The league phase of the tenth edition of the Indian Premier League is in its last week and, the usual suspects have occupied the top four slots. Since MI, KKR and SRH looked strongest on paper, most people expected them to finish in the top four, and they’ve mostly followed the script to be placed in the top three, though qualification is not assured.
RPS has been the surprise package of this edition, for they received lots of flak for first removing Dhoni as skipper, and then spending a fortune to acquire Ben Stokes. But if the end justifies the means, both moves seem to have worked for the once beleaguered franchise. Not to forget that they were dealt two body blows even before a single ball was bowled when R Ashwin and Mitchell Marsh were ruled out for the season.
While they couldn’t do much about Ashwin’s absence (it’s almost impossible to find a like for like replacement for an India Test cricketer), their move to hire the services of Imran Tahir turned out to be a stroke of genius. The standout feature of their success is one person coming up with match-winning performances each game and getting them the two points. Stokes has won three games; Tripathi, Dhoni and Smith have won one game apiece. This might go against them in the final stages.
Two things have stood out in MI’s successful season. One, they found the right combination at the beginning and therefore, started by winning a series of games and two, they’ve been extremely patient with the playing XI and have resisted the temptation to make lots of changes, and that’s paid rich dividends. Mitchell McCleneghan started the tournament slowly, but they chose to stick with him.
Lasith Malinga had a couple of really bad games but they were, once again, quick to get him back on the saddle. They’ve also been realistic about their resources, for the baton of bowling in the toughest phases has been seamlessly passed on from Malinga to Jasprit Bumrah. They’ve answered the million-dollar question — does a settled team lead to success or does success lead to a settled team. Of course, it’s the former.
Kolkata Knight Riders
‘Don’t change it if it isn’t broken’ is cliche, but successful teams are the ones that continue to reinvent, for that allows them to be ahead of the pack. You take the opponents by surprise, and also reignite your own group by throwing slightly different yet realistic challenges.
The absence of Andre Russell meant losing firepower towards the end and to address the issue, they broke the most successful partnership of Robin Uthappa and Gautam Gambhir to put either Chris Lynn or Sunil Narine at the top. Such decisions need a complete buy-in of the players getting affected, and the way Uthappa took to the new role of batting at 3 is an indication that KKR is functioning as one unit.
In fact, the day they opened with Narine and Lynn, the captain himself dropped down the order. Most of the good work is done at the auctions, but it’s equally important to utilize and maximize resources, and KKR have done that better than most teams.
Last season, their bowling took them to the title but this season has panned out a little differently. The continuous absence of Fizz (Mustafizur Rahman) and the occasional presence of Ashish Nehra have put a spanner in the works. That’s where you’ll have to credit their team management, for they’ve found two decent Indian seamers in Siddarth Kaul and Mohammed Siraj.
Warner’s captaincy might not have been spoken about much, but he’s been excellent with his bowling moves and field placements. Kane Williamson has proved that technique doesn’t necessarily slow you down; it liberates you. Even though they’ve done a lot of things right, I still get a feeling that they might fail to defend the title.