This blog post must, to be precise, be considered as relevant to the second half of the IPL that is about to conclude in UAE. Already, the first half that took place in India in April – May has become a distant memory. All I remember is that Chennai Super Kings (CSK) was already dominant. All other teams were struggling. Royal Challengers Bengaluru (RCB) and Delhi Capitals (DC) were doing alright. That is my recollection of the first half.
Now, let us start with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). They must be keeping their fingers crossed and hoping that tomorrow’s final match passes off well and that they can heave a sigh of relief that one more season is behind them. There is more money on the way with two more teams and all auctions being fully open. There is a lot of money in this tournament for all concerned and where it is being generated is through television and on-ground advertising rights. Well, consumer marketing is about converting wants into needs and creating needs where none exists. It is all about perceptions. It is a world of illusion. So is money and so is IPL itself. It fits in rather well with the era of Non-Fungible Tokens and artists and sculptors selling non-existent paintings and sculptures.
Today’s Bloomberg – online edition – has a story on Bollywood getting in behind bitcoin. Bollywood is behind IPL as well. So, it fits.
This is the backdrop to IPL. Well, to be fair to IPL, everything is an illusion to some Advaitic teachers. It is all one huge theatre. So what is wrong with having mini-theatres inside this huge theatre?
With that philosophical rambling out of the way, let us address ‘real’ issues.
Tomorrow’ match might turn out to be the final competitive cricket that MS Dhoni plays, Notwithstanding his five-ball heroics against Delhi Capitals, it has been a forgettable two years for him in the IPL. Time has caught up with him. No shame in that. He can sign off on a high. I hope he does. I was fortunate to have watched his last World Cup innings against New Zealand at the Old Trafford in person. His six off Lockie Ferguson would remain etched in memory. The ball hit the billboards on the point boundary in a fraction of a second after it left the bat. Such was the power and timing. He almost saw India through but for a brilliant run out by Martin Guptill. So long.
Talking of captains, we had Virat Kohli stepping down as captain of RCB. Apparently, some have called the move, ‘selfish’ on social media. I don’t think so. He is entirely right to focus on his core competence – batting. Captaining the Indian side in all three formats and his IPL franchise, especially in the last two Covid-infested years must have been a big burden on him. Well, it has been a big burden to some others. In his comments on Kohli’s decision, AB de Villiers has defended it. He is right.
In his post-match interview after the defeat to KKR, Kohli mostly hit the right notes. Of course, he sounded rather idealistic by saying that his loyalty to his franchise would remain until he gave up playing in IPL and that other considerations would not influence him. In a truly commercial entertainment complex that IPL is, such sentiments do not necessarily sound very moving. Here is the link to his special remarks posted on RCB YouTube page.
His decision to bowl Dan Christian overlooking Shahbaz Ahmed was a strange one. That one over cost RCB the match. Kohli might have been miffed that Shahbaz dropped a simple chance in the outfield. Anyway, RCB overall had a season to be proud of. We will come to specific players later. Let us stay with captains.
Another captain who signed off or was forced to sign off was David Warner. He was dropped unceremoniously after about two matches in the UAE leg. He seems hurt. Based on public accounts of his being dropped, it does seem that the episode has not been handled gracefully. Of course, we do not know the other side of the story. Letting go of someone for non-performance is not easy because it is difficult to tell someone on their face that they are no good. But, the more difficult it is to pull off in person, the more awkward and bitter it is to do it any other way. So, better to have a nice, open and graceful conversation, as quickly as possible. Such interactions need preparations and rehearsing too. Nothing wrong with that.
Of course, the pull of the (money in the) tournament is evident in the anxiety with which David Warner announces his battle-readiness for a few more years and even to captain another side!
Staying with captains, my somewhat-less-strongly held view is that both Sanju Samson and Rishabh Pant are not yet ready for the burden of captaincy. It may be affecting their batting. Sanju’s record does not reflect that possibility yet, of course. When he gets going, Sanju does make batting look easy. Amazing talent, still. But, the consistency is still missing although he showed some signs of it this year, only to fade away towards the end.
But, in both cases, the impression I get is that they are neither old nor experienced enough to be big motivators and hence be able to lift their team. That is based on what I saw on the ground.
In fact, Rishabh Pant may have been sorted out by bowlers and analysts from opposing teams. After his Australian and Indian heorics, he has been rather mediocre throughout the English summer and that has continued in IPL too. Check out his average and strike rate in IPL since the brilliant year he had in 2018. His shot selection too has been questionable, on several occasions. No doubt his wicket keeping has improved leaps and bounds. But, it may not be out of place to ask if India should prepare another wicket-keeper-batsman to take over or have KL Rahul keep wickets in ODIs and T20s, thus opening up the place for an all-rounder or batsman or bowler as the situation demanded.
