IPL halfway report: The moves that have made the difference
There have been 18 200-plus team totals in this IPL, already level with the 18 scored last year, the highest for the most such scores in any season
That Rajasthan Royals, Chennai Super Kings and Gujarat Titans were the first three teams to hit the 10-point mark in this Indian Premier League is hardly surprising, considering how balanced their squads looked before the season commenced. But this IPL has also been like no other. There have been 18 200-plus team totals scored in this IPL, already level with the 18 scored in all of the 2022 IPL, the highest for the most such scores in any season.
On the flipside, chasing hasn’t always been easy even though most teams back themselves to come good batting second. The Impact Sub rule has allowed teams to play to their strengths—allowing for more spinners like Amit Mishra, Suyash Sharma and Adam Zampa to bowl freely without keeping themselves awake over batting. Beyond the numbers are also fascinating comebacks and trends, of Ajinkya Rahane as No 3 enforcer, Junior Tendulkar defending 20 runs in the last over and the lower-order steel some teams have relied upon to orchestrate stunning turnarounds. With the IPL reaching the halfway mark, we take a look at some of the moves that have worked so far.
Rahane back, and how
Story of the season, possibly the year. Not in the reckoning for the Test team anymore, dropped from the central contracts list and hardly given any wiggle room to prove he belongs here, Ajinkya Rahane took to this IPL with a zen smile, zero baggage and a gobsmacking range of T20 shots. A match ago, he was sitting on a strike rate of nearly 200. It’s a shade below 190 now.
That average of 44 at No 3 meant Chennai Super Kings were almost always assured a solid bump in the middle overs after openers Devon Conway and Ruturaj Gaikwad did their thing, courtesy Rahane. And it was only because MS Dhoni felt Rahane’s style of batting is best suited for a one-down onslaught. Not only has his strike rate been the talking point of CSK’s campaign, but Rahane’s consistency is also aptly highlighted by the fact that has scored 20.36% of the team’s runs.
CSK’s Lankan imports
Ben Stokes joined the team amid talk he would focus only on his batting. Deepak Chahar returned from injury to be injured again after conceding 94 in nine overs in three matches. Tushar Deshpande was expensive in the first match and CSK’s bowling resources seemed stretched thin across the lines. Ravindra Jadeja, easily one of the best bowlers this IPL, had to be used efficiently so Dhoni turned to his Sri Lankan signings–off-spinner Maheesha Theekshana and medium pacer Matheesha Pathirana to weigh in. They did more than that.
In a high-scoring thriller against RCB, Theekshana tightened the screw before Pathirana defended 19 in the last over. Next match, they were once again effective just when KKR were looking to break free in the chase of 235. They may average more than eight per over, but together they are proving to be a difficult combination to face in the slog overs.
The Siraj factor
Averaging 16.64 runs for each of his 14 wickets, with an economy of 7.38 and striking every 13.7 balls, Mohammed Siraj has proven to be Royal Challengers’ Bangalore’s go-to bowler irrespective of the scenario they find themselves in. With Harshal Patel’s slower balls almost found out and Vijaykumar Vyshak still being eased into the attack, RCB desperately needed one Indian fast bowler to step up to the task of managing the front end and back end of the innings.
This has been quite a turnaround for Siraj, averaging over 10 per over in 2022 but now transformed into a fitter, more aware bowler who can unleash a mean yorker in the death overs. The natural inswinger was always difficult to play in the Powerplay but wielding more control over the wobbled seam variation, Siraj has added another dimension to his new-ball bowling.
Lower order steel
More a trend, and largely successful. And there is no set pattern to it. On days Rinku Singh the anchor recedes into the shade of Rinku Singh the finisher, KKR hit five sixes in the last over. When Mumbai Indians look like once again slipping into a batting coma, Tilak Varma comes in at No 5 to shine with a 46-ball 84 in an innings where the next highest score is 21.
If Shardul Thakur’s 29-ball 68, Nicholas Pooran’s 19-ball 62 and Shimron Hetmyer’s 26-ball 56* are examples of successful turnarounds when all hope was lost, Varma and Jason Roy (61 off 26 against CSK) will tell you not every such innings has a fairytale ending. Point is, it isn’t over till it’s really over. And it’s only making the IPL even more gripping.
Youth in different doses
The highlights reel of this IPL will be a selection of Faf du Plessis, Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Rahane, Siraj and Rinku Singh; as well as Yashashvi Jaiswal, Arjun Tendulkar, Rajvardhan Hangargekar, Dhruv Jurel and Tilak Varma. Young, ambitious and with nothing to lose, the next generation of cricketers have once again shown India is T20 ready. The scrutiny of being Sachin Tendulkar’s son notwithstanding, Arun has already given a fine account of his composure by defending 20 runs in the last over.
Jaiswal endured a mediocre season last year but this year he is a changed man, striking at nearly 150. That Rajasthan Royals are investing in the right talent is also evident from how Jurel has come up the ranks, the 22-year-old smoking 32 in 15 balls against CSK on Thursday. And while talent like Rajvardhan Hangargekar or Yash Dhull haven’t got enough matches to impress, the right backing can make stars out of them.