Kevin Pietersen's Insipid Form and Captaincy Prime Reason for Delhi's Failure

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Kevin Pietersen's Insipid Form and Captaincy Prime Reason for Delhi's Failure
Uncredited/Associated Press

Three months after his unceremonious sack from the England cricket team, Kevin Pietersen provided a momentous reply as he led the Delhi Daredevils to their maiden Indian Premier League title.

England's all-time leading run scorer across formats, who was banished from the team after their humiliating 5-0 defeat in the Ashes Down Under, despite being their highest run scorer in the series, ridiculed the decision of the England and Wales Cricket Board by smashing 600 runs in the IPL, as he ably guided his team to victory in their seventh attempt.

If only dreams and fairy tales came true.

Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
Kevin Pietersen was sacked from the England team following their 5-0 defeat in the Ashes.

The above scenario would have been the stuff of epic tales of sporting comebacks. Unfortunately for Pietersen and Delhi Daredevils fans, it was too good to be true. And how!

Delhi began their 2014 season from scratch. After failing to finish higher than third in six attempts and finishing at the bottom of the table last season, they decided not to retain a single player before the player auction—the only team to do so.

Thus, the team had its full quota of around $10 million to spend on a completely new squad. Delhi purchased Dinesh Karthik, a wicketkeeper-batsman who played a vital role in helping Mumbai Indians to win the IPL title last year, for over $2 million, and then spent another $1.5 million on Pietersen, who was later named skipper.

Delhi shored up their squad with other players of repute such as JP Duminy, Ross Taylor, Murali Vijay, Mohammed Shami, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Quinton de Kock, Jaydev Unadkat and Manoj Tiwary. It was a squad that looked capable of mounting a serious challenge.

But as the tournament began, you began to realise that the Daredevils were expecting all their daredevilry from just one player—their prolific captain. With no international cricket in the horizon, he was supposed to take IPL 2014 by storm. This was supposed to be his season, where everyone expected him to make England regret their decision to axe him.

Pietersen had to sit out the first three matches of the season due to an injured finger. Delhi lost two out of those three games. His return for the fourth game raised a lot of hopes, but all they got to see was a man who was clearly struggling to shake off the inertia and, more worryingly, suffering from a calamitous lack of self-confidence.

Julian Herbert/Getty Images
Pietersen missed out the first three games of IPL 2014 due to an injury

Considering his past record and the fact that he was captain, Delhi stuck with Pietersen till date, evidently positive of the fact that he would return to form eventually and buoy them up the table.

Unfortunately, the day never came.

Aside from a couple of quickfire 30s in which he essayed some delectable strokes that reminded everyone of his capabilities, Pietersen has found it impossible to carry on. Gone was the world-beating aggression and flair that he brought out to the middle ever since his debut in 2004. Gone was the merciless decimation of bowling attacks. Gone was the form behind the 32 hundreds that he hit in his international career.

Long gone.

His scores so far in the season read: 16, 26*, 14, 0, 6, 35, 33, 13.

With eight defeats in 11 games, Delhi are again languishing at the bottom of the table. Thursday's 62-run loss at the hands of Rajasthan Royals eliminated even a mathematical possibility of qualifying for the playoffs.

Speaking at the post-match presentation, as reported by ESPNcricinfo, Pietersen hoped that Delhi could "cause some upsets" and urged his team to "enjoy the next 10 days." Even that seems a little too optimistic given the way he and Delhi have performed.

On the field, Pietersen should be given credit for never showing his emotions in spite of his team's listless showing. He is often seen with a smile and words of encouragement for his bowlers, even if they are being pasted all over the park.

However, what is lacking from his captaincy is making the right calls with regard to batting positions, bowling changes and the overall management of the squad.

Thursday was the first time this season that Duminy was promoted to fourth in the batting order, when Delhi were chasing a score of 200-plus. Easily their most consistent batsman this season, having scored 332 runs from 10 matches prior to the game, Duminy was always reserved for Nos. 5 and 6, where he didn't get to face as many deliveries as the most in-form batsman of the team should ideally.

Pietersen has also failed to read his bowlers' strengths and weaknesses. On Thursday, Rajasthan were cruising along  at 169 for five in 18 overs when Pietersen tossed the ball to Manoj Tiwary, a batsman by trade. Tiwary ended up being smashed for 17 runs, which helped the Royals reach 201 eventually.

In eight games that Pietersen has captained Delhi, his bowlers have only managed to take 26 wickets; Kings XI Punjab's Sandeep Sharma has himself taken 14 in as many matches. Delhi's highest wicket-taker so far is spinner Shahbaz Nadeem with seven; Hyderabad's Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who holds the Purple Cap for being the leading wicket-taker for the season, has 18 victims to his name.

While the blame for Delhi's hapless show with the ball cannot solely be put on Pietersen, considering Nathan Coulter-Nile was lost early in the season to injury, there's no escaping from the fact that he has erred in shuffling his bowlers around and making the right calls.

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On Thursday, Pietersen even admitted, per NDTV, to having erred in his decision to field after winning the toss on a pitch that was very slow and destined to get slower as the match progressed.

Far from being a fairytale season for Pietersen, it's turning out to be more like a nightmare with each passing game. If his nearly decade-long international career has proved anything, it is that Pietersen thrives on his own form. As destructive and talismanic as he can be when on song, the bigger the liability he is when staring down the barrel.

With the play-offs out of reach, Delhi have no choice but to look ahead to the next season. A good start would be to drop their most under-performing players and give a run to some of the bench-warmers or fringe ones.

Three games into the season, Delhi could not wait to get Pietersen in the playing XI. With three games left to go, they have all but run out of reasons to not drop him.

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