THE ongoing edition of the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) being played in the United Arab Emirates has been highly competitive and unpredictable on multiple counts.
Until the final stages of the Twenty20 tournament it has been difficult to predict the final four teams for the play-offs, but in the end the four well-deserving and consistent teams — Mumbai Indians (MI), Delhi Capitals (DC), Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) — sealed their berths.
One distinctive characteristic about the IPL2020 has been the success of the pace bowlers. Fast bowlers from South Africa, England, Australia, New Zealand and India have made the ball talk and made their presence felt with impressive opening spells and exceptional death bowling.
Kagiso Rabada playing for DC has simply been sensational. He is the leading wicket-taker this season, claiming 25 wickets from only 14 games. He is one of the reasons why DC has made it to the play-offs. His opening spells have inflicted damage on the opponents. Moreover, his impact at the death cannot be ignored by any stretch of the imagination.
Another South African pacer A Nortje has also done well for DC, taking 19 wickets in 13 games.
Indian pacer Jasprit Bumrah and Kiwi swing bowler Trent Boult have done well for MI by claiming 23 wickets and 20 wickets (13 games, each) respectively.
Teams whose openers and top order have done well and laid solid foundations in the batting power-plays have done well.
David Warner, skipper of SRH, is the second on the highest run-getter list this season with 529 runs. He opens the batting for his team. Similarly, southpaw Shikhar Dhawan has been in the form of his life for DC as an opening batsman. He has amassed 525 runs in 14 games, laced with two hundreds and three fifties. For MI, de Kock and Ishan Kishan have done exceedingly well by scoring 443 and 428 runs respectively. The top order of RCB comprising Padikkal, skipper Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers has been in good form. The trio has scored important runs for the team at crucial stages.
In the spin bowling department, the leggie from Afghanistan Rashid Khan has bowled important game-changing spells for SRH. Likewise, Chahal has done well for RCB.
One reason why the star-studded teams like Rajasthan Royals (RR) and Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) have failed to qualify despite playing some exceptional cricket in patches has been their inconsistency apart from the inexplicable changes in their batting order.
KL Rahul is a leading run-getter in the IPL2020 with 670 runs, which includes his match-winning century and five fifties, but the rest of his KXIP teammates have not been as consistent. Chris Gayle joined the team a little late and by then the damage was already done. Mayank Aggarwal’s injury didn’t help matters. The team lost five games in the first six and then played some breathtaking cricket to win five games in a row. In the end, the team managed only six victories (12 points). Not enough to qualify for the play-offs. Their bowling department let the team down at times.
The RR management could not decide which opening combination in batting was ideal for them. They tried Buttler at the top, then pushed Ben Stokes and Uthappa up the order. Smith too tried his luck at the top. This changing and chopping unsettled the line-up. Sanju Samson and Steve Smith kept changing their batting slots quite often. Buttler was used as a finisher in the latter half of the tournament. Nothing worked when it mattered.
For Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) the change in captaincy in the middle of the tournament proved to be a distraction and eventually a disaster. When Eoin Morgan took the charge from D Karthik it was already too late. It is never a good idea to replace a leader while the tournament is going on.
The MS Dhoni-led Chennai Super Kings (CSK) suffered from another problem: the age factor. It appeared that they had too many players in the playing XI whose age is probably not on their side. They included Shane Watson, Faf du Plessis, skipper Dhoni, Kedar Jadhav and others. Now Watson has called it quits and retired from the shortest format as well.
Now the question is which team is going to lift the coveted trophy.
The Rohit Sharma-led MI has the experience of winning big games. It has won the IPL record four times. The team has the exuberance of youth and experience. It has Rohit and de Kock at the top, Surya Kumar Yadav aka SKY as one drop, the in-form Ishan Kishan at four, sizzling talent Hardik Pandya at five and then a fantastic finisher in Pollard at six. In the pace department they have Bumrah, Pattinson and Boult, and Krunal in the spin department. This team has an edge for it knows how to win big games when under the pump.
But SRH under the leadership of David Warner cannot be brushed aside. It has won the title in 2016. Warner looks hungry for more runs and more titles. With Kane Williamson, W Saha and reliable Manish Pandey in the batting department, wily Sandeep Sharma and Rashid Khan in the bowling department, and young guns like Abdul Samad from J&K in its ranks, the team has rich experience as well as youthful energy. You can ignore SRH at your own peril.
Teams like RCB and DC are hugely talented, but their problem is that both haven’t won the IPL title till now. This could become their undoing. But can the Virat-led RCB create history? Will the Shreyas Iyer-led DC be the title winner of the IPL2020? Well, there is always a first time!
All four teams that have qualified for the play-offs have the required arsenal to win the tournament, but MI and SRH have an edge because for them it is a case of ‘been there, done that’.
Now what will matter is temperament and calmness under pressure. The team that shows grace under pressure will prevail in the end. Games like qualifiers and eliminators are all about the nerves. Experience will matter.
In short, MI and SRH are hot favourites but on paper all four teams are capable of beating anyone on their day. Fingers crossed.
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