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CricViz Analysis: Aaron Finch’s Resurgence

Ben Jones analyses the return to form of the Australian opener.

There’s a funny difference in mentality between the cricketing cultures of England and Australia. Eoin Morgan’s England side haven’t lost an ODI series at home since 2015, and have all but swept the board over the last two years, but the default position for most England fans is nervous concern ahead of the World Cup. “Is there enough bowling? What if the pitches are slow turners? Will we choke in the semis again?”

By contrast, Australia have been abysmal in ODI cricket for more than a year, and yet two series wins against India and Pakistan sides rotating as they attempt to find combinations ahead of the World Cup has seen optimism soar. “Best attack in the competition; they’ve got that tournament nous, built in; as good a chance as any other side”. It’s interesting how a culture so used to winning can always see a route back to the top.

Australian cricket’s refusal to accept mediocrity is infectious and usually well-meaning, but it translates into the mainstream coverage of the game, into much of the discussion around the national team. They are presented as either no-hopers, or world-beaters. Most notably in recent times, it has translated into the treatment of Aaron Finch.

It’s reasonable to say that Finch is a notch below ODI greatness. He is inconsistent, and flawed, but prolific and devastating when he hits his stride. On the one hand, only 16 Australians have made more ODI runs than Finch; on the other, his average is worse than all but four of them. Equally, he has 13 centuries in this format of the game, and the four Australians with more have all played more matches than him. In the history of Australian ODI cricket, no batsman has ever made three centuries in three consecutive innings, but few will get closer than Finch did today. He should be held in higher regard, enjoying the cushion for brief failure that comes with sustained excellence.

From this base of appreciation, it’s also important to note that Finch’s dry spell in ODIs has been exaggerated, for two reasons. One, because the rest of the Australian team have been dire, and in such a climate everyone comes under greater scrutiny. Bad players aren’t given time, good players are held to higher standards, and everyone gets raked over the coals. Two, because of his shonky and unconvincing performances in the Test series against India, where the general cricketing public grew frustrated with Finch’s inability to get them off to a solid start. Whilst his decline has been intensifying in 2019, last year’s average of 44.81 was actually the second highest average Finch has ever recorded in a calendar year. He has hardly been in terminal decline.

However, that record was boosted by an excellent performance against England at the start of the year, and for the remainder of 2018 Finch averaged 27.25. With the question of how to incorporate the returning David Warner an increasingly pressing issue, Finch’s place in the XI was coming under ever greater scrutiny from many commentators.

Yet two centuries (and a 90) in three matches against Pakistan – the holders of the most recent global ICC ODI tournament – have dismissed any questioning of his place in the XI. Playing with remarkable control that looked beyond him just weeks ago, only 15% of his shots have resulted in a false stroke, the lowest figure for any series he’s played in (min 3 matches). He has been supreme.

So how did he orchestrate this turnaround?

Well, the first thing to do is isolate where Finch’s issues specifically lay. In the 12 months prior to this series in the UAE, he averaged 25.06 in ODI cricket, but wasn’t struggling disproportionately against either pace or spin. There was also no evidence of a clear kryptonite head-to-head – the bowling type which dismissed him most often was right-arm pace, but he still averaged 23.55 against those bowlers, very much in the same ball park as the overall record. He had been struggling uniformly, across the board.

On the other hand, there were patterns to his dismissals, if we look more closely. Against seamers he was troubled particularly by good length bowling – hardly an unusual weakness, but the severity of his trouble is notable. Against balls pitching 6-8 metres from his stumps, Finch had been averaging just over 10. He was negotiating the fuller bowling, and wasn’t dismissed at all by short pitched deliveries, but that difficult in-between length was causing him all sorts of problems.

Some of his recovery in this series could be attributed to improvement against those deliveries. In the last three matches in the UAE, he’s averaged 33 against good length bowling, significantly more secure than he has been. He’s only scored at 2.95rpo against them, but Finch appears to have made a conscious decision to be very selective; the length balls that he has gone after have been wider deliveries. Typically, if the ball has been on a good length and a good line, Finch has been happy to defend or rotate.

