MS Dhoni during CSK vs SRH at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates on the 2nd October 2020. Photo: Sportzpics for BCCI
It’s been an action-packed two weeks in the new Indian Premier League (IPL) season. Here are some of the important takeaways
It still may be early days, but one thing is already clear: you’d be a brave man to predict the winner of this year’s competition. All teams have at least won a game each, with no early runaway leader yet. Some of them have gone from thumping triumphs to meek capitulations, and other way round, in a matter of days — a perfect encapsulation of the unpredictable nature of T20 cricket.
Such is the format that finding consistency is always a toughie, but that’s been more pronounced this season because of the absence of home advantage. With no crowds to spur them on, the teams that have performed well on the day have done so on the back of adjusting to the pitch and conditions. Each team had a win each after just 11 matches — the fewest since the 2009 edition. Given the neutral venues, this IPL will continue to surprise, exhibiting the kind of capriciousness that will only pull in more viewers.
Batsmen go berserk
Saying anything along such lines in T20 cricket may just be the greatest sporting truism of our times. After all, that’s what the IPL is all about: the batsmen are the showstoppers and the bowlers nugatory add-ons that exist simply because cricket’s rules dictate so. But for those who saw Rahul Tewatia marmalise Sheldon Cottrell or Mumbai Indians notch up an eye-popping 104 runs in the last six overs against Kings XI Punjab, will know what we’re talking about.
Even as there have been soporific beginnings — huge credit to the bowlers there — batting sides have more than made up for that in the death overs. According to data compiled by ESPNcricinfo — as of September 30 — teams have scored at an average run rate of 11.94 in the last four overs, with the average for the 20th over being an inordinately high 14.24. The bowling at the back end has been ordinary in many games, but such scoring is once again testament to the ever-improving belligerent mindset of the modern batsman.
Kohli must fire
Anushka Sharma or Pradeep Mathew or anybody else — right now, it doesn’t quite matter who was giving Virat Kohli
throwdowns during quarantine. The Royal Challengers Bangalore skipper has been in the UAE long enough and presumably, had enough net practice to find his touch. In the past, Kohli has shone despite his team’s general listlessness; this time he can’t seem to buy a run.
His lack of form — 18 runs in three games — has been compensated for by the rapidly upcoming Devdutt Padikkal and the ever-fluent AB de Villiers. The addition of Aaron Finch has also worked out well. And while it would be unfair to dislodge the Australian at the top, it might not be such a bad idea to open with Kohli. His blockbuster season in 2016, where he scored four hundreds, came with him batting at that position. More time in the middle for the team’s best batsman can only do everyone involved good.
Will the real CSK please stand up?
If any team needed a break, it was Chennai Super Kings
(CSK). After their opening-day heroics against Mumbai Indians, the three-time champions have been outplayed in their last two games (Friday night’s game against Sunrisers Hyderabad notwithstanding) — puzzling defeats for a side that traditionally starts well.
The return of Ambati Rayudu, so crucial in that first game, will obviously help. But the harsh reality is that CSK may be unable to defy expectations — as they have done so handsomely in the last two seasons — this time around. With Shane Watson seemingly over the hill, their batting is overly reliant on Rayudu and Faf du Plessis. Spin is their strength but their tweakers are yet to find their mojo. But above all, Mahendra Singh Dhoni has looked out of sorts both as captain and batsman. A major turnaround is needed.
Perhaps the least surprising bit about international age-group cricket in recent years has been the India doing well in the Under-19 World Cup. In the last five editions, India has reached the final four times, claiming the title twice. It’s the Class of 2018 — coached by Rahul Dravid back then — that has sparkled in 2020. Kolkata Knight Riders’ pace duo of Shivam Mavi and Kamlesh Nagarkoti came good against Rajasthan Royals earlier this week, picking up two wickets apiece and bowling with genuine fire. It was a performance made all the more heartening by the fact that both have had trouble with injuries in the last year.
Their teammate, Shubman Gill, has once again been pressing his case for a regular place in the Indian side. Gill has been Kolkata’s top scorer so far, batting with a maturity that belies his years. Being labelled as the country’s next big batting star comes with its share of pressure, but the 21-year-old seems to be handling with impeccable ease.
Knocking on the door
There was major outrage when Sanju Samson was dropped from India’s T20 squad without being offered the chance to play in the XI against Bangladesh last year. The omission was all the more perplexing considering first-choice Rishabh Pant’s inconsistent form with both bat and gloves. The selectors now may have to rethink. Samson has been excellent for the Royals: a rare mix of power, timing and grace. Dhoni’s place in the Indian team is up for grabs, and it will take a lot from Pant to keep Samson out. K L Rahul is also part of that discussion, but he is likely to play as a pure batsman.
Samson isn’t the only guy who will give the selectors a headache. After cementing his place in the Test side, the late bloomer in Mayank Agarwal is making a strong case for his inclusion in the limited overs side, too. Currently leading the Orange Cap race, you wouldn’t bet against him holding on to pole position for the rest of the season.