Chetan Narula reflects on the third week of the Indian Premier League 2014, and one that saw the Rajasthan Royals make an impressive return to 'home' soil.
Team of the Week
With three wins in the last seven days, the Rajasthan Royals have made a steady climb up the table.
Add to it the simple fact that the IPL has returned to India and the change in setting will have upset some teams. But not Rajasthan, who despite deploying young and inexperienced talent have beaten the Kolkata Knight Riders twice and the Delhi Daredevils in between with relative ease.
Their first win against Kolkata - still in the UAE - was a heart-stopping match since it was the first game of this season to be decided by Super Over. And even then, a result wasn’t obtained on the pitch, with Kolkata losing out on boundary count.
They made sure that no such thing happened in the return game at Ahmedabad, winning by a narrow 10 runs albeit more comfortably than their previous win over the same opposition. In comparison, beating the Daredevils was no cause for concern, mauling them in their own den at the Feroz Shah Kotla by seven wickets.
Rajasthan are the quintessential IPL team. When the idea was first mooted in 2008, the onus was on franchises to include only four foreign players and then achieve an optimum balance between Indian international and domestic players.
In the hunger for success, most other teams have made sure that very few youngsters get a chance. But not the Royals, who not only experiment with new names every season but also reward those who perform with more responsibility and trust in their abilities.
This process began with Shane Warne, was handed down to Rahul Dravid and now continues under Shane Watson, a most heartening point to note.
Player of the Week
For a second season running, AB de Villiers manhandled the best fast bowler in the world, Dale Steyn.
His assault on Sunday night meant that the Royal Challengers Bangalore recorded an improbable win over the Sunrisers Hyderabad and broke their run of poor form.
However, the outstanding player of this week belonged to Rajasthan again. Steve Smith showed such calmness in the Super Over leaving those watching astounded. In the heat of the moment, under intense pressure, he remembered the simplest point that a boundary wasn’t needed. A mere tap would be enough and he did so. How many batsmen would have been able to judge that?
Disappointment of the Week
In the last seven days, three teams have seen their challenges falter. Among them, Kolkata have lost most of all, three out of three games. Delhi have lost two at home and that will hurt because away games are never easy as they will be on the road soon enough.
But it is Bangalore’s downfall that is most disappointing. Chris Gayle hasn’t made his presence felt, Yuvraj Singh is a shadow of his former self, Virat Kohli looks a little out of touch for once and de Villiers bats too late in the order to make a contribution in every single game.
They are still languishing at fourth spot in the table but need to improve a lot if this batting line-up is to make a mark on this tournament, as claimed by their skipper time and again.
Best of the Rest
Bangalore’s inconsistency means that they still within the grasp of teams behind them. And this is very dangerous for them because all four remaining teams have reached four points each (at the time of writing).
That leaves them with just two points to scale as opposed to the Challengers’ six points and any difference in run-rate can be adjusted thereafter.
As such then, it cannot be stated with confidence which teams out of the Mumbai Indians, Kolkata, Hyderabad or Delhi have fallen behind in this melee.
What can be said with some certainty is that Mumbai have made a step up after their nightmarish start in the UAE. Playing at the Wankhede stadium has given them enough confidence to register two wins against the high-flying Kings XI Punjab and Bangalore afterwards.
Their batting order may still not be looking solid, but at least it has given them some momentum going ahead. Mumbai have three more matches to play at home, out of their remaining seven games, and this is where the battle for the fourth spot could heat up.
The advantage then perhaps lies with Kolkata because they haven’t yet played at the Eden Gardens. They are slowly building up momentum and their batsmen are gaining form ahead of the four matches to be played at their home ground from May 14 onwards.
Meanwhile, Bangalore too have four matches remaining at the Chinnaswamy stadium and this battle to gain advantage on home turf could be the eventual decider for the fourth spot in the table.
© Cricket World 2014