Whilst his attacking against good length balls appears to be more focused on wide deliveries, Finch also appears to have made a concerted effort to play straighter against the seamers. In this series, 22% of his runs have come in ‘the V’, the highest figure he’s recorded in a bilateral ODI series since the Champions Trophy. It’s a basic principle, but it seems to have served him well.

However, fundamentally there hasn’t been a change in approach substantial enough to account for Finch’s massive upturn in fortunes. For that, we have to look at what’s been happening 22 yards away. Bluntly, the bowling Finch has faced has not been of the same standard he has been coming up against over the last year.

During the India series in Australia, the Expected Dismissal Rate (Tracking Only) of the balls bowled to Finch was 25.5**, meaning that regardless of who had faced those balls we would expect them to be dismissed every 26 balls. Whilst Finch’s own dismissal rate of 17.6 in that series shows that he was still underperforming, the quality of the bowling was seriously high and his struggles were understandable. In this series, the Expected Dismissal Rate (Tracking Only) of the balls bowled to Finch has been 41.8. As the pressure has lessened, Finch has flourished.

The bowling has also been of the right type for Finch. Whilst his troubles in the last year have been against all bowling, he’s historically been a very strong hitter against spin; it is hardly a surprise then, that his return to form has come in a series where 56% of the balls he’s faced have been from spin bowlers, the highest percentage for any ODI series he’s ever played.

Of course, that shouldn’t diminish his achievement. Presented with an opportunity against a weakened attack in conditions that should suit him, he has been ruthless, which is admirable and indicative of a base talent level which should never have been in doubt. Helmet off, cap on, chewing away on his gum as if to show that, seriously, this isn’t his first rodeo. There’s no ‘chicken and egg’ question here – the improvement brings the swagger with it, not the other way around – but it is hard to ignore how nonchalantly imposing Finch appears when he’s in this sort of groove.

The wider implication of this surge of form is Australia will now have to confront the Warner issue head on. Finch’s place is locked, only the identity of his partner up for debate now. In a way, the loss of Finch’s form could have led to an easier call for Cricket Australia, given that they could include both Warner (a genius, but one out of match practice and with a huge political cloud over him) and Khawaja (an inferior player to both Finch and Warner, but bang in form) in the XI, without making any particular compromise. Now, they have to make a call – deal with the side effects of recalling Warner, or accept the limitations of Khawaja. Both have benefits, both have flaws. What is decided however, is that the man walking out alongside them will be a strapping Victorian, and one peaking at just the right moment.

**This figure is calculated using CricViz’s Wicket Probability Model, which uses historical ball-tracking data to assess the likelihood of any delivery bringing a wicket**

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

IPL CricViz Predictions – Ben Jones

Winner: Sunrisers Hyderabad

Just look at that bowling attack. There are so many options, so much variety and skill in that unit, it’s tough to imagine any surface or batting order that could be confident of taking Sunrisers down. In a tournament like the IPL where momentum can only get you so far (because of its vast, vast length), consistency is key, and being able to know that nine times out of ten you will keep a side below 170 is a huge bonus. Last year they just lacked a bit of spark with the bat with if Dhawan didn’t fire, and that is still an issue. However, Warner is a superior and more reliable player than the Indian, and the days when neither him nor Williamson hit their straps are going to be few and far between. If they can just find a finisher – and Vijay Shankar could be that man – then they’re a formidable, sophisticated outfit that will take some stopping.

Top Four: Kolkata Knight Riders

Much like Sunrisers, the appeal of KKR is that there is a clear style of play that they are after – and one that makes sense. The classic Lynn-Narine combo starts things off with a bang and a crash, maximising the fielding restrictions during the first six overs. The middle overs see them tick over, before Russell launches them over the finish line. It’s a flexible strategy, but a very clear one that allows them to recruit accordingly – the arrival of Joe Denly, middle-overs tyro, exemplifies this perfectly. The arrival of death over specialist Harry Gurney could give them a bit more nous with the ball in hand, and all-in-all they feel like a side who have subtly tweaked a successful formula. Expect them to challenge.

