Before the tournament began, there were some wrong notions going on. Those included: RCB being favourites to win the tournament according to bookie odds (currently languishing in seventh place), CSK is daddy’s team (have qualified to the play-offs due to their older players) and Chris Gayle is over (his average is a stagerring 50 and has scored more runs than any KXIP player but KL Rahul). On the other hand, not all notions were wrong.
These included: SRH’s bowling is second to none (they have conceded the least runs this IPL), wrist and mystery spinners will be decisive in the long run (the likes of Rashid, Markande, Mujeeb, Chahal, Yadav are among the top 20 wicket-takers of the season) and KKR’s batting is aggressively deadly (Russell, Narine and DK have a strike rate in excess of 150). With 2 matches left for each team before the group stages end, let’s look at the 8 teams of the IPL:
SRH: The table toppers have been far the most consistent side this season. Having lost just thrice this season (twice against CSK), beating them has been a stern task. The most formidable bowling side on paper, they have defended 3 totals under 150. Their biggest problem has been the poor form of all batsmen other than Williamson and Dhawan. Other than these two, no other batsman from SRH has even scored 200 runs this season.
Star man: This is a tough one but I am going with Rashid. 13 wickets at an average of 26.61 with an economy of 7.20 is nothing short of flabbergasting. I could have gone with Kaul or Williamson but his spells against Mumbai at Wankhede and Punjab at Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium along with his above numbers make me go for Rashid.
CSK: If there has been any team as consistent as SRH, then it has to be MSD’s men. The Men in Yellow have been truly sensational. They were in splendid form earlier this IPL where they turned defeat into victory against Mumbai on the opening day and against KKR at Chepauk. Winning against the table toppers means that they are back on track. They would hope to end on a high and finish among the top two. Star man: Just like it was for SRH, even this is brain racking. Dhoni has rolled back the years, Watson has continued his form from BBL and PSL but their best player for me has still been Rayudu. Having scored 535 runs in 12 matches including a ton in his last game, he is in the form of his life. His form has also earned him a call up for the national team. He has been an integral figure in CSK’s success.
KKR: KKR has not had a winning or losing run of greater than that of 2 games. I don’t know if that is good or bad but KKR might have to win their last 2 matches to assure qualification for the play-offs. Their huge defeat against Mumbai has caused a huge dip in their net run-rate but their net run-rate is still better than their rivals on 12 points. Tonight’s match vs RR would be one they would want to win to boost their hopes for qualifying for the play-offs.
Star man: For me there is only one man whose name should be mentioned here and he is KKR’s swashbuckling opener and off-spinner, Sunil Narine. On top of the list as far as most valuable players are concerned, Narine has shown that though his action has been remodeled, he is as good a bowler as he was before. 14 wickets at an average of 25.14 coupled with 277 runs with a strike rate of 177.56 are enough to justify my picking Narine over any of his teammates.
RR: Since Buttler has been promoted to the top of the order, we have witnessed a rejuvenated RR which has won 3 games on the spin. Since Archer has been brought in the team, he has provided the death bowling which was lacking. Here lies the problem. Buttler has scored more runs than any of his teammates in his last 5 games than they have whole season and Archer has taken more wickets in his last 6 games than his teammates have taken in this IPL. If these two underperform, it is game over for RR.
Star man: It has to be Buttler. Even though Archer has led the attack with 13 wickets in 7 games, Buttler’s 509 runs at a strike rate in excess of 150 including 3 consecutive match-winning performances make him RR’s star man.
Had Buttler not been promoted to open the batting, RR might have been out of the race to qualify for the play-offs.
KXIP: Punjab’s story has been about 2 halves. They won 5 of their first 6 but have won only once in their next 6 games. Their biggest problem has been playing away from their fortress at Mohali. Away from Mohali, they have only 3 wins in 9 games. KXIP’s story is like Hyderabad’s: Get Rahul and Gayle out early and victory should be nigh. This was proofed against RCB when they were skittled out for a mere 88. Star man: It’s a battle between Tye and Rahul and I would go for the former. 20 wickets would, for me, win over 537 runs. Though his economy is 8 runs an over, he picks up a wicket every 13.2 balls and gives away only 17.6 runs before picking up a wicket. Though Rahul has been the team’s backbone, Tye’s four-fers in 2 of his last 3 games tilt the balance in his favour.
MI: The seasons change, the jerseys change but one thing remains constant: MI’s slow start and rapid and furious end. Even this season, they started poorly winning 1 game in their first 6 but have then won 4 out of their next 6. Their huge victory against KKR has propelled their next run-rate a great deal but still need 2 wins in their last 2 games to stand any chance of finishing in the top 4. Star man:Earlier while I wrote about the key players to look forward to, I mentioned that Hardik should improve his bowling and he has done just that. He has picked up 18 wickets this season and has been handy down the order as well. Even Markande and Yadav have been excellent but I go for Hardik as he can couple his bowling with his batting whereas the above are specialists in either bowling or batting only.
RCB: The moment someone says RCB, their world beating top order comes to a person’s mind. Kohli and ABD have no doubt been excellent but they have accounted for 80% of RCB’s half centuries (8 out of 10). Moreover, other than these 2, no RCB batsman is in the list of the top 25 run-getters this season. Their bowling has been, surprisingly, better, with 3 bowlers in the top 20 wicket-tacvkers of IPL 11. Like MI, they need to win both their games. Star man: Kohli or ABD. 514 runs or 358 runs. Strike rate in 140s or strike rate in 170s. Well, I am going for neither. Instead, I go for Umesh Yadav, who had been written off before the season started. He has with his fiery pace taken 17 wickets including a 3-fer yesterday which helped RCB to complete a simple yet much-needed victory. Also, he has bowled mainly during the powerboat but has still conceded just 8 runs an over.
DD: The only team mathematically out of the play-off race, they would love to play party-poopers. It all went wrong when they lost Morris and Rabada. They didn’t have a back-up fast bowler (other than Boult, of course) and paid the price for it. Then, their captain was in such poor form that he resigned 6 games into the tournament. DD showed some spark under newly appointed captain Iyer but they lost all hopes by losing their last 3 games. They are the only team to concede over 2000 runs this IPL bowling less than 220 overs. Star man: Well I am going to break my trend of going for batsmen as the star man in the top 4 and bowlers as the star man in bottom 4 by going for orange cap holder, Rishab Pant. Pant has scored the highest individual score this season of 128* against SRH. Other than him, Iyer, Shaw and Boult, nothing good can be said about any DD player.