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The Fantastic Four reach IPL play-offs

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The final four teams in this year’s thrilling IPL T20 tournament have at last been decided after some 50 matches being played in the league's round-robin phase. When I previewed the tournament last month, I predicted the Chennai Super King (CSK), Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and the Mumbai Indians (MI) would progress to the final four and if I was pushed to name the fourth qualified team, I would have said Royal Challengers Bangalore.

Two out of three is fair as T20 cricket is unpredictable as if you have a bad day, you may as well kiss that particular game goodbye; unlike Test cricket where I have seen teams play well for three and a half days, then have one bad session and lose the test either through poor bowling or a batting collapse.

I did say I favoured CSK to win the tournament and my opinion still holds. In MS Dhoni, that team has the most experienced and innovative captain who is willing to take risks and somehow his gambles always seem more often than not to pay off. His performance with the bat at the death has been scintillating. He is averaging 89.20 having hit three half-centuries. Ambati Rayudu and Shane Watson have both been effective at the top of the order with Rayudu scoring close to 600 runs. Faf Du Plessis can also be used as an opener and his experience is invaluable. Suresh Raina at #3 has been good but I am certain Dhoni would have wanted more runs from the talented left-hander. Batting with Dhoni at the death has been Sam Billings, Dwayne Bravo and Ravindra Jadeja and they have all come good at one time or the other. It is their varied bowling attack that has impressed me the most. The right-arm medium pacer - Shardul Thakur - has accounted for 14 wickets thus far in the tournament; well supported by Dwayne Bravo with 11, and three players namely Jadeja, Deepak Chahar and the South African latest pacer - Lungi Ngidi - each with nine. Ngidi made his international debut in January 2017 and has impressed all who have seen him. Hopefully, somewhere out there are a few West Indian pacers waiting to break through.

CSK also has the experienced Harbhajan Singh and Imran Tahir to call upon. You now understand when I use the term ‘varied attack’.

KKR is also a well-balanced and experienced team with the star of the show none other than our very own ‘the quiet assassin’ - Sunil Narine. What a season he is having thus far; 327 runs and 16 wickets – he is a captain’s dream. The Jamaican superman Andre Russell has not been far behind with 264 runs and 13 wickets but it is KKR’s batting that has been outstanding. Dinesh Karthik has led from the front and together with the latest recruit in Chris Lynn, they have amassed over 400 runs. Robin Uthappa has also scored runs at vital times but their batting is far stronger than their bowling so it is going to be interesting when they pick their best XI for the play-offs. There is an 18-year-old youngster in this team - Shubman Gill. He is destined to follow in the footsteps of Sunny Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kholi. Keep an eye out for him.

Sunrisers Hyderabad - the team of West Indies T20 captain Carlos Brathwaite, who has only featured in one match has surprised me. Their position at the top of the league phase is due to captain Kane Williamson who has smashed 661 runs with 8 half-centuries from 14 innings at an average of 60.09. What superlative batting from the New Zealand captain. The Barbados Tridents must be wondering if this is the same man who played for them in the 2017 CPL and scored 172 runs from 10 innings averaging 17.20. Shikhar Dhawan has given Williamson some support scoring 437 runs. the next best is Manish Pandey with 276 runs so one can understand the importance of Williamson and Dhawan to this team. It is obvious Sunrisers’ strength is in their bowling and in Siddarth Kaul, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Rashid Khan, Sandeep Sharma and Shakib Al Hasan, they have quite possibly a bowling attack that can not only limit the opposing team’s ability to score runs but take wickets as well.

The fourth qualifier was another surprise - Rajasthan Royals. In Jos Buttler, the English keeper, they had a player scoring runs heavily and quickly with a strike rate of 155. However, he has returned to England to prepare for the test series against Pakistan, so their chances of moving forward have been severely dented even with the stylish Sanju Samson and skipper Ajinkya Rahane. The Barbadian born pacer Jofra Archer, together with the left arm pacer Jaydev Unadkat has been their wicket leading takers. Any pitch that offers their leg spinners Shreyas Gopal and Ish Sodhi some assistance could lead to them surprising the top three teams.

Of the others Mumbai Indians simply did not score enough runs, Royal Challengers Bangalore depended on Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers with the bat and Umesh Yadav with the ball far too much. Kings XI Punjab was all about KL Rahul and Andrew Tye while Delhi Daredevils wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant was even more sensational with the bat than Williamson scoring a century and 5 half-centuries. All who failed to qualify simply depended on too few players to come good all the time.

Colin Murray

Editor's Note: This column was written before yesterday's second semifinals.


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