Despite suffering a massive setback in the form of Shreyas Iyer's injury, the Delhi Capitals (DC) enter the 2021 Indian Premier League (IPL) in an upbeat mood.
A successful auction sees them with some bargain buys in both the batting and bowling departments, and they boast arguably the best bench strength across franchises.
What makes the captaincy challenge easier for Rishabh Pant, all of 23 years of age, is the sheer amount of international experience in DC's ranks. The franchise houses four former IPL skippers - Shikhar Dhawan, R Ashwin, Steve Smith and Ajinkya Rahane - and is coached by one of the greatest captains ever in Ricky Ponting.
Though the franchise has never won the IPL, here are three reasons it could one-up last season's 2nd place finish in 2021.
#3 Return to form of DC's top order
Prithvi Shaw looked woeful throughout last season, and despite his precocious talent, saw his place go to senior man Ajinkya Rahane. Dropped from the Indian team in all formats after a poor first Test against Australia, Shaw turned a corner and how - he emerged as the highest scorer in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, captaining Mumbai to victory.
Shaw's return to form, along with Rishabh Pant's own soaring stocks in all formats, ease pressure on Shikhar Dhawan, whose two back-to-back tons in 2020 showcased his ability to pace the big innings to perfection. Should Ajinkya Rahane find his groove - as he often does on pace-friendly wickets - the DC top order will be hard to stop.
#2 Bowling unit backups
The player of the 2021 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy final, M Siddharth is unlikely to get a single game - such is the bench strength DC boast.
Amit Mishra has a backup in the form of legspinner Pravin Dubey. Ishant Sharma has the likes of Umesh Yadav and Avesh Khan to provide him competition. And a number of rookie pacers and all-rounders are in queue in case rotation is in order.
Despite the late arrival of Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje from their series against Pakistan, DC have proven international performers in the form of Chris Woakes and Tom Curran to bolster the team in their absence. The franchise also has a left-arm pace option in the form of Lukman Meriwala to provide variety to the attack.
All in all, the team management has a huge number of good options to toy with.
#1 Match-winning experience in the team
Australian all-rounder Marcus Stoinis showed his ability to single-handedly swing games for the franchise on multiple occasions last season. Axar Patel won games with bat and ball and will enter the series high on confidence after a terrific debut Test series. Kagiso Rabada has the best bowling strike rate in the IPL, and Ravichandran Ashwin is one of the sharpest cricketing brains going around.
DC was let down last season by a misfiring top order and weak pace-bowling backups. However, with a significantly stronger core in both areas and with retained players returning to form, expect the match-winning form of Rishabh Pant and Prithvi Shaw to power DC to the title in 2021.