Cricket Reviews,  Reviews

IPL 2020 – The week that’s gone by

Finally, after all the ifs and buts, the IPL is here, not in India, but in UAE.

I thought to share my views on the tournament, some snippets and highlights, considering the prevailing situation.

As I was finishing my write-up, the sad news came – the unfortunate and untimely demise of Professor Deano (Dean Jones). A good cricketer, commentator, and analyst of the game, he was so passionate about discovering new talents and nurturing young cricketers – Gone too soon! He had his unique thoughts and analysis of the game and was an active member in the IPL arena. I dedicate this blog as a humble tribute to Professor Deano.

IPL is all about the Buzz, Glamour and Entertainment revolving around Cricket – So will it be as exciting as it used to be in packed stadiums with crowds going wild, egging their superstars?

I was sceptical at first. But the first week made me optimistic and think differently among all the shortcomings of this year’s IPL.

First things first: Empty stadiums, No crowds – How will the players react? Almost everyone enjoys full stadium, the atmosphere, the fans – they exchange mutual gestures, talk with the eyes, body language and there is this mutual motivation. Some players enjoy a hostile crowd more – it lifts them mentally and motivates them to perform even better. Virat Kohli, David Warner are prime examples.

I personally think it’s a smart move to have crowd-simulation and pre-recorded fan cheers which made it feel as normal as possible like experiencing a game in a packed stadium.

The big grounds (except Sharjah) in UAE means that mis-hits won’t carry over the fence, spin could have a better say, and 2s and 3s could come back to T20 cricket. However, fitness of players will be tested in the energy zapping conditions.

Empty stadiums, neutral pitches and no home games means that the teams that adapts quickly, plays well on the surfaces provided will emerge victorious. Different teams rely on different strategies and their home turfs are provided accordingly to suit their style of playing – CSK’s spin and RCB’s pace focussed home grounds are prime examples.

It was refreshing to see grass on the pitches (done to make the pitches last the whole season I guess) in UAE and at least some of the games had a good balance between bat and ball which I love the most. All this means that, there could be equal opportunities for all, and if the teams give their best and play to their potential, who knows, IPL could see a new winner this time.

Sharing my views on the first 5 matches of the IPL wherein we get a look at all the teams.

Highlights of the week

Match 1 – MI vs CSK

The first match was between the two most successful teams in IPL history and CSK emerged victorious.

Stars of the match: Faf DuPlessis, Ambati Rayudu, Piyush Chawla & Sam Curran

Catches win Matches – Faf took two stunning catches and also contributed with the bat; Rayudu who missed the 2019 World cup slot to Vijay Shankar showed his value by scoring a match winning 71 ; Chawla for me was the best bowler on show even though Lungi Ngidi took 3 wickets. His line and length was precise, made scoring difficult and picked up the crucial wicket of Rohit Sharma. Sam Curran who came in place of Dwayne Bravo gave an all-round performance by contributing both with bat and ball.

One of the main reasons I feel which makes CSK and MI click is their leadership. Yes, you need a strong team to win, but a good leader can make a huge difference.

I always believed Sourav Ganguly was instrumental in changing the way cricket was played in India, the change in mentality and pushing youngsters to the big stage, giving them confidence resulting in India producing some excellent talents – MS Dhoni took that forward in his own style and did that exceedingly well. Rohit also has his own approach to captaincy which works. Both are good leaders, back their players, give them confidence and make them feel they are a key part to their respective teams. Their core group remains the same and they don’t believe in chopping and changing their teams frequently unlike many do, which makes the players feel secured, create unity, play without the fear of getting dropped and contribute more effectively to the team’s cause.

Some eyebrows would have been raised when Ravindra Jadeja and Sam Curran went ahead of MS Dhoni. The same turned out to be a master stroke in the end – the left hander against a slow left arm bowler, and more importantly believing in players and giving them opportunities in crunch situations.

While MI was missing the services of Lasith Malinga, CSK were missing Suresh Raina, Dwayne Bravo and Harbhajan Singh. Imran Tahir too missed out and it would be interesting to see whether he would fit in once Bravo is back as these players together formed the core of CSK. Murali Vijay’s inclusion was a big surprise. It remains to be seen how CSK perform without these crucial players.

