Patrick Noone, Freddie Wilde and Ben Jones take a look at the key themes of the week in the IPL.
Kolkata Knight Riders
This Week – Played 2, Won 2 (v RCB & v RR)
KKR will face tougher tests than the two teams they came up against in week two, but the ruthless nature of their two wins will have sent a warning to the rest of the competition that the men in purple mean business this year. Against a beleaguered Royal Challengers Bangalore side, the Knight Riders chased down 206 with five balls to spare thanks to another astonishing display of hitting from Andre Russell. The Jamaican only arrived at the crease in the 16th over, with KKR needing 67 from 24 balls. RCB’s death bowling was admittedly ropey but Russell’s 13-ball onslaught yielded another 48 runs for the standout player of the tournament so far, dragging his side over the line once again. To put the brutality of Russell’s six-hitting into context: by the time his innings at the Chinnaswamy was done, he had struck more than 10% of the tournament’s total amount of sixes. Russell is currently scoring at 18.88 runs per over during the last five overs, the average across all players in this IPL is just 9.47.
However, KKR did not require Russell’s death over hitting against Rajasthan Royals on Sunday as Chris Lynn and Sunil Narine put on comfortably their best partnership of the season, smashing 91 in 8.3 overs as the Knight Riders easily chased down 140, receiving a welcome net run rate boost in the process. Lynn’s return to form will be most welcome for KKR; the Australian had struggled to get going to in the first three matches, but his 43 against RCB, followed by a 32-ball 50 against Rajasthan means that KKR now have in-form batsmen at both ends of the innings. Their Powerplay run rate is the highest in the competition and, with Russell ready to unleash at the death, it is hard to see much of a weakness in KKR’s batting line up if this form continues.
With the ball, KKR made their first change of the season when Harry Gurney replaced Lockie Ferguson in Jaipur. It was a move that paid off as the Englishman returned figures of 2-21 from his four overs. Ferguson can perhaps consider himself a little unlucky – only three seamers in the competition have drawn a higher false shot percentage than the Kiwi quick, but he was going at 10.55 runs per over and there is little doubt that Gurney’s left-arm angle, coupled with his ability to bowl at the death make KKR’s attack more threatening.
The only concern for KKR has been the form of Sunil Narine with the ball. Last season’s MVP has taken just one wicket from four innings and his economy rate of 8.23 is significantly higher than any previous IPL season he’s featured in. With two huge games against fellow table-toppers Chennai Super Kings this week, KKR could do with their mystery spinner rediscovering his mojo, especially on the spin-friendly surface at the Chepauk.
Next Week – v CSK (A), v DC (H), v CSK (H)
Chennai Super Kings
This Week – Played 2, Won 1 (v KXIP), Lost 1 (v MI)
The defending champions suffered a first defeat of the season at the Wankhede Stadium as Mumbai Indians proved too strong for them on the day. That was a momentary blip as they responded with a convincing win over Kings XI Punjab in their next match. The defeat to Mumbai was notable for the fact that the surface prevented Chennai from overloading their bowling with spinners, a tactic that had defined their three previous wins. Harbhajan Singh was left out in favour of Mohit Sharma, only six overs were bowled by spinners and they were unable to apply their usual stranglehold on the innings as Hardik Pandya and Kieron Pollard cut loose in the death overs.
Another aspect of Chennai’s gameplan that was disrupted at the Wankhede was Deepak Chahar not bowling his full allocation at the top of the innings. Suryakumar Yadav struck three successive fours off him in his third over and MS Dhoni was forced to withdraw him from the attack early for the first time this season. Dwayne Bravo’s injury was another blow to Chennai’s plans, though Scott Kuggeleijn’s performance against Kings XI was illustrative of the Super Kings’ strength in depth. The New Zealander picked up 2-37 on his IPL debut, demonstrating an effective short ball that accounted for KL Rahul. Kuggeleijn is a different type of bowler to Bravo, and offers less with the bat, but Chennai are showing that they are able to find ways to adapt and win games even once their Plan A has been disrupted.
