Have a look at the points table of IPL 2022. At the end of four games each (two teams have played five), five of the 10 teams are on six points. The Chennai Super Kings and the Mumbai Indians are not among them; winless in all their four games, the two occupy the basement slots. A far cry from the days they steamrolled the opposition.
Don’t write them off yet. After all, Chennai and Mumbai share nine of the 14 IPL titles. But with each successive loss, their chances of making the last four look increasingly difficult. Part of the problem is the ill-balanced teams and injuries to key players. Pathetic performances haven’t helped either.
So who are the front-runners? After the completions of 21 games, the Rajasthan Royals are perched atop the leaderboard on the strength of a superior run rate. Four others also have six points each and are breathing down Rajasthan’s necks. That must be an uncomfortable feeling for the Sanju Samson-led side, which haven’t been playing to its full potential.
They have played the mega auction very well and assembled a varied and powerful bowling attack. Trent Boult provides the cutting edge, and Nathan Coulter-Nile is his backup. Prasidh Krishna has been among the wickets but expensive in the slog. Navdeep Saini hasn’t been firing well, and his replacement Kuldeep Sen was impressive in defending 15 runs in the final over against the blazing blade of Lucknow Super Giants’ Marcus Stoinis.
Rajasthan have the best spin attack in Ravichandran Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal. So far, they have been a handful except in the game against the Royals Challengers Bangalore when Dinesh Karthik laid into Ashwin.
Much of Rajasthan’s batting has been shouldered by Jos Buttler, who slammed the first ton of the season. Devdutt Padikkal, Samson and Shimron Hetmyer have weighed in well, but more consistency is required.
Consistency hasn’t been the forte of most teams, including the Kolkata Knight Riders, who are placed second. A misfiring batting has been the root cause of their problem, although skipper Shreyas Iyer has been among the runs. Pat Cummins and Andre Russell have played matchwinning knocks, which only masked the batting fragility. Mystery spinners Varun Chakravarthy and Sunil Narine have been the aces in the KKR pack where the pacemen have struggled with Umesh Yadav fading after the early flourish.
The same is true of the Royal Challengers Bangalore, whose batters have flourished despite a patchy show by the bowlers. Skipper Faf du Plessis is leading from the front, and along with young opener Anuj Rawat, they have put rival attacks to the sword. Virat Kohli. Dinesh Karthik and Shahbaz Ahmed have been brilliant in the middle order, and the arrival of Glenn Maxwell will only make them stronger.
Harshal Patel has been a standout for the RCB, with some brave spells at the death. Leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranga’s wicket-taking skills have helped stifle the opposition. This could be the best year for RCB unless they choke in the knockout.
Newcomers Lucknow Super Giants have put together a well-balanced side and are capable of creating a sensation with a last-four berth. Yes, it’s early days, but their displays have been encouraging with a powerful batting helmed by K.L. Rahul, followed by Quinton de Kock, and the young Ayush Badoni, who has been a revelation. Their biggest asset is the array of all-rounders in Marcus Stoinis, Jason Holder, Deepak Hooda, Krishnappa Gowtham and Krunal Pandya. It’s just that they have to manage their resources well.
Gujarat Titans have been a surprise packet, with the newbies reeling off wins in the first three games. Captain Hardik Pandya has rallied them well, and he has batted with more responsibility at No 4. Sixes no longer flow from his bat, but he’s been the glue that has held the middle order together. Shubhman Gill and Abhinav Manohar have served them well, and Rahul Tewatia’s two-six trick came to their rescue. Leggie Rashid Khan and pacer Mohammed Shami have pivotal roles in bowling, which needs to be sharper if Gujarat have to succeed in the games ahead.
The Delhi Capitals have been another team that flattered to deceive. Defeats followed an early win before they stemmed the rot. Their solid batting is led by captain Rishabh Pant, Prithvi Shaw and David Warner, but the bowling is spin heavy with chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav finding success with the backing of left-armer Axar Patel and offie Lalit Yadav. Mushtafizur Rahman and Shardul Thakur are fine seamers, but they are missing the liquid pace of Anrich Nortje, whose lone appearance has been disastrous.
The Punjab Kings always seem to be underachievers. With two wins from four games, they continue to win big and lose by a mile. Liam Livingstone has justified his hefty price tag with some barnstorming innings, while Shikhar Dhawan, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Jitesh Sharma and Shahrukh Khan have chipped in well. Odean Smith won a match of his bat but has leaked runs in the slog. But Punjab’s bowling hasn’t been threatening except for Arshdeep Singh and Vaibhav Arora, who have been restrictive.
Bowling has been the Achilles heel of the Sunrisers Hyderabad, who put behind them an awful start to post wins in the last two matches, where skipper Kane Williamson left his mark. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar’s best days are behind him, but Umran Malik and T. Natarajan have kept up the fight. Washington Sundar is the lone quality spinner in a rather insipid attack, where more fire is expected of beanpole Marco Jansen. Abhishek Sharma has revelled in the opener’s role, taking the pressure off Williamson to score quickly. Rahul Tripathi and Nicholas Pooran too contributed handsomely in some games. Will Hyderabad progress to the last four? Unlikely, given the performances so far.
Enough has been written about the dismal shows from the champions sides: the Mumbai Indians and the Chennai Super Kings. They have quality in the side but lack the bench strength and balance of the previous years. Mumbai is missing Boult and James Patterson in the attack, while Chennai is hobbled by the injury to Deepak Chahar and the departure of Josh Hazlewood. Spinners Ravindra Jadeja, Maheesh Theekshana and Moen Ali haven’t applied enough pressure in the middle overs for the CSK, while Murugan Ashwin single-handedly shouldered the spin duties for Mumbai.
Rohit Sharma hasn’t been at his best, but Ishan Kishan repaid the large amount of money spent on him with some fine innings. But the middle order was a disappointment with the big buy Tim David unable to live up to his reputation as a power-hitter. Suryakumar Yadav’s return from injury to score back-to-back fifties has helped. Chennai’s batting woes are similar, with Ruturaj Gaikwad unable to bat deep, robbing the other batters of the chance to bat around him.
Chennai and Mumbai can turn around their campaign if they can win eight of their next 10 games. But can they? No, it doesn’t look good at the moment.
There have been plenty of cliffhangers and one-side contests. That’s the nature of IPL games. There were several 200-plus scores in the early games, but 170 seems to be the par score in recent matches. As the tournament progresses, pitches will get worn out. That’s when spinners will decide the outcome. Rajasthan and Kolkata will look forward to it.