Teams of IPL9 (Apr/May 2016) – observations and analysis

This is a compiled list of the most significant players given below (not all the players) in each of the eight teams that is playing in the ninth chapter of IPL.  The first thing that strikes out after having seen 11 matches (till RCB vs DD) has been the absence of Chennai super Kings and Rajasthan Royals, two of the premium franchisees of the first eight IPLs.

Observations:

  • Going by the number of empty seats in almost all grounds thus far, looks like some of the interest is fading.  It is also worthwhile to note that the high prices of certain tickets is keeping spectators away from the stadium, added to all the negative publicity that IPL had got over the past year .
  • Most of the matches so far has been  one sided without a close finish which makes me feel that either  the players are warming up or their team chemistry is not in place yet.
  • Most of the teams seem to be lacking batting depth with no quality all-rounders filling in the middle-overs spots, and most of the teams do seem to have only two or three good bowlers.
  • Every team seems to also have holes in their fielding which does not bode well while  defending smaller totals, and slower runners between wickets which may be a disaster if you are chasing huge totals.
  • Gujarat Lions with three wins thus far is roaring, thanks to it inheriting the best all-rounders (Jadeja, Raina, and Bravo) of this format and the better fielders of the now defunct CSK team.  With Brendon and Aaron Finch and supported by Dwayne Smith as a backup, they seem to be having the best hard-hitting opening pair of IPL9.  Bravo and Faulkner also make the best death bowling pair in the tournament, with their effective slower balls.
  • Pune Supergiants given that this is captained by MSD who likes tried and tested players and would not like to change the team that much, would not be able to exploit their deep pipeline of players.   Their star find may be Murugan Ashwin and with two Ashwins for spin, they look set for some quality eight overs. But MSD who believes that fielding does win matches has to throw this thought in the back-burner as he has a lot of less agile legs and slow pick-up-and-throwers in his team – R Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, RP Singh, Irfan Pathan, Ishwar Pandey,  Ashok Dinda and Rajat Bhatia, which would make him concede about 10 runs more every game.  His best fielders are all his foreign players and Rahane, and those are the five he should use at the right fielding positions.   He has been a lucky charm to all the teams he has led so far in the limited overs format.
  • Kolkata Knight Riders seem to be a stable team and most of them have been together for a few years and looking like the team to beat in this episode of IPL. Andre Russell would be the only foreign player to play in all matches and the other three spots seem to be open for rotation depending on the ground conditions, although I expect Shakib to play in most of the games as a genuine all-rounder and Narine as their main spinner. Gambhir’s batting forte is his Indian players and this is unique amongst all the teams that is playing, and with Gambhir in top form in the initial games, thus making a statement to BCCI that he is ready to replace S Dhawan, this IPL9 may give him back his Indian Jersey in all formats for the next 1-2 years.  Anyway India is playing mostly tests and mostly at home!  KKR support seems to be most loved this season as even the Eden Gardens gets filled for their games, despite some stands in other stadiums giving a barren look.
  • Kings XI Punjab after having been to the finals couple of years ago, have been in the doldrums since and they seem to be a Miller and Maxwell show. Sandeep Sharma has been showing good potential for a while but they do not seem to have a cohesive batting or a bowling story and they seem to be short in both departments.  Their batting can be aided by Shawn Marsh and their bowling can be strengthened by Mitchell Johnson and Mohit Sharma, and their opening batting pair of Vijay and Vora needs to be more consistent.
  • Mumbai Indians again has this purely talented but inconsistent Rohit as the captain and their opener and with no Malinga, they need to depend on the rising star Bumrah to do the opening spell and death bowling damages. With only Bhajji being their star spinner, they seem to lack strength in their Indian bowling department with only Vinay having some international exposure.  They cannot afford to rest Guptill and Anderson at all which they seem to be doing for the first few games.   The Pandya brothers, with so much hype on Hardik, seem to be a joke at best – I still cannot believe how he made it to the Indian team.  Using either Parthiv or Buttler in the playing eleven, both being wicket-keepers are very tricky for them.  Given the present form, they need to have Buttler in the team and definitely Guptill or Simmons, because they need the other two spots for a foreign bowler or an all-rounder – the choice is being between Southee, McCleneghan or Anderson.
  • RCB time and again have always depended on their top three for all their runs, and whenever Gayle hits, they do not have issues.  Even with AB and Kohli firing in the last match, Delhi was able to maul them in their home ground which is famous for even 200 plus scores being chased at ease. After their top 3, which seems to be the same design flaw in this IPL edition with many teams, they seem to be lacking good batters who can hit or finish. But they have certainly strengthened that middle over with Shane Watson which was the spot that Yuvraj was tried for in the previous year. Shane Watson brings them a good all-rounder and if Mitchel Starc is back after his wedding, their pace bowling department looks decent but they do not seem to have any quality Indian bowlers to fill in their other 12 overs. They cannot choose from their good arsenal of foreign bowlers either due to their four limit, but it is good to have Milne, Badree, Weise and Richardson as their replacement for Starc and rotate them around. 
  • Delhi Daredevils is the only team captained by a bowler who ideally bats at 11! They would be batting centered on De Kock and bowling centered around Zaheer and Mishra for their season.  With Zaheer beyond his peak and giving away 50 runs against RCB, this does not tell a good story.  Having the need to play De Kock, they seem to be playing Sanju Samson as a non-wicketkeeper and placing him the outfield is a mistake as he does not seem to have a good arm – throws the ball back like Amla.  They would be playing Carlos Braithwaite and Chris Morris as all-rounder options pretty much throughout, and they need to play JP Duminy in every match as well.  I cannot understand how they can get Imran Tahir to play at all, but they can play Coutere Nile if Braithwaite is not able to. Shreyas Iyer, a star in domestic cricket last season, has started off as a flop and it is time that Mayank Agarwal replaces him.
  • Sunrisers Hyderabad again is a team centered around David Warner – if he fires, any score is reachable. Unfortunately with Yuvraj, Ashish and Kane Williamson all injured presently, they are counting on them to come back to the team soon to raise its level of play – so expect some good matches in the latter half of their rounds. Without these three, this team looks despicable and Shikar Dhawan is adding to their misery.   Henriques is forced to come at three whereas he can do more damage coming in later after Morgan- these two can be their finishers, but unfortunately once Kane is back, only one of them can play.   Rahman and Bhuvie can be their bowling spearhead and Boult can come in anytime to replace Rahman.

