Blistering strokes, towering sixes, raw pace, disguised slower deliveries and tight spells: these are trademark stuff in the Indian Premier League. All of them are in full display in season 13 that got under in the UAE on September 19.
The spectators have been missing. The stands are very quiet, but there’s been no shortage of action. Six months without international cricket and life in bio-bubbles have affected cricket and cricketers. Some players have struck form straight away, some others are running into form, and others are searching for it.
Eight days have passed, and here’s the chance to look at how the teams fared in the heat and humidity of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah.
Note: The review was written ahead of Rajasthan Royal’s game against Kings XI Punjab in Sharjah.
Defending champions Mumbai Indians impressed as they picked themselves up well after the initial stumble. The inaugural match against the Chennai Super Kings in what was a face-off between the last year’s finalists highlighted the problem areas. The batting was rusty, but the bowling was effective without being incisive.
Skipper Rahul Sharma showed the way against Kolkata Knight Riders with some imperious strokes (80 in 54 balls). His 98-run partnership with Suryakumar Yadav (47 in 28 balls) was the pillar in which the Mumbai victory was built. But the batting will face further scrutiny.
Bumrah ran into form against KKR after the expensive CSK outing. That was until Pat Cummins ruined his figures in the last over. Trent Boult and James Pattinson have been economical, while leg-spinner Rahul Chahar was impressive.
A loss and a win, the four-time champions can only get better. But the rest of the batsmen should weigh in.
CHENNAI SUPER KINGS
The Chennai Super Kings deserve applause for sheer tenacity. They had the worst preparation. Hit by COVID-19, the squad suffered more setbacks with the absence of leading run-getter Suresh Raina and former India spinner Harbajan Singh. They bounced back superbly, winning the opener against Mumbai Indians.
Ambati Rayudu ensured that Raina’s absence wouldn’t be felt with a fighting knock (71 in 48 balls) against Mumbai. But his hamstring injury exposed the fragility of the CSK batting, where only Faf du Plessis seemed to be performing consistently. The opening combination is a worry, especially since the batsmen were unable to provide brisk starts when chasing stiff targets. The middle-order too is a cause for concern since skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni is yet to gain enough confidence to bat up the order.
Josh Hazlewood’s induction has brought some stability to the CSK bowling, which has suffered after a steady show in the opener. Barring the first match, the spinners have neither been restrictive nor incisive. Piyush Chawla and Ravindra Jadeja have gone for runs, and that is troubling for Dhoni and coach Stephen Fleming.
Two losses after a win have put CSK in a spot of bother. The squad has depth and quality, so it’s only a matter of arriving at the right combination. But no combination is right if the players don’t deliver.
The Delhi Capitals believe they have the team to win the maiden title, having come agonisingly close last year. But the Kings XI Punjab nearly derailed the plans of the young squad led by Shreyas Iyer in the first match that went into the Super Over. That scare seemed to have jolted Delhi out of their stupor as they produced a clinical performance against the Chennai Super Kings.
A 94-run opening partnership by young Prithvi Shaw (64 in 43 balls) and Shikhar Dhawan set them on the way to a comfortable win. Iyer and Rishabh Pant too seem to run into form. And that’s good news for Delhi, which capitulated against Punjab. Only Marcus Stoinis (53 in 21 balls) stood tall among the ruins in the match that was decided in the Super Over.
Kagiso Rabada, the hero of the Super Over, has been sensational so far. With fellow South African Anrich Nortje, he has rocked the batting of rivals with sheer pace and variations. Injury robbed Delhi of Ravichandran Ashwin, but leg-spinner Amit Sharma has stepped into breach admirably. Delhi would also take heart from left-armer Axar Patel’s miserly spells.
With two wins, Delhi Capitals have displayed enough skill that could land them a place in the playoff. Batting is an area where they would like to work on.
KINGS XI PUNJAB
The Kings XI Punjab would dearly love some consistency. After a steady bowling performance, where India pacer Mohammed Shami stood out, Punjab’s batting collapsed against the Delhi Capitals. Only a sterling show by Mayank Agarwal helped them tie the match, which they lost in the Super Over. Captain KL Rahul’s whirlwind century (132 in 69 balls) catapulted them to a big win over Royal Challengers Bangalore, but Punjab is yet to show some steel beyond Rahul and Agarwal.
