The thing about the Twenty20 format is that it is impossible to have a consistently long winning or losing run. The game can change in the blink of an eye, which is usually shorter in duration than even one complete over. From what we have witnessed in the last three seasons of the Indian Premier League, no single team has won all its fourteen league matches or indeed lost all of them. Be it at the top of the table or at the bottom of it, teams have found ways to spring surprises in at least two or three games and get some points on the board.
When that happens, there appears to be a trend emerging in the table by the time we cross the halfway stage. It consists of teams falling under various categories or brackets if you may, them being runaway leaders, close contenders, mid-table teams and also-rans. And with near about four weeks of action still to come in the fourth season of the IPL, taking a look at the points table, it is obvious that a particular pattern is very much visible herein.
Last year’s losing finalists, Mumbai Indians started this season like they finished the last one. Retaining four players from their previous squad was key and then they built a new team around it, plugging what they thought were holes that lost them the title in 2010. Their consistency levels can be gauged from the gap of four matches between their two losses. You can say that they would have been the runaway leaders but for their loss at Jaipur. It didn’t cost them much momentum for they bounced back straight away with a win in the next game, but the two points lost brought them within reach of both Chennai Super Kings and Kolkata Knight Riders.
Let’s talk about Chennai first. They were the only other team that retained all four players allowed and, by design or plan, went a step ahead of Mumbai in buying back the nucleus of their previous squad. Logically they should have pummelled the opposition and ran ahead of Sachin Tendulkar’s men. But cricket isn’t explained as easily and therein the oddity of T20 kicks in. In a gap of nine days they lost three out of four games. The loss against Kochi Tuskers Kerala would have hurt most, especially since they beat the other newbie Pune Warriors both home and away with comfortable ease.
However that double-win is precisely the reason why they seem like contenders once again, gaining pace as the tournament moves into high gear. Come to think of it, they never really start very well.
Alternatively, Kolkata Knight Riders more or less got off the mark early. It was in the middle stages that they ran out of steam for three seasons running. But this is a new team, bathed in the confident aggression of a new skipper. Gautam Gambhir’s moment came against Rajasthan Royals at Jaipur when he raised his bat to the team dug-out after a successful chase. He refused to admit that there was a point to prove, but the hints aren’t that subtle.
The crowds are still keeping away from Eden Gardens and they will perhaps return someday, for everything about this team is run on emotion. That Yusuf Pathan hasn’t been called into action much only signals to them having successfully moved above whatever it was that held them back all these years.
Rajasthan Royals are more calculative and the slowest tracks on display in the IPL are but a pointer to it. They have never spent too much in the auctions or outside of them, and Shane Warne prides on local talent doing much of the job for him.
Yet lack of experience at a higher level than they are used to has proved to be a hindrance in the past and the spinner-friendly pitches are just to negate that factor. It does allow them leeway in home games but somewhere down the road they need to prove their form away.
That game was against Royal Challengers Bangalore but it was rained off. And so, by chance, the ball is in Rajasthan’s court. Their match on May 11 might have quite a bearing on who will finish fourth in the table. At the current stage, Bangalore have played one game less and that evens things up a bit. But they play both Chennai and Kolkata at home besides Kochi and Kings XI Punjab, and four points from this list could be apt for them. Their away form will again be crucial. More so because they will go to Kochi and Mumbai, and playing the former twice in their last six games might be another part of the jigsaw.
For, outside of the top five teams, the mid-table battle is between Kochi, Kings XI and Deccan Chargers. At the time of writing, Deccan were busy jousting with Kolkata and could well be out of this bracket by the end of the night. Having said that, a realistic chance of punching above their weight lies only with the first two names! Kings have played two matches less than Kochi and Rajasthan, and mathematically sit on ten points from their current six. It would be easier said than done for they play Mumbai and Bangalore twice, and Kochi once in their remaining games. The scheduling could really come to them or go away equally quickly.
It leaves Delhi Daredevils and Pune Warriors to talk about. Delhi aren’t in the bottom two at the moment but that is down to factors such as fixtures and pitches. On paper, they are the one team that lacks both in batting and bowling prowess, and for once that has become apparent on the field. Alternately, the players’ auction suggested that there was some intelligence about the squad they chose. And truth be told, Pune are a better team that their current last spot. But maybe they too need a factor to rejuvenate their wares, despite a top-four spot being a remote possibility. The return of one Sourav Ganguly might just be the tonic!
© Cricket World 2011