Due to some COVID restrictions, not every player was available for this first week (I’m going to do my TOTW by week, rather than round, because otherwise I won’t do any uni work!). The South Africa contingent missed the first game, and Jofra Archer is injured. Ben Stokes’ injury adds complications for Rajasthan Royals. Axar Patel and Devdutt Padikkal had to isolate due to COVID concerns and Kane Williamson turned out to be short of match fitness.
Certainly not the start people were expecting. Mumbai Indians, odds-on favourites, were against Royal Challengers Bangalore in Match 1, and lost dramatically due to some serious underperformance from their middle order (one of the best in t20 cricket). Chennai Super Kings showed serious bowling issues, despite having 7 bowlers to choose from. Kolkata Knight Riders showed that their strength in the run up has become their weakness. Punjab Kings’ bowling was predictably under-par and Virat Kohli’s RCB have come good. Plenty to mull over, and few were expecting some of the selections and results that have come. Now to the team of the week:
- Prithvi Shaw – Although outscored by Dhawan, Prithvi comes in for his mental strength and his higher strike rate. Before the season, Ricky Ponting came out with a very insightful interview, saying that Shaw only wants to bat when in form, and refuses to net when he’s not “feeling good”. There were whispers that Shaw doesn’t have the temperament to match his talent after a poor test series in Australia. Shaw responded with destruction. He targeted CSK’s pacers, all of whom have international experience, and hit 72 off just 38 deliveries in a high target chase, making sure it was never in doubt. His powerplay hitting is sublime and when it comes off for Shaw, it looks extraordinary. His CricViz batting impact was 16, opposed to Dhawan’s 7, because he did the early damage, scoring his 72 in just 13 and a half overs. Give Shaw any width to your peril, and Shardul Thakur learned as he got his lines wrong again and again, and as Deepak Chahar learned as his usual game of trying to find the edge punished him. This was a glorious, brutal knock. He didn’t manage it second time round against the Royals, dismissed early by Unadkat, but the promise shown has been great.
- KL Rahul (wk) – Last season’s Orange Cap winner hit the ground running this year, taking advantage of a Rajasthan side that built their team on the basis of Jofra Archer’s fitness. There were worries that he struggles to speed up after the powerplay, but he dispelled these. He started watchfully against Sakariya, but punished Mustafizur Rahman, Chris Morris and Shreyas Gopal, scoring a wonderfully-made 91 off 50 balls to set up a huge total for his team. Clearly the big job of captaincy, wicket-keeping and opening the batting is allowing him to thrive.
- Suryakumar Yadav – Batting 360 degrees isn’t an easy art. Only one other person has the ability to do it as Suryakumar has at the moment, and he’s also in this team. He passed 30 in both his innings, scoring a vital 50 against Kolkata, in which he was comfortably man of the match. After a successful t20I debut series against England, he seems on a mission, and he is currently looking a really good bet for the orange cap. He scores quickly from the start, often looking to find the boundary to potentially ease some nerves, but his easy manipulation of Prasidh Krishna’s relatively average pace (how he got picked for India is beyond me), and Varun Chakaravarthy’s mystery spin showed that he can take advantage of bowling attacks and matchups very effectively. Keep an eye, because he’s a superstar.
- Sanju Samson – When he went for 4 against Delhi, you thought that Rajasthan were out of the game. That is despite the fact that Samson bats 3 and shows his importance to the Rajasthan batting lineup that is built mainly off all-rounders. It’s also because he hit a sparkling hundred in a losing cause. I really felt for Samson in his first game of captaincy. He didn’t do much wrong, and he bowled the right matchups, but his star bowlers bowled poorly to Rahul, Gayle and Hooda, and paid for it. He even took a good catch to dismiss Agarwal. He came in, chasing 222, at 0/1 thanks to Ben Stokes’ tame dismissal, and set about destroying 20 crore worth of IPL auction signings, targeting the high pace of Jhye Richardson (4/0/55/1) and Riley Meredith (4/0/49/1). He hit 7 sixes and his match impact was nearly 3 times the impact of the impact of the next best (KL Rahul) in CricViz’s impact model. Effectively, he almost won a 222 chase on his own. There were worries that his batting might be impacted by his captaincy, but as it stands Rohit Sharma may have to look over his shoulder come the T20 World Cup this year…
- Deepak Hooda – Hooda has flown extraordinarily under the radar in the preamble to this competition. He came in at a strong 89/2 and left at 194/3, striking 64 off 28 balls, falling to a great catch from Riyan Parag (who nearly made this team). He struck 6 sixes in this, and they were not small. Hooda is a primarily leg side batsman, and inexplicably Rajasthan seemed to underestimate that as they set their bowling plans. However, with the fielding Rajasthan have, Hooda needed to take no chances, and he used his power to great effect. The Kings desperately needed a finisher, and Hooda may allow Nicholas Pooran a lot more flexibility to bat as he wants.