Another person who appears to have been sorted out by bowlers is Hardik Pandya. If his batting has been thus bottled and his bowling now a remote possibility, then his place in the Indian team and in the franchise must be seriously reconsidered.
In a way, this IPL season has thrown up some worries about India’s batting talent pool. Ok, it was admirable to see KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma come good in the seaming and swinging conditions in England. In fact, the latter far more than the former did. Only Virat Kohli had shown adaptability across all three formats. Rohit is now almost there or already there. KL Rahul is closely behind. That is good news. Virat Kohli and Pujara are not entirely stuck in the deep end of the pool because they had good starts. Pujara, in fact, scored more runs and averaged better than Kohli in the Test series against England. Ajinkya seems like he needs time out temporarily or more permanently than that.
But, what about the younger talent? That is where the worries surface. Shubman has had a mostly forgettable year after his Australia exploits. Even in India, he failed to impress. It is a small consolation that he began to look better organised in the last few matches in IPL 2021. But, his temperament and technique against the moving ball are yet to be established.
Some of the younger batters who, I thought, would consolidate their promising reputation of 2020, have had a more difficult year. In particular, I think Riyan Parag and Priyam Garg have not gotten too many opportunities to spend time in the middle or, whenever they got such opportunities, they did not cash in on them well. Both Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad had gotten into such situations in which both these young batsmen had enough overs to display their technique and temperament. They did not grab them. Same goes for Abhishek Sharma and Shivam Dube although he is a bit older than the other three.
Manish Pandey is some sort of a mystery. Only in the final match, when nothing was at stake – it was not even remotely possible to win that match – did his strike rate impress, as a batsman. Why is he bogged down? To me, it remains a mystery,
Harsha Bhogle mentioned that it is good to see India have three young left-handed opening batsmen – Devdutt Padikkal, Yashasvi Jaiswal and Venkatesh Iyer. Of the three, Padikkal appears more accomplished although all three of them are yet to be tested against genuinely quick short-pitched bowling without field placement restrictions. Venkatesh Iyer hits through the line cleanly but his feet movement (or, the lack of them) is a worry. Surprisingly, Delhi Capitals’ pacers did not test him with short-pitched stuff in their elimination match on the 13th October. Jaiswal had a better outing this year in IPL than last year. But, he has to mature. He is a good talent, however.
The bowling front looks much more promising for India. We have Chetan Sakariya, Harshal Patel, Ravi Bishnoi, Arshadeep, Avesh Khan and the new kid on the block Umran Malik who bowls very fast. Harshal’s slower ones are so well disguised that his wickets cannot be deemed fluke. He has come back strongly after the pasting he got from Ravindra Jadeja in the India leg of IPL 2021. That is impressive. Good to see too, the return to form of Yuzvendra Chahal. One who has made very impressive strides is Mohammed Siraj. Shami has been steady and Bhuvanesh Kumar is a bit of a worry, both on form and fitness. Shardul Thakur acquitted himself rather well, except in one match. Overall, the bowling cupboard seems well stocked, compared to the batting cupboard.
Ravichandran Ashwin, who got shabby treatment in the hands of Shastri and Kohli in the England Test series seemed to be overly strung in his IPL matches. He seemed too tense and too eager to prove himself. In the process, his bowling performance was not as impressively consistent as it could have been. Overall, he did not have a bad second half but I expected it to be a lot better. His fielding lapses have proved costly. He dropped relatively straightforward catches – one against RCB and one against KKR in the eliminator. So did Axar Patel, with his misfielding in the match against RCB.
Perhaps, the Delhi Capital cricketers got too tired in the heat after repeated outings or that they lacked the fire. Even the usually reliable Shreyas Iyer misfielded in the match against KKR although he took a stunning catch in the match against CSK.
It is striking that with the possible exception of Glenn Maxwell and Shimron Hetmeyer, most overseas players had forgettable outings in IPL 2021, esp. in the second half. Ok, Faf and ABV shone in the first half and Faf had a great outing in the match against Punjab Kings too. But, among the top run-getters and wicket-takers, there are mostly Indian names. It is a good thing.
Kagiso Rabada has begun to go for plenty in his overs. In other words, he is not as consistently reliable as he used to be. That was evident last year too. We have to wait and see if Jofra Archer retains his pace and frugality when he returns to IPL, if he does. Even Nortje who had a better outing than Rabada had, for Delhi Capitals, went for plenty in the match against Chennai and against KKR, by his standards, at nearly 8 runs per over. More than the average economy rate, in critical overs towards the end, he got taken for 13-14 runs.
Delhi Capitals played Tom Curran in the match against CSK and he got to deliver the final over which sealed the match in favour of CSK. Now, if anyone had watched his bowling performance last year for RR, he would not have been given the ball for the 20th over. No matter how inconsistent Rabada had become, he should have been trusted with the 20th over. In the end, Rabada bowled only 3 out of his 4 overs against CSK. He did rather well against KKR in the eliminator – even better than Nortje.
