The Indian Premier League (IPL) is scheduled to restart on Sunday, 19h of September and the tournament stands almost halfway through the 56-match round robin stage with 29 matches played so far.
With a considerable four-and-a-half-month gap, changes in team structures due to players opting out, the top four spots are far from being a foregone conclusion. Although the current top four teams do seem the strongest, there remains ample opportunity for the mid-placed teams in Rajasthan Royals, Punjab Kings and Kolkata Knight Riders to make a difference.
A team in the making, Rajasthan Royals
After two dismal seasons finishing seventh in 2019 and eighth in 2020, Rajasthan Royals (RR) have been busy changing the make up of their side, appointing a new captain in Sanju Samson and getting on Kumar Sangakkara as Director of Cricket.
The ambitious changes have profoundly impacted the team for the better, currently standing fifth in the points table with three wins under their belt.
Packed with an improved Indian contingent with left-arm medium-pacers Chetan Sakariya and Jaydev Unadkat rolling their arms well, promising youngsters Riyan Parag and Yashasvi Jaiswal along with trademark big impact overseas players, RR are steadily improving.
Sanju Samson has been leading from the front, scoring 277 runs at an average of 46 and a strike rate of 146 in the seven matches played. His consistency at the top has been key to the team along with Chris Morris’ contribution of 14 wickets, the joint second-highest in the season.
A number of changes with Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer and Andrew Tye all being rendered unavailable for the second stint, RR have found capable replacements in Liam Livingstone, Glenn Phillips, Evin Lewis, Oshane Thomas and Tabraiz Shamsi. With a number of them riding wave of good form, RR despite huge absences should work well going into the second-half.
Kumar Sangakkara, speaking to IANS spoke about the same mentioning, “We’ve also had new signings in Shamsi, Evin Lewis, Glenn Phillips, Oshane Thomas and then Liam Livingstone is back which is a great thing. I think we have a really good squad which gives us the option of going with various combinations. I am happy to see that players are really looking forward to it."
While skipper Sanju Samson, ahead of the tournament’s second phase, stated his intentions clearly. “The goal is definitely to win the championship. But we focus on our process, we focus on our preparation and we take one match at a time. We give everything. (It) doesn’t matter if we end up again at number 8 position but I want everyone to go full out,” Samson said in a video shared by the franchise on their social media handles.
With three wins in eight matches, the Punjab Kings (PBKS) are just about hanging on. KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal and Chris Gayle’s top-order batting has been the team’s redeeming grace across the first half, while their middle-order’s pale performances clubbed with overseas recruits failing to make any impact have resulted in them being placed sixth in the points table.
With three batting collapses in the eight games played, Rahul and Mayank have been forced to bat conservatively resulting in low run rates of under seven in the powerplay and below the tournament average.
Although KL Rahul stands second in the tally of highest run scores with 331 at an outstanding average of 66, King’s bowling cartel buys of Chris Jordan, Riley Meredith and Jhye Richardson were averaging a contrastingly ridiculous 40.22 at a profligate economy of 9.78 in the first phase.
Dawid Malan, Riley Meredith and Jhye Richardson have opted out of the remainder of the season and Aiden Markram, Nathan Ellis and Adil Rashid have been named as their replacement. Inclusion of Adil, a well-established white ball cricketer with recent good performances in The Hundred, should benefit the side.
With six games left for PBKS, they will need to win at least four more to get to the playoffs but one must feel like a lot has to go right for the team to be able to turn out such results.
Riding the lows, Kolkata Knight Riders
Despite a formidable team with good overall balance on paper, Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) are struggling to put together complete performances to get over the line. Finishing the first half of the season at four points with two wins and five losses, not a lot is going right in the team’s favour.
The top order comprising of Gill-Rana-Tripathi, despite being fabulous players in their own right, have batted too slowly with a strike rate below 120 in the powerplay overs. Moreover, none of their batsmen are among the top ten run-getters in the season and their bowling arsenal has struggled to take wickets at consistent intervals.
Pat Cummins has been the standout player with nine wickets and has also chipped in with crucial contributions in terms of lower-order runs but him pulling out for the remainder of the season is a big blow to an already struggling side. The highly experienced New Zealand seamer Tim Southee has been named as his replacement.
Andre Russell’s Caribbean Premier League (CPL) form should work as a plus for the team while there will be pressure on spinners Varun Chakravarthy and Sunil Narine to perform well in the second stint.
KKR have the means to put in better performances but with only four points on the table in a highly competitive tournament, making it to the play-offs will be an uphill task.
Shubman Gill, however, has optimistic views for the second half of the tournament. "I think a break was really important. Sometimes such things happen that you don't expect. I think we are very much in the contention to finish in the top four. Whichever team qualifies, you never know what will happen. So, hopefully we will win the remaining matches, make sure we qualify and then we'll see where we go from there," he said on KKR's official website.
The IPL resumes with the El Classico between Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on September 19.