Match 2 – DC vs KXIP

My favourite game of the week. It had everything – Apart from the basics of the game, the KXIP captain for last season playing against them, getting two wickets before getting injured, the drama, super over, and finally heartbreak for KXIP.

Stars of the match: Mayank Agarwal, Mohammed Shami, Marcus Stoinis, Ravi Bishnoi and Kagiso Rabada

It was Marcus Stoinis’s day – Everything he touched turned to gold. What looked like a 125-130 score ended up at 157 largely due to Stoinis smashing the KXIP bowlers all over the park. The death bowling was poor especially after a fantastic hostile bowling effort from the man with the beautiful seam presentation – Mohammed Shami.

Loved seeing the bowlers perform. I personally prefer low scoring thrillers to run fests. Cricket is not all about the 4s and 6s, but weathering the storm from the bowlers and then trying to get on top. Shami was top class and the 20-year-old Ravi Bishnoi looked a class act, right on the money and bamboozled the batsmen with his variations.

It was not a massive chase, but KXIP kept loosing wickets and Agarwal had to steady the ship, but boy, he played a blinder and almost pulled off an impossible chase. All seemed lost for DC, but the man with the golden arm in form of Stoinis came and when the equation was 1 run needed of 3 balls, dismissed Agarwal and Jordan and pushed the match to a Super Over.

While I understand that Mayank would have been exhausted, it was strange not to see him in the middle considering his hitting form. In the end, Rabada who is a super over specialist accounted for both Rahul and Pooran who hardly had a hit in the middle.

Even 1 run can make a difference and in the end, the 1 run short call made the difference!

Match 3 – SRH vs RCB

When you think about this battle, the 2016 IPL Final comes to mind where SRH emerged victorious.

For me, RCB = Emotions; sure, every team has that, but RCB is high on them – emotionally charged. When you look at RCB, you say wow – Superstars! But, they are yet to crack the IPL winning formula.

Their record against top 4 teams (CSK, MI, KKR and SRH) in IPL is very ordinary and are slow-starters. They need to start well to have a say in the tournament. When you think of slow-starters, MI comes to mind, but they pick themselves up unbelievably well and manage to get to the play-offs more often than not.

Coming to the match, one team had to win and it was RCB this time, but both have problems to solve. SRH is heavily dependent on the Warner-Bairstow combo who scores 65-70% of their runs. Manish Pandey is a good player, but their middle and lower middle order is average. Likewise, RCB mostly relies on ABD-Kohli duo to bail them out.

The difference between a good team and a team of good players is huge. A top-heavy batting line-up of superstars alone can’t win you matches – it could, maybe once in a while. Team balance and combination is key!

Virat Kohli mentioned that the current RCB side is one of their most balanced sides since IPL 2016. Hmm?

When I was watching the batting of RCB, I was wondering what the opener Josh Phillippe was doing way down the order after Shivam Dube. For me, playing Finch and Phillippe together affects the team combination and if they wanted to play Finch, they might as well have played a Chris Morris or Isuru Udana in place of Phillippe to lend more support to the bowling unit. Barring Chahal and Saini, the bowling as usual looked very ordinary. Steyn was without a doubt, a gun player, a legend – but he ‘was’. Every player, be it even Sachin or McGrath has their time and Steyn is not in his prime now. His IPL record is average and you can’t expect him to perform as he used to in his prime.

Stars of the Match: Devdutt Padikkal, Yuzvendra Chahal, Johnny Bairstow, AB DeVillers and Navdeep Saini

Padikkal seemed as if he belonged to the big league, played brilliantly and never felt like a player who is making his debut. Some of his strokes reminded me of Yuvraj. It would be interesting to see how he fares against quality fast bowling on challenging conditions. Chahal-the bankable bowler of RCB showed again as to why he is such a crucial player for the team. Saini was sharp and bowled intelligently. Bairstow and DeVillers showed their class.

