanka ODI on December 27, has passed the scrutiny of Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, chairman of the IPL cricket committee. However, the surface remains an unknown quantity after it first came under scrutiny during the Champions League Twenty20 in October when the pitch was slow and offered uneven bounce. The venue has been banned from hosting internationals for 12 month but IPL games have been passed.

Last week Delhi signed up Eric Simons, India's bowling coach for the home series against South Africa, as an assistant coach. Simons, who will assist Greg Shipperd, fills the position left vacant by Australia's David Saker, and will focus on working with the large bunch of young bowlers in the Delhi squad.

New faces


Delhi jumped at Wayne Parnell in this year's auction and netted the young fast bowler for $610,000. That amount surprised Parnell, and has increased the pressure on him. Parnell fills the slot left vacant after Delhi bought out the contract of Glenn McGrath. The other acquisition is the New South Wales allrounder Moises Henriques, who was transferred from Kolkata Knight Riders, the former India offspinner Sarandep Singh, and the Punjab legspinner Sarabjit Ladda. These three are unlikely to see much playing time given the overseas player cap and Amit Mishra's success as the prime spinner.

Watch out for


David Warner has been in brutal touch against New Zealand and West Indies during Australia's successful summer, and his accomplishments for NSW during the Champions League Twenty20 in India last year prove he likes the conditions. Warner is wicked when at his left-handed best but also likes to change it up every now and then. Tellingly, Warner does not want to abandon the switch-hit, which he believes gives him the advantage of being able to hit with the turn regardless of whether an offspinner or a legspinner is operating.

Missing in action


Daniel Vettori will not be available until the end of New Zealand's Test series against Australia ends on March 31, but franchises have a 48-hour window to name a swap so expect them to usher him back. Apart from that, each of their first-choice players is available for the entire tournament.

X factor


Dinesh Karthik. After a very powerful top five, Karthik settles into the middle order as a major asset for Delhi. A very skilled limited-overs player, Karthik is an asset in Twenty20 because of his ability to hit a long ball and lead a recovery at a brisk pace from down the order. He has never looked bogged down in Twenty20 and has most always been able to find the gaps even when wickets have been lost. Certain to play all Delhi's matches due to his role as wicketkeeper, this is one player the opposition may happen to overlook because of the far more accomplished names the squad. But they do so at a big risk.

Strength


When the first five names on your team list are Sehwag, Gambhir, Dilshan, de Villiers, and Warner, sufficed to say batting is your strongest asset.

Weakness


Delhi are fast earning the unwanted tag of being club cricket's South Africa in that they have a tendency to choke when it most matters. They made the semi-finals of both IPL seasons and failed to get that far in the inaugural Champions League Twenty20 held in India last year. The batting, fielding and bowling are top notch but it's in the head and gut that this outfit needs to toughen up.

IPL 2009 - the key figures:


Final position: Semi-finalists
Top scorer: AB de Villiers with 465 runs at 51.66
Top wicket-taker: Ashish Nehra with 19 wickets at 18.21 and economy rate of 6.78
Best result: Ten-wicket win over Kings XI Punjab
Worst result: six-wicket loss with 14 balls remaining to eventual winners Deccan Chargers in the semi-finals
Highest team score: 189 v Chennai Super Kings
Lowest team score: 120 for 9 v Punjab

Prediction for 2010


Put your money on them making the semi-finals - and they could get third time lucky.

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