Dubai: Every IPL is a rollercoaster ride. That’s no surprise since the teams in the Indian Premier League are so evenly matched that they defeat each other regularly. And high-octane finishes are routine. So there’s no firm favourite to win the title or a game between any two teams. But I threw my support behind the Mumbai Indians and the Chennai Super Kings since they share eight of the 13 titles.
The Season 14 finale is on Friday (October 15, 2021). The Chennai Super Kings will be gunning for the fourth title in their ninth final, while the Kolkata Knight Riders will be aiming for their third win in three finals. Who will win? That’s anybody’s guess: each of them have their strengths and weaknesses.
The eve of the final is a good time to look back at the IPL 2021. The biggest surprise for me has been the fall of the Mumbai Indians, much like the Chennai Super Kings last year. Next up would be the Kolkata Knight Riders’ incredible fightback. And perhaps the most stunning one has been David Warner’s fall from grace.
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Five-time winners Mumbai, led by Rohit Sharma, were seeking their third title in a row. And they had been so dominant in Season 13, held in the UAE, that I picked Mumbai to win this year too. Even when they struggled during Phase 1 in India, Mumbai were expected to make the play-offs as they overcome slow starts almost every year.
A brittle middle-order and a rather blunt attack undermined their aspirations. Barring Adam Milne’s inclusion in Phase 2, Mumbai playing XI were the same as last year. So what changed? Form, a poor form, was the rot at the core of the defeats.
Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan, the leading scorers last year, had a wretched run. That exposed the big-hitters Hardik Pandya and Kieron Pollard early, and they could not repair the innings and launch in the slog overs. Trent Boult’s diminished wicket-taking ability was another factor. He had been a force in the powerplays and the early inroads had allowed the spinners to choke the rivals. That didn’t happen, while leggie Rahul Chahar had to be dropped and Krunal Pandya too was largely ineffective.
In sharp contrast, the Kolkata Knight Riders gave a lesson in reviving a floundering campaign. Captain Eoin Morgan was quick to credit chief coach Brendon McCullum for breathing new life into the team. Five losses in the first seven games pushed them to seventh place (the penultimate spot) in the points table when Phase 1 ended in India following a COVID-19 outbreak.
Kolkata were a transformed side when IPL resumed in the UAE. And the man leading the batting renaissance was Venkatesh Iyer, who hadn’t played a single game in India. He announced his arrival in the first match when Kolkata trounced the Royal Challengers Bangalore. Iyer scored half centuries in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah and wreaked havoc in the powerplay. With Shubhman Gill and Rahul Tripathi chipping in, the KKR middle-order went largely untested.
Varun Chakravarthy was another key player in the Kolkata surge. He carried last year’s form into Season 14 and has been Morgan’s trumpcard. Called mystery spinner for his mind-boggling array of variations, Chakravarthy bowled in the powerplay, the middle overs, and even the slog. That’s whenever Morgan wanted a breakthrough. With another mystery spinner Sunil Narine and Shakib Al Hasan, Chakravarthy formed a feared spin trio that has thwarted rivals, especially on slow pitches with low bounce. That resulted in below-par totals from the opposition.
The Kolkata resurgence is similar to the late rally of the Sunrisers Hyderabad last year. And the man who helmed the revival was David Warner of Australia. In the UAE, Warner cut a forlorn figure as he sat in the stands waving the Sunrisers flag. What a fall!
Last year, Warner marshalled the meagre Hyderabad resources adroitly as they made the play-offs. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar was injured, and that left Afghan leggie Rashid Khan as the lone strike bowler. But under Warner’s captaincy, medium pacers Sandeep Sharma and T. Natarajan turned into wicket-takers.
That’s a mere memory now. Warner’s form dipped and Jonny Bairstow’s absence didn’t help. Hyderabad suffered a string of losses, and Warner’s disagreements with the management on team selection brought matters to a head. Warner was stripped of the captaincy and ejected from the team. A tragic end for a hero who gave Hyderabad some of the best years in IPL and their only title.
Well, reputations count for nothing in IPL. The Mumbai Indians and David Warner will know that.