With the bat, Shane Watson’s form remains a concern at the top of the order – the Australian has only once passed 30 this season – but Chennai were boosted by the inclusion of Faf du Plessis in their last outing. The South African skipper crashed 54 from 38 balls as Ambati Rayudu was shunted down the order to accommodate him. It was a marked improvement for Chennai’s first wicket partnership which, up until that point had not passed 21.
It was a week in which a few chinks in Chennai’s armour were identified, but they have been able to find answers to just about every problem they’ve faced. The upcoming week could be a defining one as they face table-topping Kolkata Knight Riders both home and away.
Next Week – v KKR (H), v RR (A), v KKR (A)
Kings XI Punjab
This Week – Played 3, Won 2 (v DC, v SRH) Lost 1 (v CSK)
Despite being predicted to struggle by many pundits, Kings XI have been one of the stronger teams in this year’s IPL. Part of that has been the form of KL Rahul, who despite struggling in international cricket over the last 12 months has found himself in good nick just at the right time, in IPL terms. 217 runs with a dismissal rate of 44 is a dominating start to the competition. What’s particularly of note though is how his scoring rate has plummeted from previous years; this season he’s scoring at 7.35rpo, compared to 9.51rpo last year, and 8.78rpo in 2017. Rahul is also attacking a lot less – just 38% of his balls faced have been attacked this season, well down on an average of 55% over the last two years. His role has changed. Kings XI are happier for him to play a more secure, cautious role (which he has been, given that just 10% of his strokes have led to a false shot, his lowest ever for a season) and then partner him with a more aggressive batsman, either Chris Gayle or using Sam Curran as a pinch-hitter.
Because he’s not played anything as devastating as Andre Russell’s seemingly nightly pyrotechnics, Rahul has gone under the radar, but the effect he’s had on Kings XI is significant. His caution at the top allows the team to preserve wickets, and accelerate in the middle, which they duly have done. A scoring rate of 8.96rpo in Overs 7-15 is the joint best in the tournament, and Kings XI match it with a dismissal rate of 54, easily the best of the eight teams.
Powerplay bowling has been an issue for Ashwin’s side, recording the worst economy rate in the competition, and a mediocre strike rate of 43.4. Extremely concerning is the performance of AJ Tye; the Australian was a phenomenon last year, winner of the Purple Cap and an excellent all-round threat, but this year has struggled. His economy of 11.66rpo in the Powerplay – and with no wickets – is a cause for worry on the Kings XI benches.
Next Week – MI (A), RCB (H)
This Week – Played 3, Won 1 (v DC) Lost 2 (v KXIP, v MI)
After an explosive start to the tournament, led by the batting of Jonny Bairstow and David Warner, Sunrisers have returned to something more like their old selves – but not in a good way. Bowled out for 96 by Mumbai Indians was a real dent to early season success, and then following it up with defeat to Kings XI, unable to defend a middling total, will have been frustrating.
They have still found success in some places. Their economy rate at the top of the innings has been excellent, almost down to below a run-a-ball. They have backed that up with an economy of 6.98rpo in the middle overs, maintaining their reputation as a bowling team – but it ends there. At the death, they have conceded runs at 10.8rpo, a record only beaten by Rajasthan Royals. Whilst some of that will be scarring left by Andre Russell’s magnificent win on the opening weekend, it does reflect a worrying trend – the issues surrounding Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Previously regarded as the premier death bowler in Indian cricket, he has gone the distance so far this season, conceding runs at a whopping 13.55rpo. Sunrisers will still be happy to push teams to the end of the innings, and they do still have an attack capable of limiting the opposition, but when your gun seamer is so off his game, that affects the team substantially.
