Four teams remain as the 11th edition of the IPL enters its final week with the play-offs beginning with the clash between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Chennai Super Kings in the first Qualifier on Tuesday.
The fourth and final team for the play-offs was decided only after the 15th over of the last league match – between Chennai and Kings XI Punjab – which shows how closely fought this year’s IPL has been as Rajasthan Royals squeezed through to set up a face-off with Kolkata Knight Riders in the Eliminator.
Sunrisers Hyderabad were the first team to seal their play-off berth, followed by Chennai and then Kolkata. Rajasthan made the cut only after Mumbai and Punjab failed to win their final games. Here, we look at the main talking points as the four teams prepare for the four remaining matches.
Chennai Super Kings have proved it beyond doubt that T20 cricket is not just a young man’s game. They returned to the tournament after a two-year suspension and then suffered the ignominy of losing their home venue in Chennai due to crowd trouble.
Difficult times call for calm heads and you don’t get them any cooler than Dhoni. Battling a serious back problem that restricted his bat swing, a 36-year-old Dhoni led the way with the bat as he relied on the strength of his forearms to muscle his way to 446 runs from 14 outings at a strike rate of 157 and an average of 89.
The Super Kings had other veterans in their ranks – Harbhajan Singh (37), Shane Watson (36), Dwayne Bravo (34), Ambati Rayudu (32) and even Suresh Raina (31) – but all of them delivered at various stages to make Chennai one of the most consistent teams in the tournament.
Among the four teams, Chennai and Hyderabad are the two sides that have relied on a core of players who have delivered for them previously. This familiarity with high-pressure situations should hold them in good stead this week. Also, Chennai have lifted the title twice and been the losing finalists four times. So expect them to be in Mumbai on May 27.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
While the Mumbai Indians were slow to start, Kings XI Punjab were on fire in the first half of the IPL. Last year’s champions Mumbai lost four out of their five matches, and that too in the final over. It was thought this season would also see Mumbai gather momentum once May came around and make a mad dash to the play-offs finish line.
Punjab, on the other hand, started brilliantly under the captaincy of Ravi Ashwin. They won five out of their first six matches, with opener KL Rahul, mystery spinner Mujeeb ur Rahman and a revitalised Chris Gayle doing the job on their own.
But with a play-off spot within reach, Punjab lost their final five matches to make a meal of what should have been a simple equation.
You only need to look at how Rajasthan made the cut to realise the importance of timing. England wicketkeeper Jos Buttler was hardly doing anything batting lower down the order as Rajasthan’s campaign struggled to take off. But the moment he was pushed to open, Buttler smashed five fifties in a row to almost single-handedly take Rajasthan to the brink of qualification.
CHASE IN KOLKATA, CLOSE CALL IN MUMBAI
The Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai will host the first Qualifier and the final while the Eden Gardens in Kolkata will be the venue for the Eliminator and the second Qualifier.
It is therefore imperative for all four teams to look at the records of the venues this season. The scenario is simple when it comes to Kolkata – bowl first. Out of the seven matches hosted there, five have been won by teams chasing and that too by fairly comfortable margins.
Mumbai, however, is a different situation. Teams have won chasing three times this year and have defended totals successfully four times. Also, Chennai beat Mumbai by one wicket at the venue at the start of the tournament while the Indians beat Punjab by three runs in the final league fixture at the ground. So, take your pick.
IPL 2018 has been awash with stunning young performers with the bat and ball who have lit up the tournament, many coming from emerging cricketing powers such as Afghanistan and Nepal.
It’s a tough task but we selected the Top 5 Emerging Stars in IPL 11. Read our talent roll below.
Bowling: 11 matches, 41.2 overs, 289 runs, 14 wickets at 20.64, Econ 6.99, BBI 3/27
At the start of this IPL you would have thought that if everyone was talking about a young Afghanistan spinner it would be Rashid Khan. But Khan’s efforts have been surpassed by 17-year-old countryman Ur Rahman. But no shame in that for Khan as Rahman out bowled even his much vaunted captain Ravi Ashwin. If only he had not missed three games due to injury his feats would have been even greater and Kings XI may have reached the playoffs.
