Dubai: It’s been one of the most open and most unpredictable Indian Premier League in the richest franchise league’s 15-year history, being held in the four cities in the western Indian state of Maharashtra.
The addition of two teams in the competition has forced a new auction, which has made this season a completely new game and a level-playing field for the two newcomers. The good point to come out of this auction is that several star players are now scattered among various teams, which otherwise were concentrated in a few franchises. This move has made giants like Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians wear a weaker look, the combined nine-time champions now occupy the last two slots at the halfway mark.
The second important positive aspect is that the new role and new team has spurred several players to take centre stage and showcase their skills and talents, while the flipside is that stalwarts like Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli are completely obliterated in this edition.
Gulf News picks an 11-member team, with three foreign pros, based on their performances during the current league in their respective positions. Not an easy choice though, but our pick:
Opener 1: Jos Buttler
The English batter seems to be in the form of his life and makes batting look so easy and the way he is hammering the best of the best with a finesse of an artist painting his canvas is a treat to the watch. The brutal shots too look like a silken touch and the three centuries he has scored so far oozes class. It’s still a wonder how Buttler is not able to translate this proficiency and class in the international arena for England. May be he is not given the right role!
Opener 2: KL Rahul
The Lucknow Super Giants skipper has made it clear that he likes the extra responsibility when given the captaincy by scoring big. He had done that with Punjab Kings and is repeating it for the newcomers Lucknow Super Giants. It’s needless to say that Rahul needs to score big if Lucknow envisage a victory against their rivals, be it batting first or while chasing.
No 3: Hardik Pandya (skipper)
What a transformation in the all-rounder’s fortunes. At one stage he was compared with legendary Kapil Dev, but an injury sustained in the Asia Cup in Dubai almost put Pandya’s career on the ropes and was not able do anything of note in the last year for Mumbai Indians. But another newcomers Gujarat Titans took the gamble by naming him the captain and in a matter of months the all-rounder is realising his full potential and is leading from the front with both bat and the ball. He has also excelled as a skipper, which makes him the automatic choice as captain of the squad.
No 4: Shreyas Iyer
The deposed Delhi Capitals captain found solace in the new franchise Kolkata and has been repaying their faith, though not in full. The current Kolkata Knight Riders skipper has been playing in fits and starts, though he has certainly staked his claim to the No 4 slot with some measured knocks.
No 5: David Miller
It was a difficult choice between South African left-hander and Kane Williamson, who could also fit in No 5. But the New Zealander has been playing as an opener and there are many contenders for the opener’s slot, including Prithvi Shaw. Miller’s newfound touch, especially the match-winning unbeaten 94 against Chennai Super Kings showed that the sleeping giant is out of his slumber and regained his sweet timing of the cricket ball.
Wicketkeeper: Dinesh Karthik
To pick one wicketkeeper was probably the most difficult choice as at least three were in contention that included Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who played a match-winning knock in El Clasico against Mumbai Indians and Sanju Samson. But Karthik’s consistency and the manner in which he has pulled his team out of the woods in several instances has made him pip Dhoni, sadly.
All-rounder: Andrew Russell
The Kolkata all-rounder had a close competition with his fellow West Indian Dwayne Bravo for the all-rounder’s slot. But Dre Rus’ four wickets in one over against Gujarat Titans tilted the balance in his favour as he has also some impressive scores under his belt, including the Saturday’s game where he brought KKR close to the target.
Spinner No 1: Yuzvendra Chahal
The leg-spinner has regained his magic and his statue pose after an impressive show proves the fact that Chahal has been on top of his game. The diminutive spinner grabbed four wickets, including a hat-trick against Kolkata that turned the match on its head at a stage when the purple jerseys had the upperhand. Since then he is not giving away anything and keeping the batters under immense pressure.
Spinner No 2: Kuldeep Yadav
The only chinaman bowler in the league was literally down and out last season, hardly playing for Kolkata, who had two mystery spinners and a third spinner was certainly a luxury any team cannot afford. Kuldeep, who has won several battles for India bowling in tandem with Chahal, lost his place in Indian team and a big question mark was hanging over his career. But Kuldeep joined Delhi Capitals and now one of the top bowlers in the IPL charts this season.
Left-arm pacer: T Natarajan
The Hyderabad left-arm pacer is once again back to his best after recovering from the injuries to bowl the Yorkers at the will during the death overs. Apart from being economical, which is his strength, Natarajan has also got 15 wickets to be second behind Chahal in the running for the Purple Cap. The Tamil Nadu bowler has edged out several big names, including his Sunrisers teammate Marco Jansen, the tall left-arm pacer who run riot against Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Right-arm pacer: Umran Malik
The Kashmir pacer is probably the most-improved bowler since the last season. Malik had the pace to trouble the batters, but this year he has gained lethal proportions to make the batters hop on their toes while hitting the timber consistently with his smart thinking. When he is steaming in around 150kmph, it is going to be difficult to attack him, that gives him and the team the edge to push the opponents on the backfoot, literally.