However, whilst it’s been a tough week, you’d back Sunrisers to come out of this slump in the next few matches. They have played just 17% false shots, a remarkable level of control achieved given their broadly aggressive approach this year, and in David Warner have a man in excellent form at the top of the order. The issue they need to resolve is the overseas balance in the window before the World Cup exodus. Mohammed Nabi has been a comprehensive success (his Overall CricViz Impact of 17.3 is the third best in the competition), and thus Shakib-al-Hasan has been left out, but when Williamson returns they will have to drop one of Rashid Khan, Warner or Bairstow – and that isn’t going to happen, realistically. Sunrisers may need to find more overs from someone like Vijay Shankar, who is far more of a batting all-rounder, if they are going to crowbar Williamson back into the line-up.
Next Week – DC (H)
This Week – Played 2, Won 2 (v CSK & v SRH), Lost 0
Mumbai got their season on track this week after an underwhelming start that saw them win one of their first three matches. It serves as particular cause for encouragement that both victories came against strong teams in the top half of the points table: CSK at home and SRH away.
Both MI’s wins this week were founded on the strength of their bowling attack – a reason for optimism for Rohit Sharma’s team after their early season was derailed by injuries and availability issues surrounding their quick bowlers – most notably Adam Milne and Lasith Malinga.
MI’s bowling performances were led by two IPL debutants – Jason Behrendorff against CSK and Alzarri Joseph against SRH. Behrendorff’s performance in particular, against a strong CSK top order was excellent – his early wickets derailed a middling chase and set MI on the way to a comfortable victory. Joseph’s performance – finishing with 6 for 12 – was clearly worth of Man of the Match and provides MI’s overseas pace bowling with enviable depth. However, it was arguably the performance of Rahul Chahar – who took 2 for 21 in his four overs and help choke SRH’s middle order that was arguably more significant. MI’s squad is without a frontline attacking wrist spinner, with Mayank Markande and Chahar competing for a spot in the team this season. Chahar’s excellent performance was very encouraging for MI. No team has bowled fewer spin overs than Mumbai this season and that is unlikely to change given their pace-strength, but additional spin firepower in the form of Chahar – if he were to continue his current form – would be a key piece of Mumbai’s puzzle.
The form of Yuvraj Singh – which cost him his place in the team against SRH, and Krunal Pandya – who continues to struggle against the short ball, is a major problem for Mumbai. However, this week a return to form for Kieron Pollard – who blitzed 17 not out off 7 balls against CSK and 46 not out off 26 balls against SRH – was very important to arrest to problems facing the middle order. Mumbai have the second lowest balls per wicket in the middle overs of 19.2 but thanks to Pollard and Hardik Pandya – who has been in supreme hitting form – the second best run rate at the death of 11.21 runs per over.
Next Week – v KXIP (H), v RR (H)
This Week – Played 3, Won 1 (v RCB), Lost 2 (v KXIP & v SRH)
A comfortable win and a comfortable defeat in low-scoring matches against RCB and SRH respectively were low-key results in what was a week undeniably defined by Delhi’s implosion against KXIP on Monday. With just 23 required off 21 balls, Delhi’s middle and lower order proceeded to lose seven wickets for eight runs to fall short of the target. It was the second time in three days that Delhi’s lower order had collapsed after doing so against KKR – only for Kagiso Rabada to rescue them in the Super Over.
Delhi’s lower order collapses are likely a consequence of their extremely attacking approach in the death overs which has seen them attack a higher proportion of deliveries than any other team in the league; they also have a lower balls per wicket than any other team in the league. Their defeat against KXIP – a team who may well be a rival for a top four finish – was emblematic of a side who, although brilliantly talented, perhaps are short on experience and leadership in such situations.
The complexities of the T20 format were laid bare in their defeat against SRH when on an admittedly tricky pitch they struggled to pace their innings correctly with Shreyas Iyer and Shikhar Dhawan getting stuck in the middle overs as Delhi limped to 129 for 8 from their 20 overs. Delhi’s top four is marked by the contrast between the aggression of Prithvi Shaw and Rishabh Pant and the relative caution of Iyer and Dhawan. When the latter pair are batting together there is a concern that Delhi lack the firepower to keep pace with modern T20 batting. So far this season when they have batted together they have scored at just 7.19 runs per over.