Top Four: Mumbai Indians

Last year was a disappointment for Mumbai, but things were not as bad as they seemed on the face of it. They lost a series of very close games, including the freak match between themselves and Sunrisers where they failed to chase 118 on a stinker of a surface. The promotion of Rohit Sharma has been a long time coming, his absence from the Powerplay overs a handbrake they placed on their own progress – so they are already starting ahead of where they were last year. The potential for their star-studded line-up to click into gear ahead of the World Cup is considerable, with several players aiming to work their way back to full fitness and peak form ahead of the tournament. All seems aligned for them to compete, though a lack of quality spin could see them slip up if individual batsmen get going.

Top Four: Delhi Capitals

Last year was something of a disaster for Delhi. They were relentlessly beaten, rarely looked competitive, and struggled to form a coherent team structure from what looked like a talented squad. It was a season so bad in fact, that they had to change their name. However, newly monickered as the Delhi Capitals, they have cause for cautious optimism. Their seam bowling will be strengthened by the presence of Kagiso Rabada – ruled out last year through injury – and their youthful prospects all seem to have developed their games in the off season. None more so than Rishabh Pant. Few players are so robustly joyful as the Indian wicketkeeper, but in the last 12 months he’s gone from eccentric novelty to world-class performer in international cricket. If he fires, Delhi fires.

Bottom: Rajasthan Royals

Rajasthan are a difficult prospect for the English cricket fan watching the IPL from a distance. There are so many English players involved that it’s only natural to drift towards them, but if you succumb to that urge then you may be in for a tough few months. Rajasthan’s list may have several high-profile international stars, from Buttler and Rahane to Stokes and Coulter-Nile, but they are not a well put together squad. If Sanju Samson has a poor season, then their domestic batting is severely underpowered, and their reliance on overseas imports could be even greater than last year. They’re playing a dangerous game, and a lot needs to go right for them to qualify.

Orange Cap: Kane Williamson

Pragmatically, there are plenty of solid reasons for why Williamson will be the top run-scorer. He plays for a side who tend to value wicket preservation of explosiveness from their top-order; he is a player more suited to innings of 50 (35) than 20 (7); he’s available for the entire tournament. Add to that the fact that he is inordinately talented and extremely good, he presents a persuasive case. But there is a more intangible element in play here. Williamson has been consistently excellent, in all formats, for many years now, but the vagaries of cricket politics and scheduling mean that it is often hidden away. He is rarely given a stage on which to perform that is befitting of his talents. This summer could be different. With the World Cup to follow, Williamson has the chance to cement his position as the best all-format batsman in the world after Virat Kohli, and that chance starts as he walks out in Sunrisers’ first game against KKR. He’s a focused professional, but this incentive, this increased exposure, could be the carrot to take him to the next level.

Purple Cap: Umesh Yadav

Umesh’s role in the RCB side is to take wickets with the new ball, and it’s a role he has excelled in over the last few seasons. In 2018, he took 14 wickets in the Powerplay, grabbing a dismissal every 13 deliveries – that’s elite stuff. Ahead of a World Cup where his position is not secured, he will be pushing for his absolute best form even if RCB fall out of contention for a play-off berth. With the added responsibility that comes with being RCB’s only elite Indian bowler, Umesh has plenty to focus on, but right now you would have to back him to succeed.

MVP: Sunil Narine

It’s a dull choice, but a sensible one. Narine is so tangibly among the most valuable going around, his blend of pinch-hitting and uber-tight bowling allowing him to contribute throughout the entire match, in concentrated impactful efforts. For KKR, he is a lock for the opening berth and to bowl out, and whilst the nature of his batting does invite dips in form, if he hits a hot streak he can be devastating. If he did seal the crown this season following on from his triumph in 2018, he would become the first three-time MVP in IPL history, pulling away from Shane Watson. If KKR make it into the latter stages, he’ll be odds on.