Nicholas Pooran and Glen Maxwell haven’t lived up to expectations. And they have Chris Gayle waiting in the wings. All of them have to come good, or else their bowling will not have the cushion to attack. Shami and Sheldon Cottrell have looked sharp, and spinners too have tied up the batsmen. Young Ravi Bishnoi has been a revelation in both the matches.
A loss and a win, Punjab would take it since the defeat was in the Super Over. But they have to bat with more consistency to harbour any hopes of progressing in the tournament.
KOLKATA KNIGHT RIDERS
The Kolkata Knight Riders have the most expensive overseas player in IPL history. Pat Cummins cost them 155 million rupees (Dh7.7 million), but his debut against Mumbai Indians was forgettable barring the six assault on Bumrah. The big Australian was in his elements against the Sunrisers Hyderabad, and that would come as a big relief to skipper Dinesh Karthik.
Cummins is central to KKR’s fortunes, although they have plenty of bowling options. Karthik will always turn to the Australian pace bowler for a breakthrough. Shivam Mavi looked good against Mumbai, but the rest were more restrictive rather than wicket-taking options.
KKR batting has ample firepower with Shubhman Gill at the top, and he’s capable of attacking in the powerplay and can bat deep into the innings. Eoin Morgan and Andre Russell provide muscle, and Nitish Rane looked good in short but productive stays in both the matches. Karthik has to decide on a stable slot for himself, and that may be late in the middle-order.
A loss and win don’t reflect the full range of KKR’s capabilities. But the bowling should show more intent if they have to make the playoffs.
It would be hasty to assess the Rajasthan Royals after a match. They play Kings XI Punjab today [September 27]. The win over Chennai Super Kings did provide some pointers. Captain Steve Smith’s batting doesn’t seem to have suffered from the concussion that prevented him from playing in England earlier this month. That’s good news for Rajasthan.
Much of the runs came from Smith and Sanju Samson, so it’s too early to read into the batting of Rajasthan, where teenager Yashasvi Jaiswal has the chance to excel. The arrival of Jos Buttler can only strengthen them. Jofra Archer leads a decent attack with Jayadev Unadkat and leg-spinner Rahul Tewatia was very effective in torpedoing the Chennai Super Kings.
A win from their only match is not adequate proof of their strengths and weaknesses.
ROYAL CHALLENGERS BANGALORE
The Royal Challengers Bangalore will be in a hurry to bury the dismal performances of the last three seasons. They were in trouble in the first match but hauled themselves to script a win against Sunrisers Hyderabad who collapsed spectacularly.
If that win showcased Bangalore’s fighting qualities, the defeat to King XI Punjab exposed their bowling frailties and slipshod fielding. Skipper Virat Kohli would like to forget the match in a hurry. One positive from that batting failure is that it came while chasing a huge score. So that shouldn’t worry them. Newcomer Devdutt Padikkal has shown plenty of promise, and AB de Villiers is dependable as usual. Once Kohli strikes form, Bangalore batting should look up.
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What should worry RCB is their bowling. Yuzvendra Chahal is the lone bowler who can turn around a match. Dale Steyn is past his best, but Navdeep Saini can only improve. Shivam Dube was good against Hyderabad, but he’s no death bowler if the match against Punjab is any yardstick.
One win and a loss shouldn’t worry RCB. But they should take stock of their bowling options and have more fielding practice.
David Warner had captained the Sunrisers Hyderabad to the lone IPL triumph, in 2016. But he seemed to be struggling to rally them around. The batting is built around the explosive duo of Warner and Johnny Bairstow, but there’s little else. So one of them has to bat deep. Or else, they will founder as it happened against the Royal Challengers Bangalore. They lost the match from a winning position after the exit of Bairstow.
One solution to Hyderabad’s batting woes would be to bring in New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson. He would provide the much-needed stability, but Mohammad Nabi should sit out. Manish Pandey and Wriddhiman Saha held the innings together against Kolkata Knight Riders but were unable to provide the thrust to propel Hyderabad to a fighting total.
Two losses are enough reason to worry. Batting needs more work and bowling looks a bit flat. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar hasn’t hit the wicket-taking mode. Only leg-spin sensation Rashid Khan is a threat. This form won’t take them far.