19th May: Sunrisers v Kolkata Knight Riders, 14:30 GMT
16th-20th May: 1st Test, Lord's
The fifth season of the Indian Premier League has just about crossed the halfway mark. And the organizers couldn’t have hoped for better competition. It is simply too close to call, what with second to eighth-placed teams separated by a mere five points. Chetan Narula reports from Delhi.
Delhi Daredevils have set the pace, steamrolling the opposition and belting out eight wins out of ten matches. The IPL rule of thumb is that no one team can dominate for long. There has to be a period of laying low, when a couple of defeats cast doubts in their minds before they pick themselves up again. Chennai Super Kings are slaves to this rule, but the Daredevils seem to be an exception.
This has been achieved by a clever buying strategy in the off-season, strengthening the side with Ross Taylor, Kevin Peitersen and Mahela Jayawardene.
Even in the first three seasons, they were a batting heavy side. But the big buy for them has been Morne Morkel who is leading the attack well and making sure all factors are coming into play for them.
With sixteen points and a run rate that is almost twice that of second-placed Kolkata Knight Riders, they look set to make it to the play-offs. Pietersen’s departure for national duty isn’t about to affect Sehwag’s team. Why? Because David Warner has just arrived.
The Knight Riders haven’t really looked the best of the rest but they have done enough to etch out a gap at the top of the ladder. Three points to Delhi, and three points from third placed Mumbai Indians, they can easily make it to the play-offs. But their form has been too patchy for their own liking, stuttering and sputtering, especially when they are chasing.
The huge negative for them has been Yusuf Pathan, who has just not fired with the bat. The big positive herein is that as per law of averages he is expected to come good shortly and if that is in the business stage of the tournament, it will be even better.
The closed-up competition this year has been courtesy of the big teams, Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai. You feel for their fans who are not used to such average cricket. Until IPL 4, there was no stopping these two teams. This season, patchy work on the cricket field has led to inconsistent performances and huge doubts over their chances of making it to the play-offs. They are placed at third and fifth respectively, which is not too shabby.
But the close competition and their inconsistent form are worrying factors. Win one, lose two, has been their motto so far and their losses at home have hurt deeply.
A major problem with the other teams in contention is that they are primarily one-man armies and this problem becomes a gaping hole in their plans mid-way through the tournament. This is when the stakes are at their highest, probably the most in history of the IPL given how closely bunched all teams are.
But Royal Challengers Bangalore, Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab continue to falter because they rely on individuals rather than team-work.
Chris Gayle, Ajinkya Rahane and Shaun Marsh have done much of the work for these sides so far. But if their teams are to make it to the play-offs, they’re going to need a whole lot of teamwork. Kings XI have made a meal of some big teams recently and their form is getting good.
If Adam Gilchrist recovers towards the end of league stage, it will be an added bonus. There is already good news for Rajasthan then, in that Shane Watson has arrived from the Caribbean.
Pune Warriors have been the big losers. They shot into lead early and those points won in the beginning are keeping them afloat.
But their woes from pre-season have come back to bite them, as a lack of understanding between players, generosity of their bowlers and the absence of a consistent match-winner is hurting Sourav Ganguly’s team now. In a competition that is running closer and closer with every match played, teams can do nothing about losing points to each other.
That is how the run of play is. What they do try and avoid is losing points to the one team that is not in competition anymore. In two weeks, Pune have lost twice to Deccan Chargers, a side that has been poor throughout in batting, bowling and fielding. That factor alone should be enough to cost them a place in the play-offs.
Meanwhile, scoring a hundred in T20 cricket is no mean feat. Not only does it take immense concentration and application to stay at the wicket, but you also have to defy laws of batting and hit out at every possible opportunity.
First it was Rahane and then, two days later, Pietersen joined him in the exclusive list of IPL 5 centurions. In between, Faf du Plessis, Jesse Ryder and Gayle scored aggressive half-centuries, out of which the West Indian bombardier has looked the most dangerous with his new accumulative approach at the beginning of the innings. Surely, these are the three batsmen you could expect the next hundred to come from.
The bowlers aren't lagging behind. Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel have been tearing away with pace, while Shahbaz Nadeem is the new spinner on everyone's mind. But it was one Sourav Ganguly who charged up the whole world's imagination. Two wickets against Delhi at the Kotla and he rolled back the years. That charging run after bowling Pietersen will remain 'the moment' of 2012 IPL.
There have been a few rotten apples as well, mostly falling out from the Mumbai Indians' cupboard. Munaf Patel has been uttering a few choice words every time he has gone out to bowl and his captain Harbhajan Singh has never actually intervened.
The 2011 Champions League T20 winners lie at the bottom of the 'Fair Play' table, while Rajasthan Royals sit at the top.
While the latter's disciplined approach can be attributed to the leadership of one Rahul Dravid, should Harbhajan be blamed for Mumbai's bad behaviour, especially when things aren't going their way?
© Cricket World 2012
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