All around the sporting world, the halfway mark is considered a watershed. Halftimes, intermissions and innings breaks signify agog, disquiet and fickleness. Unlike the sport itself though, the leagues that showcases it doesn’t always assume such suspense at the intermediate mark. But here’s where the Indian Premier League or IPL, is an anomaly.
The 13th season of IPL started with a glut of uncertainty and its second half promises to be no different.
After 28 matches, three out of the four playoff berths seem certain with Mumbai Indians(MI), Delhi Capitals(DC), and Royal Challengers Bangalore(RCB) playing at their consistent best. Although, the provision of a second chance for the top 2 teams - Qualifier 2 - makes this fight compelling. The 4th spot is also up for grabs with the points table suggesting tumult. A number of teams are still in the hunt.
A lot has happened in these 28 matches, not least the display of an unprecedented balance between bat and ball. Unexpected wins, two super-overs already and out-of-nowhere defeats have been bestrewn all over along with a few one-side encounters.
There has been the quintessential IPL gossip too, fueled by untiring Twitterati.
All this has provided a stage for a lot of talking points - some of which are discussed ahead.
Mid-season transfer window
Taking inspiration, as always, from other sporting competitions around the world, the IPL inaugurated a new competitive set up in 2018 – mid-season transfers. This new thingy allowed an uncapped player – and those who played less than 2 matches – to transfer mid-season to another IPL team. Provided the consent of participating franchises, this year, even marquee players can be traded with, or loaned to other teams. This is expected to be done under a 5-day window which opened on Monday after all teams had played 7 out of their 14 league games.
This window will not only permit some rejig in planning but also allow the teams to get a mid-season replacement for their injured players or bench warmers.
It is significant to note here that despite having the potential to rejuvenate teams, the scope of eye-catching transfers in the window remains limited. As shown by DC’s management in the case of Ajinkya Rahane (played only 1 game), franchises are very careful even with their back-up options. The DC management recently thwarted the speculations of trading Rahane to Chennai Super Kings(CSK), who are struggling with their batting, saying that he is an "integral" part of their setup.
At the same time, this doesn’t mean no changes either. Sides like the Sunrisers Hyderabad(SRH) and DC might go all in for replacements for the injured Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Amit Mishra and Ishant Sharma respectively.
IPL’s ‘Rahul’ Troika
In the post-match conference after Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) lost to SRH, KL Rahul said this: “Look I think strike-rates are very very overrated. For me, it is about how I can win games for my team. If I feel on a certain day that 120 (strike-rate) can win the game for my team, I will do that. This is how I bat and take responsibility and as a leader, you have to take responsibility. I am not saying I haven't made a few mistakes but you learn each day as a batter and as a leader.”
This statement, albeit rather innocuous, drew a lot of attention from netizens especially because it came after a losing cause.
Rahul played a match-winning 132* in Dubai earlier in the tournament. But since then he seems to have hit a dip in his strike-rate. This, according to most experts, is a consequence of him compromising his natural game because of captaincy duties.
Moreover, the dip in Rahul’s strike-rate goes hand in glove with KXIP’s performances in this IPL. Punjab is palpably finding ways to lose games after making good starts and, sans a miracle, they already look down and out.
Rahul Tewatia, at odds to K.L., has found ways to win for his team Rajasthan Royals and that too on the buttress of his strike-rate. Tewatia, an unembellished all-rounder from Haryana, has made a fairy tale journey to the IPL. And with his mind-boggling knocks of 53 off 31 (with 7 sixes and no fours), and 45 of 28, he looks like he's about to stay.
Adding salt to the injury, it was Tewatia’s innings against KXIP that signaled his rise and presaged K.L’s fall.
Then there’s Rahul Tripathi. An honest cricket-lover, Tripathi first made his mark as an opener with the Rising Pune Supergiant in IPL 2018. Now, as an aggressive juxtaposition to Shubhman Gill at Kolkata Knight Riders(KKR), he looks set to cement his place at the top.
Bat first, come?