AB de Villiers did not shine with the bat in the UAE leg. Nicholas Pooran was at least more consistent than him! That is, he failed in both the India and the UAE legs of 2021 IPL as he did in 2020 in UAE. Some of his shots were hard to understand. It is doubtful if Punjab Kings would retain him for the next season. It will also be interesting to see if ABV retains his place with RCB. A commentator said, on television, that Kohli consulted Maxwell more than he consulted ABV, this year. Oh, well.
Andre Russell has shone only briefly both in 2020 and in 2021. Kieran Pollard has had a forgettable year, for the most part. Eoin Morgan has had such a lean trot that he must be hoping that he comes well in the finals on the 15th October thus getting into the right frame of mind for the T-20 World Cup. As a captain, it is difficult to command respect from fellow players unless one can keep his place in the team on the strength of their bowling or batting. Fielding somehow does not matter that much in that sense.
It was very interesting to watch Avesh Khan’s triumphant smile in the final over against RCB’s Shrikar Bharata turn into a frown when the latter pumped him for a six off the last ball to win the match for RCB. Then, in the next match, he went for plenty against CSK. It was good for India that he came back into form in the match against KKR, although in a losing cause. Better to let your deeds talk.
On that note, I think being benched would do or should do a world of good for Prasidh Krishna. His no-balls are most unprofessional in this format. Plus, he seems prone to lose his marbles and cool a little too easily. He needs to mature.
I was personally disappointed to see T. Natarajan not get a chance. Ever since he returned triumphantly from Australia, it has been a rough year for him. I hope that he has another 2-4 years of cricket left in him and that fitness allows him to play for that long. Pity.
Similarly, Karthik Tyagi impressed last year and was picked as a good net bowler in Australia. He has pace and a big heart but he needs to become a bit more stingy with his economy rate. Of course, he went into the record books with his last over, defending 6 runs and beating Punjab Kings. He was lucky with one wide call, however. Nonetheless, that was a great final over for a young bowler, something that Tom Curran could not do against Dhoni – yes, different day and a different pitch.
But, what is it with Rajasthan Royals against Punjab Kings? Last year, they plucked victory from the jaws of defeat thanks to Rahul Tewatia and this year, it was Karthik Tyagi again taking the match out of Punjab Kings’ hands off the last over. These are my two most favourite teams in IPL and one of them happens to inflict some serious raw wound on the other.
I feel sorry for KL, my most favourite cricketer in the Indian team. Incidentally, do any of us pick bowlers as our favourite cricketers? How many do so? Must be a small number. Why is that so? Why is cricket a batsman’s game?
KL’s phenomenal hitting against CSK is something that I only watched later. I decided to get on with some chores and watch the last four to five overs, thinking that Punjab Kings would make heavy weather of it, as usual. But when I tuned in late, the match had finished in the 13th over.
Punjab’s problem is that their overseas players – in the last two years – Maxwell, Gayle and Pooran have disappointed with their batting. Markram shows some promise as does Fabian Allen. Let us see in 2022.
I will also be happy to see Sunrisers Hyderabad turn it around next year. Both Kane Williamson and Rashid Khan – stars from yesteryears – did not have a great season in 2021.
Personally, I am glad that it is not one more year of Mumbai Indians lifting the IPL Trophy. They were a bit tame and confused throughout this season. The main reason is that their two star batsmen of 2021 – Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav (SKY) – did not perform well this year. Both came good in their final match but that was not enough. But, for the sake of India, I hope SKY does well. He can actually be a free-stroking middle order bat for the Indian Test side too. He can come in place of Pant if KL Rahul keeps wickets in test matches too! Why not?
Tomorrow is the final of the tournament. CSK are the favourites to win. I do not have a preference. Ruturaj Gaekwad has been sublime in his batting. 600+ runs in a season is no mean achievement. For the most part, he plays cricketing shots. But, I hope he is tested by Lockie with some good, pacy and short-pitched bowling and that he comes good too. That would be good for Indian cricket.
One of the minor delights of this year’s IPL has been the ability to listen to Dinesh Karthik’s running commentary from behind the stumps, coaching Varun Chakravarthy every ball, in Tamil. I wish commentators would stop talking then and let us listen to Karthik’s take on the batsmen and their ability to read Varun. More often, they have not been able to do so. Varun has had a very good year with the ball.
Overall, the low-bounce and slow pitches of Sharjah has made cricket more absorbing to watch with the par score being 130 and with 140 being a good score. 150 is almost a winning score. That is a big change from commentators pushing the par score up to 160 with 180 being a formidable score and 200 being a winning total.
I am glad that even this big-hitting tournament created some room for bowlers in the UAE leg. That is the most gratifying thing about the second leg of IPL 2021.