The second phase of the Indian Premier League started with an upset of sorts, and as the first week rolled out, there were a couple of more unexpected results, some outstanding performances – individual and collective – as also a few shoddy ones. In effect, despite the near five-month hiatus after being suspended in May, the IPL was unravelling as excitingly and unpredictably as always.
The big story of the first week (I write this before Saturday’s doubleheader) is how Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bangalore — in the top 4 on the points table when League resumed — lost two matches on the trot to open up the tournament.
Seven teams are now in contention for getting into the play-offs (Sunrisers Hyderabad out of the running), and the next few days could see fortunes fluctuate violently. In this melee, Chennai Super Kings won both their matches to go to the top of the table, but they weren’t the best performing side qualitatively.
In my opinion, that’s a toss-up between Kolkata Knight Riders and Delhi Capitals. Pushed to pick one, I’d go with KKR who were second from the bottom when the IPL resumed and are now placed fourth. It’s not just that KKR won these two matches, but how they did it which was so impressive.
In the first phase, the team had been tentative and lacklustre. Now, they appear uninhibited in approach and also showcasing tantalizing skills, especially from spinners Varun Chakravarthy and Sunil Narine, and dashing batting by openers Shubman Gill and Venkatesh Iyer.
Delhi Capitals, who had a wonderful first phase, began strongly, blending youth and experience, rich and diverse skills marvellously to stifle any hopes SRH may have had of a revival in the second phase. But given SRH’s travails with form and player availability, this wasn’t such a difficult assignment. They’ll have to be assessed after playing stronger opponents.
The most exciting match so far was between Rajasthan Royals and Punjab Kings, the latter snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Just 10 runs to get, 15 balls remaining and 8 wickets in hand, and they go kaput, losing their nerve, messing up fine performances by K L Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Shami and Arshdeep Singh.
How Punjab could lose from that position is mind-bending! Among those nonplussed was PBKS coach Anil Kumble who spoke grimly about how this was becoming a pattern with his team and needs to be arrested. It certainly doesn’t have to do with skills, but the mindset of players. The nailbiting finish allowed beleaguered RR, without Stokes, Buttler and Archer in the ranks, to keep their prospects alive.
MI, CSK and RCB were the teams that attracted the most attention for obvious reasons, since the respective captains Rohit, Dhoni and Kohli have been in the news surrounding not just the IPL but also the T20 World Cup which follows.
Kohli had announced that he would be relinquishing the T20 captaincy of India and RCB after this season, Dhoni had been named mentor for the WC, and Rohit, by common consensus, was the captain-in-waiting. How these three would fare in this fluid situation was the big question on everyone’s mind. Dhoni has so far emerged with flying colours.
CSK got the better of defending champions MI. In itself, this shouldn’t necessarily be a surprise. The T20 format throws up topsy-turvy results with regularity. But MI squandering winning opportunities is rare, losing the plot despite having CSK 24-4 after the powerplay.
Recovery from such a dire situation is virtually impossible in the shortest format. The defending champions, despite a potent attack, allowed CSK to score 156 which Dhoni defended with aplomb, bringing all his experience into play with astute handling of bowlers and fielders.
Rohit Sharma and Hardik Pandya missing the match because of niggles obviously cost MI dear. In white-ball cricket, Rohit has shown peerless skills – as batsman and captain. Pandya is a strong batting finisher and a clever fast-medium bowler loaded with variations. Their absence, it was said, led to the adverse result.
However, MI appeared tepid, and unfocused, in their next match too against KKR despite Rohit in the playing XI this time. After getting a good start through the openers, the batting lost its way, and MI finished about 20-25 runs short of what was expected. This was easily overhauled by KKR, their second win on the trot after thrashing RCB earlier.
Two wins for KKR and two defeats for MI meant that their positions in the points table were interchanged like in a game of snakes and ladders. Interestingly, RCB have been able to cling on to their third spot in the points table despite two defeats. But their run rate has dwindled, which makes their position precarious. Another defeat could see them slump badly.
In the first match, RCB were royally hammered by KKR, being bowled out for a paltry 92. Against CSK, with Kohli rediscovering form and making a half-century, they managed 155, which proved wholly inadequate on a placid pitch. RCB don’t bat deep. Unless A B de Villiers and Maxwell start firing, the bowlers will be left with modest totals to defend, which is always difficult.
How much can be read in these results? Do they reveal a trend for the second phase?
In past seasons, we’ve seen MI surging to a title win after wallowing among the also-rans in the points table for days. In IPL2020, CSK looked aged and ragged, but are front-runners currently. Given the mercurial nature of T20, any prediction is fraught with foot-in-the-mouth danger. Make your pick at your own peril.