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Devils look to regain momentum

The Delhi Daredevils’ progress in the tournament is following an intriguing path.

Four wins and they were labelled as tournament favourites.

Four consequent losses and the team are back where they started: hoping to ace a semifinal spot.

Their home game on Thursday against bottom feeders Deccan Chargers at the Kotla gives them an opportunity to stem the rot while they still can. But judging by their form from Tuesday’s encounter against the Kolkata Knight Riders, it may prove to be an uphill climb.

An unsteady middle order notwithstanding, Delhi’s top three — Gautam Gambhir, skipper Virender Sehwag and Shikhar Dhawan — got them so far in the Indian Premier League mainly on special individual efforts. An explosive start from them, backed by the stingy fast bowling combo of Glenn McGrath and Mohammed Asif managed to hide the fact that the side choked in the middle overs in most of their games.

They won comprehensively in the first week. But as the league inches closer to its business end, chinks are showing through and other teams are capitalising on it with great effect. If recent results are anything to go by — the Rajasthan Royals look a stronger all-round unit than Devils; Chennai Super Kings handle pressure better and that Kolkata Knight Riders’ bowling is more lethal with Shoaib Akhtar in their ranks.

The most disturbing trend for Daredevils is that in their last three losses, the top order flourished twice and yet could not insure a win. They have, however, started getting the balance of the side right with specialist leg spinner Amit Mishra replacing the woeful Pakistan captain Shoaib Malik.

They are still in the hunt for a berth in the last four, placed fifth with eight points from nine matches. The margin of error, though, becomes smaller with every loss.

The Chargers led by stand-in skipper Adam Glichrist are on an entirely different end of spectrum. Placed second-last they are all but out of contention and are taking each game one at a time. V.V.S. Laxman, ruled out of the tournament with a hairline crack in his right hand, said on Tuesday: "We have had a string of losses and that makes it difficult. But we see every game as a fresh chance for us to claw back."

Gilchrist was more direct. "I guess we are out. It is disappointing but we can’t change anything," the wicketkeeper-batsman told this correspondent on Tuesday.

They have been plagued by problems ever since the first game and have found it hard to recover.

Only Rohit Sharma and Gilly have been consistent in their performances. The rest of the side have collapsed around them. Interestingly though their bigger problem is their apparent inability to set a decent target. They have lost almost all their games when setting a score for the opposition, and most of those defeats have been convincing ones.

"It is hard to enjoy when you are continuously losing matches. We can try to find out reasons," he said. "No one is to be blamed. Every player has got to take responsibility for that," said Gilly. Despite Delhi’s form, it is still an unequal battle. Though in this format, fortunes can swing in an instant.

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