Analysis:

  • Gujarat Lions – Having got some of the best fielders, which was one of the key arsenals of CSK, and with their good death bowling pairs, they are a team to reckon with and in my opinion, would make it to the final four, given that they have won three in a row so far. Their foreign players may not change much – Finch, McCullum, Bravo and Faulkner being their four, and if need be, will bring in Smith as an opener somedays and Steyn for Faulkner on other days. They seem to be short of one good Indian bowler with Jaddu, Bravo, Faulkner and Praveen Kumar or Dhawal making the four options.  That fifth spot would be taken up on rotation by a spinner and this could be the target four overs for the opponents to capitalize. Raina has to come to form, and Dinesh Karthik having been ‘undervalued’ this time around, after enjoying two years of surprising glory, needs to bat well.  If other team gets their top three batsmen early, they will not be able to get adequate runs on the board which is something that the opponents would try to exploit and vice versa, if their top three fires, then they are on a way to a 180 plus score which they can defend in most grounds. The good thing they seem to have done is they have used most of their bench players in their first three games on rotation which is good as they would not stay rusted for a long time.
  • Pune Rising Supergiants again will play three of their four foreign players in every match as batters– Faf du Plessis, Steve Smith and Pieterson. The fourth spot of the foreign all-rounder can be either Mitchell Marsh, Albie Morkel or Perera.  Chances of Adam Zampa or Bolland playing in any match look remote.  Rahane and Faf make a fairly consistent opening pair, but they are not major six hitters, which may make their power play overs not that rewarding.  His pace bowlers looks like his liabilities, and if they do not do well, his spinners would also be taken to the cleaners which makes me believe he is going to bleed a lot of runs all the time.  He needs to expect to chase a 180 plus score every time or try to defend a similar score to give his bowlers enough leeway. My opinion is this may be the first time MSD would never lead his team to the final four!  But with Dhoni at the helm, he has ways to make the team click and take them to the playoffs and it is not easy for me to write-him off yet.    Never say Never.
  • KKR unless they mess up, should be going through the final four because they look composed and settled. With Narine ready and ably assisted by Chawla, and with their foreign players mostly making up their other bowling options, they seem to be set.  They seem to placing their bets on Indian players for their batting and if Yousuf Pathan can return to form with some heavy heating, and Andre adding to the fireworks, they need a score of 160 plus to be able to defend with their good bowling.  Their long pole in the tent seems to be their batting, and again, like the Lions, if the opponents take care of their top 3 to 4 batters within a few overs, they would struggle to get a big score. But they seem to be one of the better teams to be able to defend a lower score, thanks to their effective spinners and good pacers.
  • Kings Punjab does lack in their spin department with the likes of Axar Patel leading it with only Sahu and Maxwell as the other spinners. Their batting can be either too good if both the Ms fire or can be bad if both fail – so I think we would see extremes in their scores.  If their opening pair fails, then it puts a lot of pressure on the 2Ms which would curtail their natural game and no fun to watch.   Unfortunately I do not see them making it to the final four.
  • Mumbai’s bowling would be around Bhajji and Bumrah, and batting around Rohit and Buttler. Rayudu has to raise his batting up a notch in the middle and Parthiv has to deliver almost every game.  I would still say that they would find it hard to get a good mix for any given match, and both batting and bowling look vulnerable at best. They need to play a more consistent team henceforth and ensure stability sets in for them to have any chances of a playoff spot. With them playing in one of the smaller stadiums (Wankhede), where a par score would be 180 to 200, they should have this in mind while planning most of their home games. I would still say they do not look  today like a team that would enter the final four.
