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IPL 13: The early report card – cricket

Two weeks into the IPL and we are starting to see the rust come off a lot of players. The IPL is just starting to warm up and in the next two weeks we may see it get into a nice canter.

Here is what I think of the teams so far.

CSK: This is the first time we’ve seen Chennai under pressure in the league stage of the game; for a team that’s made the play off every time, this is highly unusual.

As we know Chennai has always been different in the way they’ve made their squad selections and with their tactics too. They have surprised everyone–by once winning the title and the next year reaching the finals–with the same bunch of ageing and ‘beyond their prime’ players.

We have also seen many times in cricket when a bowler has bowled 3 good overs and the captain gets tempted to give him one more and the bowler gets carted for 25 runs in that over.

Is that what’s happening with Chennai? Are they stretching it a bit too far?

One more year of the same approach means the ‘ageing’ have gotten even older and are yet another year more out of mainstream International cricket.

But this is when the image of Dhoni appears in our minds, and you think, who knows, he may surprise us one more year.

But I highly doubt it. If he does not make changes that are absolutely needed in UAE conditions–he can’t go in with just 5 bowling options with Jadeja as one of the 5–on a turner yes, but we haven’t seen a turner yet in UAE.

They are clearly batting heavy and can afford to drop a batsman for a pure bowler and have 6 bowling options.

MI – They have won a few and lost a few but they have looked a champion side.

Why Saurabh Tiwary was playing before Ishan Kishen will remain a mystery but his 99 the other day makes MI look even more solid, despite lack of runs at the top from De kock.

James Pattinson has added another dimension; he is a strong fast bowler who runs the narrow corridor and bowls the narrow channel which means he attacks the stumps. Very few of his peers do this.

MI have two of this kind, Bumrah being the other. This means even when you are going to the cleaners you have a better chance of getting the batsman out.

Hardik in the last match clearly showed that he is in top gear now, while Pollard was in top gear coming into the tournament.

Rahul Chahar flies under the radar a bit but as a spinner, his results are right up there with the others.

KXIP – Have loved the tactics and team selections of Punjab since Anil Kumble took over, but Glenn Maxwell continues to baffle with his failures which means guys like Sarfaraz Khan and K Gowtham–both dangerous T20 batsmen–are getting under-utilised. Shami has been their most impressive pacer, why? Again, he has kept it simple and bowled straight. Looks a team that can beat the best, death bowling being their major concern.

DC – I was really disappointed with the way Delhi went about chasing a score of 163 against SRH the other night.

SRH went with just 5 bowlers, out of which three were, Khaleel Ahmed, T Natarajan and Abhishek Sharma. With the batting talent Delhi have they should have strolled to the target, but Ricky Ponting may have noticed some of his young batsmen playing that night with long term goals. Playing in 3rd gear and waiting for the final flourish was the modus operandi of their main batsmen, but when you have to get that final flourish against Bhuvi and Rashid Khan, it’s not a good plan at all. In fact, short term planning is the best way to go in T20s. Stay in the moment is what T20 is all about.

Delhi’s young batsmen have to be careful about putting too much of a price on their wickets.

SRH – As always, a little lacklustre, more so when David Warner is not all guns blazing. For the first time in his entire IPL career Warner hasn’t looked formidable. He is arguably the best IPL batsman ever, with aggregate runs and strike rates to marvel at. One good sign though, in that win for Hyderabad was Natarjan, specifically his yorkers. Now we know why the team management was backing him so much.

His yorkers are classical in nature and he bowls them with control and he demonstrated to us that in this ‘360 degrees batting world’ there is still no good answer to the perfect yorker.

KKR – The night KKR pushed Karthik down the order and started having seven bowling options, their fortunes have changed. They are now able to take Kuldeep off after he has bowled two good overs. Shows what good tactics can do, and it’s done wonders to KKR.

RR – The real talking point about RR has been their individual performers. They aren’t looking like final four contenders yet, despite wins in Sharjah.

Samson has been sensational; shows how a small step forward can be a great position to attack from in this format. Interestingly, that same small step forward set up in Tests makes you a sitting duck. That gives you an insight into the challenges these young cricketers have to face today with 3 formats.

Archer and Steve Smith have been the other star performers for RR, with Buttler starting to come into some IPL mood in the last game.

RCB – A team that is now really desperate for points, the pressure is really building up on the franchise.

They may have found the right idea to win with their team selection in the last game–if you have a weakness in pace, make spin your X factor in bowling–along with Washington and Chahal, they had Adam Zampa playing too.

Finally, the important learnings for me, and I guess for the teams too, is that you must have real strength in one area of your team even if it means diminishing the other.

Trying to cover up all the bases is not working in these conditions for teams that do not have great depth (and that goes for most teams in the IPL).

Teams that have risen up the points table are ones that have made that commitment.

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