In India, barring a few exceptions, it was almost certain to win the toss and bowl first in the IPL. This year, in the UAE, this paradigm seems to be upended. In 28 matches so far, except the ones that went to super overs, only 7 teams batting second have been able to clinch the match. Here are some stats to weigh on this argument for all those data geeks out there.
Observatory knowledge suggests a couple of reasons behind the trend. Firstly the matches in the UAE start and conclude 2 hours earlier than in India. In the latter’s case, this allowed dew to suffuse on the ground, thereby aiding the chasing side. Early starts in the UAE keep dew at bay and allow bowling sides to grip the ball better, thereby executing their plans better in the second innings.
Furthermore, the fact that this IPL is being played on only 3 grounds has prompted the reuse of match pitches which makes them dry, slow, and weary.
This has and will continue to add to the woes of chasing teams.
IPL 2020’s young guns
It is great fun seeing stars like Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, M.S. Dhoni, and Kagiso Rabada vie against each other for the coveted IPL silverware. However, the competition becomes even more gladdening when someone yet to establish their name does so.
Barring a few, IPL 2019 was a mediocre year for emerging players. Many precociously talented youngsters didn’t live up to their hype and those that did, were inconsistent.
IPL 2020 has been different in that regard too.
Devdutt Padikkal has a 6’3’’ frame and is a naturally aggressive player with the serenity of a southpaw. He promises much. The expectations of him were high leading up to the tournament, evident enough from Aaron Finch's excitement to bat alongside him. And boy did he meet them.
In 7 innings till now, Padikkal has made 243 runs at an average of 34.71 with 3 fifty-plus scores. That he has played the enforcer role with someone of Finch’s stature taking second fiddle shows that RCB has unearthed a gem.
Abhishek Sharma and Priyam Garg of SRH also showed glimpses of their acumen against CSK. Riyan Parag repaid Rajasthan Royals' trust when Tewatia and him bailed out the team in a memorable win against SRH.
On the bowling front, SRH’s T. Natarajan and KKR’s Kamlesh Nagarkoti have stood out in the first half of IPL 2020. Natarajan, after failing to grab attention last year, came out swinging - quite literally - this time around. The latter couldn't play last year but in this IPL, he has also shown his ability to bowl shrewdly against the best batsmen at key moments.
Ravi Bishnoi, freshly 20, has been obliged to lead the spin department for KXIP and has been very impressive too.
If their teams need to go further, the young guns will need to keep firing.
Pace 1, spin 0
It is a surprise to see the 12 out of the top 15 bowlers in IPL 2020 are speedsters. Only Rashid Khan, Yuzvendra Chahal, and Ravi Bishnoi represent spinners on the list. The previous IPL season, in comparison, had 7 spinners making the top-15 list.
Both MI and DC have reached the top of the IPL table on the backs of their respective pace-duos of Bumrah-Boult and Rabada-Nortje.
With sturdier pitches in the first half, hit-the-deck bowlers relying on swing and seam have been more effective than their spin bowling counterparts.
This developing pattern has not only made this first half of IPL 2020 more enthralling but has also restored some balance between the bat and ball.
Click here to see IPL standings 2020.
At the moment the blues are marching, orange is pale, yellow is paler. Mumbai and Delhi look like the sides to beat. Delhi, in my opinion, nudge ahead with the spin options they have, especially considering the slowing pitches in the second half of the tournament.
RR is looking the dark horse (that they always are) while KKR and SRH look somewhat here, somewhat there. There’s a running joke that it is because of the unpredictable nature of the year 2020 that Virat Kohli might finally get his hands on the IPL trophy.
But with Kohli’s return to form and most RCB nuts and bolts performing in tandem, we can't rule out Ee Sala Cup Namde either.
CSK and KXIP have more problems than solutions and although they both have done it before, getting into the top 4 from here seems improbable.
However, ‘MS Dhoni’, ‘IPL’, and ‘surprise’ are three words written too often in the same sentence.
More so in the IPL 2020 where Dhoni hasn’t fired at all and CSK hasn’t given many reasons to whistle.
If this is a lull before the storm or the storm is already long gone, only time will tell.
Published 14 Oct 2020, 14:08 IST