Emerging Player: Sandeep Lamichhane

Nepalese leg-spinner Sandeep Lamichhane has had quite a year. After a successful campaign with St Kitts and Nevis Patriots, he secured a deal with the Melbourne Stars, for whom he took 11 wickets in eight matches, with an economy of 6.57. Further travels to the BPL (economy of 5.6) and PSL (11 wickets in seven matches) saw him gain yet more experience, and he now arrives for his second IPL season having played in five of the six major T20 leagues. His opportunity to make a lengthy impression will be partially determined by the form of Amit Mishra, given that Delhi may be reluctant to have both Mishara, Axar Patel and Sandeep all in the same XI. If he gets a look in, he’ll make that place his own.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

IPL Predictions: Freddie Wilde

Freddie Wilde’s IPL Predictions.

Winner: MI

Last season Mumbai played a lot better than their fifth placed finish suggests. They were unfortunate to be on the wrong end of a handful of close matches. A bit of luck here and there and they could comfortably have made the Play Offs. This season Mumbai have one of the strongest Indian cores in the competition with Rohit, Suryakumar and Kishan above all rounders Hardik and Krunal and India’s best bowler Bumrah. Around these star Indians they have a plethora of exciting overseas players with cover in each department: de Kock and Lewis at the top of the order, Pollard and Cutting as all rounders, Milne and Malinga as right-arm quicks and Behrendorff and McClenaghan as left-arm quicks. The main area for concern for Mumbai is the spin attack with a lot of responsibility resting on Krunal and the young Markande. The fitness and availability of Bumrah and Hardik – likely to be closely monitored by the BCCI – will be key.

Top Four: KKR

KKR have retained the core of their strong team from last season who finished third before being eliminated in Qualifier 2. Their squad will be almost totally unaffected by World Cup call-ups with Chris Lynn the only player who may have to leave early. The fitness of Andre Russell and Sunil Narine – both of whom have been nursing injuries of late – will be pivotal but if they stay fit their team is well-balanced and has cover in most departments: Lynn, Narine and Uthappa are a very dangerous Powerplay trio above the middle order engine room of Rana, Karthik and Gill, with Russell assuming the power-hitting responsibilities. Narine, Kuldeep and Chawla make up a superb spin attack. The pace bowling is the most obvious potential weakness with young Indian quicks Nagarkoti, Mavi and Krishna alongside IPL newbies Gurney, Nortje and Ferguson. However, what these bowlers lack in experience they make up for in quality and variation. If Narine and Russell stay fit it is hard to see KKR not making the top four, if they don’t then KKR’s lack of depth may be exposed.

Top Four: SRH

SRH are becoming one of the most consistent teams in the IPL having reached at least the Play Off stage for three consecutive seasons. After finishing runners up last year – only beaten by one of the great IPL innings in the Final by Shane Watson – SRH have made some minor tweaks to their squad and this year they look even stronger. They have retained their exceptional bowling attack, led by Bhuvneshwar and Rashid but supported by plenty of depth. Their batting will be boosted by the return of Warner after his ban and they have found cover for him when he departs for the World Cup in Guptill. With Williamson also in the top order SRH’s overseas batting looks formidable. Bairstow also gives them an alternative wicket-keeping option to Saha. The addition of finger spinner Shabhaz Nadeem, part of a three-way trade with Delhi, gives them the potential to be a bit more flexible with their overseas players with less reliance on Shakib and Nabi. The main area of concern is the Indian batting. With Dhawan traded to Delhi Pandey needs to step up and justify his large auction price, especially when Warner and Bairstow leave for World Cup duty.

Top Four: DC

The battle for fourth will be fierce with any of the remaining five teams capable of challenging for the spot. The injury to Lungi Ngidi is a huge blow to Chennai’s hopes who may end up being pipped to the spot by a young and vibrant Delhi team. Delhi’s Indian batting core is exceptional and will be well supported – but not entirely reliant on – Ingram or Munro. The overseas bowling is exceptional with Rabada and Morris likely to be joined in the XI by Lamichhane. Indian pace bowling is a concern but if Morris misses out on World Cup selection Delhi should be able to mask their shortcomings in that area.