Delhi’s week was improved by a win on Sunday against a struggling RCB. The management deserve credit for sticking with the same team despite the convincing defeat against SRH on Thursday and the players returned the favour with a solid performance. Rabada and Chris Morris are proving to be excellent attack leaders and are being well complimented by their Indian spinners. Even another late order collapse could not stop them chasing RCB’s below par total down. Away matches this week against KKR and SRH make for a tough upcoming week.
Next Week – v KKR (A), v SRH (A)
This Week – Played 2, Won 1 (v RCB), Lost 1 (v KKR)
An important milestone for Ajinkya Rahane and co this week, as Rajasthan registered their first win of the season, coming out on top against RCB. Right now that isn’t saying much, but they appear to have doubled down on a strategy. Their batting has been cautious, both in the Powerplay and in the middle overs, which whilst not being the most thrilling tactic is, at the very least, a plan. The selection of Rahane and Steve Smith rather dictates this strategy, given that both are naturally more conservative players. It gives them stability, as shown in the scatter below; only Sunrisers Hyderabad lose wickets more rarely in the first six overs.
At the top of the order, Jos Buttler is still being tasked with the bulk of the Powerplay scoring – he has attacked 59% of deliveries he’s faced in that period, the most of any Rajasthan Royals batsman, considerably more than Rahane (41%) and Smith (43%). The idea is clearly for Buttler to go hard at the top, then lay foundations for exploding at the death, but whilst their scoring rate at the death is perfectly fine (9.9rpo), it’s not outrageous enough to make up for the go slow earlier.
Their issues with the ball are most obvious at the death as well. Their economy rate of 11.68rpo in the last five overs is comfortably the worst in the tournament. Whilst they do struggle to keep the runs down throughout the innings as a whole (they also have the second worst economy in the middle overs), it’s at the death where the damage has really been done.The performances of Ben Stokes (death economy of 12.25rpo) and Jaydev Unadkat (14.25rpo) have been disastrous, and have put pressure on Rahane to save his only reliable death bowler, Jofra Archer, for those last few overs. This limits his flexibility as a captain, and makes his struggle more understandable.
Next Week – CSK (H), MI (A)
Royal Challengers Bangalore
This Week – Played 3, Won 0, Lost 3 (v RR, v KKR, v DC)
Another week without a win means RCB’s hopes of a top four finish are already in ruin. Typically it takes a minimum of seven wins to qualify for the Play Offs and RCB only have eight matches remaining.
The concern for Bangalore is that they are losing due to both their batting and their bowling – rather than just one department letting them down.
Against RR and DC it was RCB’s batting – which on both occasions posted sub-par totals – that cost them the match. RCB did relatively well to make RR’s chase difficult but DC cruised to the target. In their second match of the week their batting fired to post a very challenging target of 206 for KKR and for the large majority of their defence their bowling kept a lid on KKR’s scoring rate only for one of the all-time great IPL innings by Andre Russell to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
RCB’s problems are reflected in their confused selection with three different opening partnerships in the first six matches and a change from each match to the next except for one.
RCB’s team balance has also been compromised by their insistence on selecting two overseas all rounders with Moeen Ali being joined by one of Colin de Grandhomme or Marcus Stoinis in every match so far this season. With AB de Villiers guaranteed a starting spot their insistence on two overseas players has restricted their choice regarding their fourth overseas player with RCB being forced to choose between the talented batsman Shimron Hetmyer and bowler Tim Southee. Given that RCB have two quality Indian all rounders in Pawan Negi – who belatedly got a game this week – and Washington Sundar – who is yet to play this season, they are arguably not making best use of their resources.
CricViz Match Impact rankings underline the scale of RCB’s struggle this season. The only areas in which they are in the top four ranked teams is in Powerplay batting, batting against pace and spin bowling. They have been the poorest team in the league in terms of overall batting, bowling and fielding.
Next Week – v KXIP (A)