The first week of the IPL has produced some close finishes and some performances to remember. It has also told us something about our misplaced beliefs, for most of us thought that the growing list of injured Indian players would adversely affect the viewership but that hasn’t been the case. Most grounds have been packed to the last seat and the viewing figures, we’ve been told, are excellent thus far. It has even been a marked improvement on last year which, in spite of the every Indian star’s availability, saw one of the poorest starts to an IPL season.
Last year’s tournament kicked off hot on the heels of three months of non-stop T20 cricket, which included the World T20 and Asia Cup. The first couple of weeks saw mostly lopsided games, which made matters worse. This year, though, the IPL has followed six months of high intensity Test cricket and that’s created the requisite appetite for the shortest format. Close finishes in the first week has further helped the cause. Herein lies the message for the governing bodies of cricket, there’s not just enough scope for all three formats to co-exist but also, each format’s popularity is relying on the other two formats. All will thrive if consumed in moderation.
Getting back to the start of this year’s IPL, though, Sunrisers Hyderabad has started the season where they left off last year – with the exception of getting more formidable. Their bowling was always one of the best in the league but with Shikhar Dhawan, Yuvraj Singh and Moises Henriques firing this season, they are the team to beat. Their qualification to the play-offs shouldn’t be an issue, more a formality. While the reigning champions have looked good, 2016 runners-up RCB look a pale shadow of the unit they were last season. They are desperately waiting for Virat Kohli to return and change their fortunes but it might be a case of too little too late.
KKR changed their opening combination and, with it, their approach to T20 cricket. It was Chris Lynn’s catch in 2014 that changed their fortunes and it felt like his batting was going to the same this year but for his unfortunate injury that may end his season. Kolkata is a unit with depth and therefore are likely to find ways to stay relevant but his absence will be felt. Not to forget that Andre Russell isn’t there.
Meanwhile, Gujarat Lions have fielded a team of opening bowlers and, in doing so, seem to have forgotten the value of playing five bowlers of variety. Their record of taking only one wicket in the first two games should serve as a rude reminder to focus on their bowling for the following games. Dwayne Bravo and Ravindra Jadeja’s return will give them hope and strength.
Mumbai Indians played with four bowlers in the first game and lost, then played with five proper bowlers in the second and won. While it’s not as simple as it might sound, the message is clear—play five proper bowlers in every single game. Most teams are forced to compromise on their batting depth to play the extra bowler but Mumbai is blessed to have three all-rounders in the Pandya brothers and Kieron Pollard, and that should dictate a five-bowler strategy every time.
Like Gujarat seemed to forget about their bowling, Delhi Darevils seem to have forgotten about the value of a good batting group. In fact, GL’s batting and DD’s bowling would make an IPL winning side. The absence of JP Duminy and Quinton De Kock is putting too much pressure on their Indian recruits and while their bowling will still keep them in the hunt, their batting is likely to let them down more often than not.
Kings XI Punjab has looked a decent side with roles clearly defined for most of its players and Glenn Maxwell has also taken to captaincy like a duck to water. Meanwhile, Rising Pune Supergiant made some big moves before the season by spending 14.5 crore on Ben Stokes and appointing Steven Smith as their captain. Spending a huge amount to procure only one resource is a tactic laden with risk and its affects are already showing. Their bowling is so thin that no amount of shuffling is likely to address their woes. It won’t be surprising if they, once again, finish close to bottom.