Bottom: RR

It is hard to call who might finish bottom this season, all of CSK, Rajasthan, Delhi, Kings XI and RCB have notable flaws but also have match-winners. Of those four Rajasthan will be most affected by World Cup absentees with Stokes, Buttler and Archer – all certain to start for Rajasthan – likely to be withdrawn early for England’s World Cup preparation. Turner, signed as cover for Stokes, may also have to depart. Fitness doubts remain over Smith as well. That only leaves Sodhi, Livingstone and Thomas as overseas players for Rajasthan. If the Royals had a strong Indian core they might be able to protect themselves against these losses but their Indian players – Samson and Gowtham aside – are underwhelming: Rahane needs to elevate his strike rate while Tripathi failed to replicate his exceptional 2017, Kulkarni and Unadkat will carry a lot of responsibility with the ball.

Orange Cap: Shane Watson

The hero of last year’s final is showing no signs of letting up. After scoring 555 runs last IPL season Watson since scored more than 700 in the BBL and PSL. With no international commitments Watson is likely to be available all season and play all CSK’s matches. A return to the slower, lower surfaces at Chepauk will test Watson’s game against spin but in recent years he has been exceptional against the slower bowlers, averaging 34 at a run rate of 8.69 RPO. With Chennai likely to be in and around the Play Offs yet again it is hard to see Watson not scoring plenty of runs, anchoring Chennai’s strong batting order.

Purple Cap: Siddharth Kaul

Kaul finished joint second on the wicket-takers list last season with 21 and as part of a strong SRH bowling attack who play at a difficult venue for batting he is likely to be mixing in similar territory this season. Teams are likely to see Kaul as the weakest link of an exceptional attack featuring Bhuvneshwar, Sandeep, Rashid and Shakib. With Kaul set to join Bhuvneshwar at the death he is likely to collect some cheap wickets as teams hit out.

Most Valuable Player: Krunal Pandya

Likely to contribute with bat, ball and in the field Krunal is one of the most dynamic all rounders in the IPL. He is likely to bat in the lower middle order which may only give him a few overs to make his mark but few players are as effective in that phase of the innings – Krunal has scored nearly 300 runs for Mumbai in the last five overs at more than 10 runs per over. With the ball Krunal is consistently economical but he may have to play a more attacking role if Markande can’t replicate his excellent first season. Not set to be in India’s World Cup squad Krunal will be a key man for Mumbai this year who look well set to make a push for their fourth IPL crown.

Emerging Player: Ishan Kishan

Last year was a significant season for Ishan Kishan who was rewarded for his good form for Gujarat Lions with a contract at Mumbai Indians where he started the season ahead of Aditya Tare as wicket-keeper and played every match. 275 runs at an average of 22 was a promising – albeit unspectacular – return but his run rate of 8.96 runs per over was exceptional. Kishan has been in brilliant form in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy this year, blitzing more than 300 runs in eight innings. Only 20 years-old but entering his third season as an IPL regular the time is now for Kishan to take his game to the next level.

Freddie Wilde is an analyst at CricViz. @fwildecricket

IPL Season Preview: Sunrisers Hyderabad

Ben Jones previews Sunrisers Hyderabad ahead of the 2019 IPL season.

Last Season: Runners-up

In 2018, Sunrisers had arguably the most distinctive style of any team in the competition. A bowling-heavy strategy was marked most clearly by their extraordinary defence of 118 against Mumbai Indians, among the best performances in T20 history. Across the competition as a whole, their run to the final was relatively assured, only falling to an accomplished Chennai in the final, ending a successful season that they will be looking to repeat in 2019. With a strong list, and plenty of experience, Sunrisers will start this season among the favourites.