- AB de Villiers – Mr 360 is back in the game. The 37 year old has stopped playing international cricket, and thus sometimes isn’t given the credit he deserves. For me he is either the best or the second-best (behind Gayle) t20 batsman of all time, for t20 batting is about more than trophies, but skill, power and tactical nous. Chasing 160 against the best bowling side in the IPL is never an easy task, and at 103/4 Royal Challengers Bangalore didn’t really have much batting behind de Villiers (except Christian, who scored 1). ABD hit 48 off 27 balls, playing the most extraordinary uppercut on 40, as he carefully navigated Jasprit Bumrah and attacked Rahul Chahar (particularly impressive given that leg-spin is his perceived weakness), falling just short but giving the lower order the framework they needed to win comfortably. It was an extraordinarily well-navigated innings. It also helps that he took a good catch to dismiss the dangerous Suryakumar.
- Chris Woakes – Before this tournament, Chris Woakes last played a t20 in 2018. Most were expecting him to be rusty, given his lack of pace and experience in this format, but he made the white ball talk for DC in both his matches. He was underused in the first match, taken off after two fine powerplay overs (replaced by the expensive Ashwin, I am yet to understand why captains feel the need to chop and change so much when you have specialist powerplay bowlers on form), and he took 2/18 off 3 overs while CSK amassed 188. He removed the up-and-coming Ruturaj Gaikwad early with a good outswinger, and bowled a good death over, eventually dismissing Sam Curran (34 off 15) with a good yorker. He then went on to remove Manan Vohra and Jos Buttler early, both with swinging deliveries, taking 2/22 off his 4 overs and showing that he is the only man who can hold his nerve in an tight run chase in that pace bowling attack (Kagiso Rabada, on the upper hand, got some concerning jitters). He also scored a valuable 15* to bring DC to a total they didn’t deserve. One of the standout players of the round, and certainly one who proved me wrong.
- Rashid Khan – Who’s actually surprised by this? Rashid Khan is a wonderful leg-spinner. Unpickable, devious and tricky, and he showcased this all week. Sunrisers were surprisingly beaten by KKR due to a good knock by Nitish Rana, who was unlucky not to make this team, but Rashid dismissed the promising Shubman Gill and the destructive Andre Russell with his clever variations, taking 2/24 off his 4 overs. He was even better against RCB. He dismissed the hugely dangerous AB de Villiers for 1 and completely deceived Washington Sundar, taking 2/18 off his 4. He then took Sunrisers close with 17 (9) in a fairly lost cause. His batting is innovative and criminally underused by Sunrisers, and he should bat above the strangely lethargic Vijay Shankar at the very least. It is Rashid’s 5th IPL now, and no one seems any closer to picking him. He is, for me, the best t20 bowler in the world.
- Harshal Patel – This is potentially the most surprising pick in this team. Last season, Harshal Patel showed that his bowling just sits up. This season, he cleaned out the best middle order in the IPL, dismissing Ishan Kishan, Kieron Pollard and the Pandya brothers on his way to a maiden IPL 5fer. He bowled accurate yorkers and good pace variations. Although his figures did somewhat flatter him (the Mumbai batsmen criminally underrated him), you can’t really argue with a 5fer. Almost to prove it wasn’t a fluke, he took 2/25 off his 4 against Sunrisers, and seems preferred as an option to internationals Washington Sundar and Kyle Jamieson. He comfortably leads the Purple Cap standings, and I wonder how long it will go on.
- Chetan Sakariya – Sakariya has overtaken young gun Kartik Tyagi to start for Rajasthan, to the surprise of many. He looked to be bowling in a different game to the other Rajasthan bowlers against Punjab, bowling tight lines and swinging the new ball, and seems a useful death option as well. He took 3/31 in that game (in 4 overs). The other Rajasthan bowlers took 3/190 off 16. Although he didn’t take wickets against Delhi, he still carried threat and he is partly in my team to showcase my views on his talent.
- Avesh Khan – A formerly expensive seam bowler, Avesh has worked on his accuracy and it has paid dividends. Like Woakes, he was a rare impressive performer against CSK, dismissing key batsman Faf du Plessis for a duck and dismissing the experienced Dhoni for a duck as well, taking 2/23 off his 4 overs. His high pace and accuracy has trumped Rabada’s thus far, and certainly he looks a more valuable option than Tom Curran. I can’t see Ishant and Umesh getting much of a look-in if this is how he continues. He took 3 wickets against Rajasthan, dismissing Miller as the key wicket, but also taking Dube and Parag as he pulled Delhi into a very strong position, one that was lost by Curran, Rabada and Stoinis. He looks a fabulous seamer, much better than some of the India picks of late (see Saini, Siraj, Thakur and Krishna as examples).
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