After 72 back-to-back matches and amidst Pomersbach molestation case, SRK’s ban, rave party fiasco and of course spot-fixing charges, the Indian Premier League has moved into its business end with Delhi Daredevils, Kolkata Knight Riders, Mumbai Indians and the inevitable Chennai Super Kings in the mix. The playoffs will definitely be a cracker-jacker affair. Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Harbhajan Singh and MS Dhoni – it could not get any better than this.
Captain cool MS Dhoni’s midas touch is in question as Super Kings scraped through to the playoffs thanks to Deccan Chargers spoiling the party for Kings XI Punjab and then the Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Mumbai Indians, with a new captain at the helm this season, Harbhajan Singh, were not that convincing either; and the captain’s dismal form with the ball continued.
Kolkata Knight Riders, on the other hand, are certainly basking under Gambhir’s glory. Snubbed after being removed as India’s vice captain, the hot rod Delhi lad Gauti played every innings this season up till now with purpose and has led his knights with conviction.
And at last, the Delhi Daredevils right there at the top with the Zen like figure Virender Sehwag have steamrolled every opponent, something every Daredevils fans would have wanted the previous four seasons from the franchise.
So, before analyzing the teams who went about entertaining for nearly 40 odd days, it would be pivotal to look into the captains’ performance in the current season.
With 484 runs in the season so far and a spectacular array of 5 half centuries, the swashbuckler Sehwag took the attack to the opponents, and so did his team the Delhi Daredevils. With a line-up deemed to be the strongest in the IPL, they had to finish at the top of the table. The secret to winning is constant, consistent management, and that is what Delhi did after falling short each of the previous editions. TA Shekhar of MRF Pace Foundation was with the team in the first season and then moved to Mumbai that changed their fortunes. He was roped back by the GMR group and with the likes of Kevin Pietersen and Andre Russell coming in, and the grooming of Umesh Yadav and Varon Aaron; the credit must go to the team management.
It was probably Sehwag’s short and simple thought process that also allowed someone like a Shahbaz Nadeem to prosper. With rebuilding process all set in place, Ross Taylor, Pietersen and Jayawerdene came to the fore for the Devils. They had the strongest pace bowling line-up on paper - Morne Morkel led the charge with Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron putting up international quality performances. Nadeem was the surprise package.
For Kolkata, the off-field antics have always proved a deterrent but Gauti brought all the attention to the field and like Sehwag, led from the front. Overdependence one might say on the opener, but the likes of Jacques Kallis, Debabrata Das and Tiwary have held their own in the middle but not in a convincing manner. With the lowest runs per game in the season, Kolkata Knight Riders finishing in the top 2 would have come as a surprise unless someone failed to mention Sunil Narine.
The USD 700,000 buy became the trump card for KKR. Like a perfect deputy, even Rajat Bhatia proved to be more than a handy player on quite a few occasions. But again, over dependence on Sunil Narine would worry the Knights. With 22 wickets at an average of 11.95 and economy of 5.14, the season really belongs to the mystery spinner. But as it is said, while individual brilliance wins games, teamwork and intelligence win championships . The question now is, can team KKR fire for their captain at least a couple of times from here on?
And finally, Chennai Super Kings -- they had to be in the playoffs, anyhow. Dhoni’s performance so far hasn’t been something to go ga ga about - 270 runs in 16 matches with a highest of just 41 runs, not up to the mark for sure. And to some extent the skipper’s performance has had its reflection in the team results as well. Dhoni has had a bad season - not just the IPL, but the cricketing season as such. Chennai’s journey has been similar.
Faf du Plessis, who came in as a stop gap arrangement to fill in Hussey’s shoes, went on to become the team’s highest scorer. But overall, he is not even in the top 10. The all-rounders – ‘Million dollar baby’ Ravindra Jedeja, Dwayne Bravo and big hitting Albie Morkel - have all played a small but key role in the team’s fortunes. And every other team would be vary of the defending champions, as they have the knack of pulling off something incredible. Dhoni enjoys the lady luck and if that decides to shine on the team as bright as their jersey colour, ‘yellow’, the whistles might as well go off for the Super Kings from down South for the third time in a row. But again, it’s a very bad thing to become accustomed to good luck… it might just run out.
Mumbai have been eliminated from the playoffs after being defeated by Chennai Super Kings on Wednesday
If Delhi Daredevils and KKR’s surge this season was due to Sehwag and Gambhir, Mumbai Indians reached the top four all because of team performance. And if the saying - a team is a good as its weakest link - is to be challenged, name Harbhajan and his team and the case would be shut. With international experience of over 10 years, the off spinner managed only 6 wickets in his 51 overs bowled in all the 16 matches at an average of 60. Yet, the team went through – and again, Harbhajan Singh’s conduct on field and his man management skills were lacking.
Rohit Sharma pulled off probably the best innings of IPL, Dwayne Smith snatched victory from the jaws of defeat as Robin Peterson had done earlier; Richard Levi had a lucky day and similarly, someone or the other stood up each time for Mumbai throughout this season. Pollard went about his business as usual with yet again solid all-round performances, so did Lasith Malinga, again topping the bowling charts. Their journey has not been convincing, but on the given day they could prove to be more than a handful.