  • RCB is a team that can hit 200 plus on any given day, given that Kohli and AB are in their best form but if Gayle becomes their liability, they do not seem to have a foreign player to replace him other than David Weise as an all-rounder. So, only the fourth foreign spot is up for toss and they have a wide array of bowlers to choose from.  Binny has to be play and excel as an all-rounder and Chahal has to be more respectable as a bowler for them to see any playoff berth.  This game can be cruel to the two best batters of this format in this world being on the same side, hitting consistently but still may not be able to make it to the playoffs.
  • Delhi seem to have a good bowling attack – Zaheer, Mishra, Morris, Brathwaite/Couture Nile, JP Duminy, Negi and Shami. They can definitely restrict their opponents to a respectable score to defend.  But other than De Kock, the batting lineup is inexperienced as best but with lots of promise – Mayank, Karun, Sanju and Shreyas.   If any one of them strike in any given game, and later the all-rounders in JP Duminy, Brathwaite and Morris blast their way through, I guess they do stand a chance.  Their weakest link is the fitness of Zaheer and his captaincy as this is the first time he is leading a team.  But with Rahul Dravid as their coach now, having been a mentor to RR for quite some years, anything is possible. 
  • Hyderabad’s chances look better if they get Dhawan to perform and the injured players come in. Then their foreign player combination gets set –Warner, Williamson, Morgan/Henriques/Cutting (the last two if they need an all-rounder option) and Rahman/Boult.  Their Indian bowling would be spearheaded by the best T20 pacer this year – Ashish Nehra and ably assisted by Bhuvnesh Kumar and Yuvraj.  There are lots of baggage in their playing eleven – Karn Sharma, Ashish Reddy and Deepak Hooda, which they need to carry on their shoulder. Deepak was supposed to provide the fireworks for them in the middle overs and Naman Ojha has to perform with his bat well.   Remembered they fired late in the season last time around and this seems to be their habit. Even if one of their injured players does not make it, they do not seem to have a chance.

     The third and fourth spot for the playoffs seem to have some choices now – Hyderabad, Pune, DD or RCB, but my choices would be Pune and RCB.   At this point, I may be wrongly writing off Mumbai and definitely writing off Punjab but as I see it, this may be reality. Best results in T20 comes with good batting, excellent fields and tight bowling.   And once you are in the playoffs, the team that performs that day becomes the winner – no statistics can infer winning from the playoff stages.   The best bowling unit though today seems to be Delhi and KKR.

      Remember the T20 format is definitely batting friendly and cruel to the bowlers in the Indian wickets and hence it is important that the team has to have a good six to seven deep batting strength to score well and be able to defend with good bowlers.  A great fielding team is critical for success as this can save about 10 runs every match and make a critical runout happen.   The middle order must have two good all-rounders in any team. The fifth option of a bowler can by design be set weak if the other four bowlers can come with respectable quality. Assume the fifth bowler quota gets hit for even 50 runs in their four overs, if the other four bowlers can still get a max average of 8 runs an over, a score of 170 can be defended or chased if they have a strong batting lineup. But more than one bowling quota of four overs gets hit, and then you are in for trouble.  And if your top order does not perform, again you can be in trouble.

      As a side note, not seeing my favorite team CSK in action, I am supporting RCB for the entertainment value they have provided and are likely to provide this season.  IPL and T20 is all about a three plus hour entertainment which seems to be an effective channel to wind down the summer days.

     The author is from Bengaluru and is a cricket fanatic and an avid blogger.  Some of the blogs related to cricket along with various other domains of his interests can be found in www.rajavenkata.com .   He is a business consultant and a corporate trainer by profession.

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