Gautam Gambhir, two-time IPL winning captain.

David Warner, captain of the IPL 2016 champions.

Yuvraj Singh, a vital part of Sunrisers’ winning campaign.

AB de Villiers, one of the modern cricket greats.

Virender Sehwag.

Kevin Pietersen.

Umesh Yadav.

What unites all these cricketers? They were all once a part of the Delhi Daredevils franchise, before moving to pastures green. Cricketers who have gone on to make other franchises thankful for Delhi’s generosity.

A lot of things have changed over the 10 years of IPL, but Delhi Daredevils’ mediocrity (except for a few flashes in between) has been a constant. The daredevilry has been restricted to making decisions off the field that can at best be filed under “what-the-heck-were-the-owners-smoking?”

A lack of identity

All franchises in the IPL have managed to build an identity for themselves. Royal Challengers Bangalore, despite not winning a title for 10 years, have one of the most passionate fan-bases in the country. Kings XI Punjab have not really set the IPL on fire, but the franchise is identifiable with the owner, the occasional good season and more recently, with Virender Sehwag as the face of their team – one of Delhi’s own. Rising Pune Supergiant and Gujarat Lions have put together teams that struck a chord with the city in just two years.

Daredevils, on the other hand, are barely identifiable with the city. Year after year, season after season, there are matches where the opponents get louder cheers than their own. Just one look at this map released a couple of seasons back by the IPL, based on the social media presence of the fans of the various teams, tells you all need to know. DD are nowhere to be seen. Even in their own city, they are not the fan’s favourites.

Can you spot Delhi Daredevils?
Can you spot Delhi Daredevils?

It’s an open secret that most seats in Delhi get filled either through passes from the officials or fans wanting to catch a glimpse of stars in the opposition. Is it any wonder that the last match of this 2017 season between two eliminated teams saw one of the biggest turnouts? It was because RCB were the opponents and Virat Kohli was in town.

Baffling back-room decisions

The team started out on firm footing when IPL began. Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir – two of the biggest names to emerge from Delhi, were working in tandem. Sehwag led well for the first year, and when he said he wanted to focus on his batting, Gambhir took over from him. And then, in perhaps the biggest decision the franchise has taken till date, Gambhir was let go in 2011 and Sehwag was reinstated. That was also the year the team lost AB de Villiers and Daniel Vettori to RCB.

And from then on, the struggle has been real.

To be fair to the franchise, the last two years, there has been a semblance of plan to what they have tried to achieve. With Rahul Dravid as the mentor (finally, a name to root for), the team has made a conscious effort to build a team of young Indian stars with some bankable foreign names. The result though has been two consecutive sixth-place finishes.

Apart from all the big names mentioned at the beginning of the article, the curious case of Yuvraj Singh deserves a special mention. They spent Rs 16 crore to get a marquee name and after a not-so-great year, released him immediately. Two years later, he won the title with SRH and has gone on to make an excellent comeback into the national fold.

Then there was Pawan Negi – once again DD had paid the highest in the auction for an Indian player. And then released him again in a year.

It’s the same story, repeated with a different cast.

The numbers tell their own story

A look at the all-time records tells you another story. In the leading run-scorers list, the first Delhi Daredevils player is at the 29th place. It’s JP Duminy, who did not play in the latest edition. Sanju Samson already figures among their all-time leading run-getters and he has scored 1,426 runs in 66 matches – not all for Delhi.

And then their position in the table – over the last six years, they have finished last four times, second-last, once and third-last, twice. That’s a sure-fire way to alienate fans from the game.

In 10 years, a franchise from the nation’s capital, have not even reached a single IPL final.

What the fans feel?

“I won’t publicly admit that I am a Delhi Daredevils fan,” said Utkarsh Arora, a Delhi-based businessman. Arora followed the team passionately in the initial years before losing interest thanks to the IPL fixing scandal. “I got interested again when Dravid took over,” he said. “[The] frustrating aspect has been over-reliance on youth this season and bad buying in the transfer market generally over the years.”

Parth Arora, a 25-year-old media professional, said, “The most frustrating aspect is the team going for big names past their prime again and again in auctions. From Irfan [Pathan] to Yuvraj, everytime it was a similar story. It’s been more than a year since I had a proper conversation as a Daredevils fan with my friends because [with] every time it ends in tears. How bad do you have to be in a 10-team league to not win or reach a final once in over 10 years?”

Shrey Jhulka, an architecture student, said, “As a Delhite, I would say this team doesn’t belong to my city. The inability to hold on to the star players as well as their own products has been ridiculous. And forget auctions, I don’t see the aggression in the team that they would represent a Delhite on the field. It’s just so boring and helpless.”

But he still holds hope.

“I don’t feel bad to call myself a Delhi fan, not at alI,” Jhulka added. “It’s not that bad, our team used to be one of the strongest when IPL started, but obviously it doesn’t feel nice to see them performing so badly. It doesn’t make me want to hide away from the fact that I support them.”

The number of fans like Jhulka who are still around to support the team will clearly grow fewer by the minute if Daredevils continue to be the laughing stock of the league. Will the 11th season be any different?