One thing I see with RCB time and again is their body language. When they are batting, they look like million dollars, but it’s a completely different scenario when they take the field. 2-3 boundaries and the looks suggest ‘here we go again’. You can look at Kohli’s eyes and predict how the team is performing. RCB for me is two extremes – Overjoyed or Down and Out, more reactive than any other team and has frequent change of personnel. They can take a leaf out of CSK and MI both in terms of leadership and settling in on a core team.

Match 4 – RR vs CSK

33 Sixes! 416 Runs! Shorter boundaries were back and it was carnage in Sharjah!

Stars of the match: Sanju Samson, Rahul Tewatia, Steve Smith, Jofra Archer, Faf DuPlessis and Sam Curran

There is something about Sanju Samson – the fluidity, time to play all the shots, the ease with which he clears the fence is truly special. He is very similar to a Rohit Sharma – very easy on the eye, attractive batting, doesn’t muscle the ball, but the ball travels a fair distance. His innings today reminded everyone of the talent he possesses, but he has to be more consistent like a Sharma now. For me, after Dhoni’s exit, Sanju Samson is the best wicket keeper batsman in the country.

The experienced CSK spinners completely missed their line and length and that’s where a fairly inexperienced Rahul Tewatia outclassed them. Steve Smith gave good company to Samson though he was lucky to survive two close calls. Archer gave a much needed finishing kick for RR against a clueless Ngidi. DuPlessis scored a good 70, but wasn’t enough to see his team through. Sam Curran tried his best by picking up 3 wickets and a good cameo with the bat.

If you had missed the match and just saw the scorecard, you would have felt that the match was close, but it wasn’t the case. CSK was never in the hunt – they lacked intent. It was strange to see how their innings progressed. Murali Vijay who clearly looked uncertain about his place in the team lacked any conviction in his stroke play. Some decisions from CSK were baffling to say the least – Dhoni’s batting order, the debutant Gaikwad sent in at a time when the run rate was too hot to handle (You could argue that, the same was provided as an experience for the youngster, but I’m sorry, there was a game to be won), the late charge when the match was literally done and dusted. It was too early to think about net run rate and they should have gone for the win. When Samson was whacking the spinners, they were not taken out, continued serving him half-vollies and that burst ensured that RR got to a good score.

The image of the day was the youngster Yashasvi Jaiswal folding hands and greeting MS Dhoni.

Match 5 – KKR vs MI

KKR’s record against MI is poor, especially the last 4 years have been almost one-sided affairs. Their first match this season was no different. KKR looked rusty in all the departments.

Starts of the match: Rohit Sharma, Shivam Mavi, Suryakumar Yadav and all the main bowlers of MI

Barring Shivam Mavi who was very good under the circumstances, the rest of the bowlers hardly troubled MI. The execution of short balls from MI was spot on and that’s where KKR faltered. Rohit Sharma was back with his favourite pull shots and along with Suryakumar Yadav, smashed KKR all over the park. The million-dollar boy, Pat Cummins had a day to forget even though he took Bumrah apart hitting 4 sixes.

KKR had some interesting player releases off late- Robin Uthappa who did so well for them batting up the order (he was slotted down the order recently which didn’t work out) and Suryakumar Yadav. Narine off late has been tried at different slots in batting order, and now Shubman Gill is opening with him. Gill is a fantastic talent, but he has to rotate strike more often to not let himself under pressure. Chasing a massive score, the first maiden over from Trent Boult, was backed up by tight bowling from Pattinson which put pressure on the openers resulting in them losing their wickets. KKR was never able to catch up with the run rate.

KKR off late has been heavily reliant on Andre Russel to bail them out of trouble – You can’t expect him to straightaway come and score 14-15 runs per over every match!

So, now that we have got a look in at all the teams taking the field, I am sharing some of my personal favourites of the week.

Favourites of the week

  • Favourite Match: DC vs KXIP
  • Favourite Bowler: Mohammed Shami – 4-0-15-3 against DC
  • Favourite Batsman: Mayank Agarwal – 89(60) against DC (Sanju Samson was stunning, but I picked Mayank considering the situation which he was in)
  • Favourite Fielder: Faf DuPlessis
  • Favourite All-rounder: Sam Curran
  • Emerging Talents: Ravi Bishnoi and Devdutt Padikkal

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