Delhi Daredevils. The team that has been the butt of a lot of jokes in the IPL. The team that had lost 25 games out of 30 in 2013 and 2014 and ‘loved’ going on crazy losing streaks. The team that was seemingly perennially in transition. The team that paid Rs 16.5 crores for Yuvraj Singh in 2015. The team that once again spent Rs 8.5 crore on the uncapped Pawan Negi, the highest billing for an Indian player this year. The team that paid 40 times Karun Nair’s base price of INR 10 lakh. The team that ended up with as many as four wicketkeepers. The team that once again looked destined to lose.

But now they are the team that is making heads turn in IPL. The team that is in red-hot form. The team that is arguably playing the most entertaining cricket. The team that is second on the table past the half-way point in the season with five wins in seven games.

The team that is being led wonderfully well by Zaheer Khan on the field and Rahul Dravid off of it.

b’Source: IPL’

The season did not start well though as the team got their back-sides handed to them after a pasting from Kolkata at Eden Gardens. The feeling among the fans was “Oh, oh! Here we go again!”

And Zaheer’s post-match comments that night did not help:

Well, I’m smiling. I know it’s been a tough day out there for us but it was just one bad day. It’s just the beginning of the season. Good things are in store. I’m sure every team will have a bad day. Hopefully for us that day is out of the way and we’re looking ahead for the remaining league matches.

One bad day makes a season? You must be kidding. Get outta here, Zak! 

Of course, since then they have won five of their six matches. The one match they lost was a one-run thriller against table-toppers Gujarat Lions after Chris Morris (one of the million-dollar men in the side — oh, how we laughed!) went berserk but failed to take the team over the line in what was the match of the season up until this point.

So what’s brought about this turnaround? A big part of the answer is the Zaheer-Dravid think tank. 

When you have two of India’s best cricketing brains orchestrating thinks, well, even Delhi Daredevils can look like a competitive team!

Zak, who came back from a lengthy layoff last season, was pretty much the de-facto skipper alongside JP Duminy. Having been made the full-time captain this season, it has been an absolute delight to see him marshall his young troops on the field. Innovative field placements, clever bowling changes, strategic team selections and more importantly, there’s always a smile on his face. Every time you hear him speak at the toss, you understand that he is a man with a plan.

Dravid, on the other hand, has been his usual serious self on the sidelines. With the hair getting grayer by the day, Dravid’s involvement with the game only seems to getting more intense. There are few better sights in the IPL than seeing Dravid watching on like he himself is out there. (Who can forget Dravid throwing his cap down on the ground in frustration when he was the Royals mentor?)  

b’Teammates once, mentor-captain combo now / Source: AFP’

Of course, it is a big plus for DD that Zaheer and Dravid know each other inside out from their time together in the Indian team. They were a big part of India’s golden run under Sourav Ganguly’s captaincy. Familiarity, in this case, has bred success.

Along with Paddy Upton, the Delhi staff and captain have managed to eke out the best from a young brigade as someone or the other has stepped up every time the needed to. Quinton de Kock, Chris Morris, Carlos Brathwaite, Sam Billings, Karun Nair, Sanju Samson and most recently, Rishabh Pant. The camaraderie in the team is brilliant to watch — remember Morris, Brathwaite and Billings troll Quniton on Twitter after his stupendous century against RCB with #DeKockPuns?

Zak bhai has a different fielding strategy in every game, because we have a unique plan for every game. We try to execute our plans on the field,” said Pant after his match-winning knock on Tuesday. 

The way Leicester City, Atletico de Madrid are making this the year of the underdogs, maybe Delhi Daredevils could write a fairytale of their own too. 

And even if they don’t win the league this year. But they sure as heck have been the best team to watch this year.

When was the last time anyone said that?

Featured image source: IPL