I would like to express my sincere thanks to @DelhiDaredevils for believing on me and giving me an opportunity to play @IPL ! It was a great experience to learn new things and exposure i got. Thank you everyone who stood with me in this wonderful journey and making this possible. pic.twitter.com/lBTwLMUZCh— Sandeep Lamichhane (@IamSandeep25) May 21, 2018
Bowling: 3 matches, 12 overs, 82 runs, 5 wickets at 16.40, Econ 6.83, BBI 3/36
Named the player of the competition during the ICC World Cricket League Division Two for his impressive performances for Nepal, the 17-year-old has the ability to spin the ball a long way. Had an excellent return of 5 for 82 in three games and Delhi no doubt wish they used him much earlier in the tournament.
Batting: 9 inns, 0 NO, 245 runs at 27.22, two 50s, HS: 65
The baby faced blaster, bought for a big price of Rs 1.2 crore, had a mixed tournament. On the positive side the 18-year-old showed that he belonged at this level but he will be disappointed not to have gone on and score more runs after posting two fifties. Fielding was also suspect although he did manage four catches.
Batting: 12 inns, 0 NO, 275 runs at 22.91, two 50s, HS: 62
Another stylish left hander the 19-year-old made himself at home in the Mumbai line-up, and behind the stumps. He performed admirably with the bat but the Patna born opener would have liked more runs, as he had many opportunities playing in all 14 games. The best is yet to come from this youngster.
Batting: 9 inns, 5 NO, 145 runs at 36.25, one 50, HS: 57*
The star for India in the U-19 Cricket World Cup played in New Zealand earlier in the year, the 18-year-old was instrumental in India winning the title. KKR signed him for a price of Rs 1.8 crore and then surprisingly gave him little opportunity offer putting the opener as low as No7. Still Gill took his chances coming up with the team’s second best average. The playoffs await.
Indian superstar Virat Kohli may have had an underwhelming IPL by his own lofty standards but there have been plenty of other outstanding performers lighting up the tournament with their superb batting displays.
Here we name the Top Five from the preliminary rounds, only two of who are still in the tournament.
Top score: 128*
Pant was absolutely superb for Delhi and if some of his team mates had performed at a similar level the Daredevils season would not be over. To score the most runs at a SR of 173.60 is an extraordinary achievement but he also hit the most sixes (37), most fours (68) and highest score of IPL11 (128*).
Top score: 84
The most consistent batsman in the tournament with eight 50s in 14 innings and an average over 60, the NZ skipper was not the biggest hitter, only 26 sixes, but he played some crucial innings for the Sunrisers on their march to the semis. An elegant stroke maker he never gives his wicket away cheaply.
Out of 14 innings played by each team in #IPL2018, here are the most frequent max-contributors:— CricAlgorithmics (@cricalgorithmic) May 21, 2018
8 innings----#LokeshRahul and #RishabhPant
6 innings----#ChrisLynn, #JosButtler, #KaneWilliamson, and #SuryakumarYadav
Top score: 95*
The tall right hander got better as the tournament went on with a superb run of four fifties in the final six games including two nineties and an eighty. He will be desperately disappointed to get out so cheaply in the Kings XI last match but a rampant Ngidi was almost unplayable.
Top score: 100*
When you looked at the roll call of stars in the Super Kings line up you would not have expected the veteran to finish their top scorer but he did that and more. One of just four century makers in IPL11 he also scored three fifties and whacked the second most sixes (33).
Top score: 95*
The Englishman has headed home to prepare for the Tests against Pakistan and the Royals will miss his abundant run-making in the playoffs. Buttler got better as the tournament went on with two nineties and an eighty in his last four innings – and performed well under pressure.