IPL VI – After 25 Matches
The sixth edition of the Indian Premier League has seen changes in loyalties for a few players and support staff (Anil Kumble, Ross Taylor, Dirk Nannes, among others), insane amounts being spent at the auction on players only to bench them (Glenn Maxwell, Ajantha Mendis, Kane Richardson, …) and a brand new team in Sunrisers Hyderabad. In the first three weeks, quite a few matches have gone into the last over and we’ve already had two super overs – both involving the Royal Challengers Bangalore. A few things have remained constant though – the banal commentary, Ashish Nehra’s continued presence in the XI and rules being swept under the carpet to trump one team (the Sri Lankan player embargo). An analysis of the performances of the teams so far follows.
Royal Challengers Bangalore
There are only three ways to win against RCB :
1. Get the ‘awesome threesome’ – Gayle, Kohli and DeVilliers – out quickly. Easier said than done, as they are among the most consistent batsmen in T20s.
2. Play Vinay Kumar with circumspect. Innocuous as he may look, the man relies on getting wickets because batsmen think he’s cannon fodder.
3. Hope that R.P. Singh bowls at least two of the last four overs.
Kohli also has to learn to manage his bowling resources more intelligently. In this format, it is a sin to not have a bowler complete his quota of four overs when he has bowled two overs for ten runs or three overs for twenty. That RCB have been winning without a significant contribution from Chris Gayle can only be an ominous sign for other teams. The possible return of Pujara from an injury lay off will mean that the line up would include one more hard to dislodge batsman. If he can consistently hold one end up, the other three can go for their shots with more abandon.
My personal favorites. They have always had to manage with some of the lesser known names in Indian domestic cricket, and have done admirably well. Players like Dishant Yagnik and Ajit Chandila have shown that they revel in performing under pressure, while Rahane and Siddharth Trivedi have been consistent with bat and ball respectively. Their clinical demolition of the Mumbai Indians a couple of days back was a treat to watch. However, barring Shane Watson, their batting lacks the firepower to chase down large totals if their bowlers happen to have an off day.
Kings XI Punjab
You know when your best Indian batsman is Piyush Chawla, your foreign contingent has to perform at their best every single time. That task has not been made any easier with their most consistent batsman over the years, Shaun Marsh, out due to injury. Adam Gilchrist has had a miserable time with the bat so far, though his captaincy and wicket-keeping have been inspiring. David Hussey has shown glimpses of his prowess, while Azhar Mahmood has been canny with the ball. They possess a more than decent bowling attack and will be hard to beat, at least at home, if they work on preparing conducive surfaces for their pacers at Mohali.
Kolkata Knight Riders
This is one team that has excelled in providing the best of conditions for their bowlers at the Eden Gardens. Narine, Senanayake and Bhatia have been difficult to hit out of the attack, and Kallis has picked wickets at crucial moments. However, their batting has crumbled, especially in the death overs, on more than one occasion. Yusuf Pathan needs to be benched to make way for Debabrata Das or Laxmi Ratan Shukla. Bisla seems to have earned a long rope simply by virtue of his performance in last year’s final, and should also be dropped. The remaining matches at the Eden will hold the key to their fortunes in the tournament.
Chennai Super Kings
The presence of the invisible hand notwithstanding, CSK remain the team to beat this season as well. Their batting line up has hardly changed over the last six years and they seem to have a man for every situation. This also makes up for the relative shortcomings of their bowling attack, though the addition of Dirk Nannes and Chris Morris this season should augur well. With the ban on Sri Lankan players in Chennai, they should win all their home matches (they’ve already lost one to PWI, ironically, because of this very restriction!). As in the past, they have started off lethargically this time as well, losing two of their first five matches (and one of their matches was won because the last delivery was a no-ball), but will look to finish strongly. If the past is any indication, reaching the knockouts is only a formality. As a friend remarked, ‘The competition is for only three spots in the last four.’
Without a doubt, the strongest team on paper. Their performance so far has betrayed that. TenTing at the top of the order have been pathetic, to say the least – it almost seems that opposing teams have realized that it is in their best interests to keep the senior citizens at the crease for as long as possible. Rohit Sharma played a couple of awesome innings to once again remind the public of his talent. Dinesh Karthik has been a revelation with the bat. Their fifth bowler seems to be a source of worry and Malinga has not been as lethal as they would have liked. It would be a travesty if they do not reach the knockouts with the team they have, though their not making it would make me jump with joy!
The surprise package of the tournament so far. They are the only team in this tournament who have won all their matches on the strength of their bowling attack. Dale Steyn has been breathing fire, Ishant Sharma and Thisara Perera have been hard to get away and Amit Mishra has grabbed a bagful of wickets. The last couple of matches has also seen some inspired captaincy by Cameron White after Sangakkara decided to drop himself for not being amongst the runs. Like RR, they will also find it tough to chase down large totals due to the absence of firepower in their batting. Their bowling has to ensure that they do not concede more than seven an over every single time if they have to stay atop the points table.
Pune Warriors India
Like MI, a strong team on paper. Poor team selection coupled with insipid batting displays have seen them winning only two of their six matches so far. Relegating Steve Smith, their most consistent performer last season, to the bench for the first four matches in favor of Mitchell Marsh was bewildering. It took the Sri Lankan embargo at Chennai for Smith to get his first match. The absence of Marlon Samuels and Yuvraj Singh has effectively deprived the team of eight overs of bowling and a lot of ammunition in their batting. The only bright sparks so far have been Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, who, on an average has produced one beauty of a wicket taking delivery every match, and Rahul Sharma, who has displayed impeccable control over his leg spinners.
At the start of the season, no one would have predicted that the Delhi Daredevils would be the ones holding the wooden spoon three weeks into the tournament. They have been listless in all departments and it will take a lot of improvement if they want to entertain any thoughts of progressing to the last four.
Who Will Reach the Knockouts?
At this stage, I would place my money on CSK, KKR, RCB and MI. It would be awesome for the tournament to have at least one of the underdogs, SRH or RR advance to the top four, but as I said earlier, that would take a lot of doing from the bowling attack of these two teams.