Personnel Changes

New Zealand opener Martin Guptill adds some serious power to the top of the order, though unlikely as a replacement for Shikhar Dhawan (traded to Delhi), given the cost of an extra overseas spot. More likely, Guptill will cover David Warner when he heads to the World Cup. Vijay Shankar, Shahbaz Nadeem and Abhishek Sharma also arrived from Delhi, the other noticeable overseas signing being the arrival of English wicket-keeper Jonny Bairstow.

Squad Summary

  • Total players: 23
  • Numbers of overseas players: 8
  • Openers: David Warner, Martin Guptill
  • Middle-order batsmen: Manish Pandey, Kane Williamson, Ricky Bhui
  • Wicketkeepers: Wriddhiman Saha, Shreevats Goswami, Jonny Bairstow
  • Allrounders: Shakib Al Hasan, Abhishek Sharma, Vijay Shankar, Yusuf Pathan, Deepak Hooda, Mohammad Nabi
  • Wristspinners: Rashid Khan
  • Fingerspinners: Shahbaz Nadeem
  • Fast Bowlers: Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Khaleel Ahmed, Siddarth Kaul, Basil Thampi, T Natarajan, Sandeep Sharma, Billy Stanlake

Best XI:

1 Warner

2 Saha (k)

3 Williamson (c)

4 Pandey

5 Shankar

6 Shakib

7 Yusuf Pathan

8 Rashid Khan

9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar

10 Kaul

11 Khaleel

Key Player

The presence of Rashid Khan in any team gives them a hope. The Afghanistan star is a world-renowned as a lethal bowler, and has a more than reasonable claim to be the best T20 bowler of all time – last year, nobody took more T20 wickets than him. Indeed, nobody got close. His partnership with Shakib was a key aspect of the Sunrisers attack in 2018, and it will likely remain so this year. However, he could well have another role. Given that Sunrisers batting depth is likely to remain a weakness, Rashid could be deployed as a pinch-hitter, helping to extend that batting order – since the start of 2018, he scores at 10.07rpo, his power hitting a useful asset that Sunrisers could exploit.

Strengths

Death Bowling

Last year Sunrisers’ economy rate in the last five overs of the innings was just 8.91rpo, comfortably the lowest for any team in the competition, and three runs-per-over better than the worst side in the competition, Royal Challengers Bangalore. With the key performers behind that excellence still at the franchise (Bhuvneshwar, Kaul), they hope to back up that strong death record with yet more late-innings mastery.

Overseas Availability

The make-up of their overseas list means that they keep the bulk of their squad for the whole tournament. Kane Williamson, Martin Guptill, Mohammed Nabi and Rashid Khan will all be sticking around, meaning that the balance of the side will remain essentially the same throughout – the strength of their overseas roster, already considerable, is amplified by this.

Bowling Variety

The variety of your attack is crucial in T20 cricket, with head-to-head records informing strategy more than ever. Sunrisers are able to boast one of almost every bowling type: right-arm seam, left-arm seam, leg-spin, off-spin, slow-left arm. The only bowling type they are without is left-arm wrist spin, traditionally the rarest technique and perhaps the most dispensable, particularly given the presence of Rashid Khan. Sunrisers’ skipper will have lots, and lots of options to turn to.

Weaknesses

Late-Order Hitting

The Sunrisers line-up is designed for ruthlessly chasing mid-range totals, and as a consequence is lacking in power hitters later in the order. Yusuf Pathan or Vijay Shankar is likely going to be tasked with playing this role, but neither is as effective as similar players at other franchises. Mohammad Nabi has had success in other leagues in this role but he is unlikely to get into the side ahead of Shakib, given the Bangladeshi’s IPL experience. For Sunrisers to really explode in the last few overs, they’ll need to rely on maintaining very high dismissal rates in the middle overs, leaving plenty of wickets in hand at the death.

Domestic Batting

The absence of Shikhar Dhawan does make a difference to the balance of the side. The fact they have replaced a domestic world-class opener with an overseas one does skew their roster in one direction. They now need to select Wriddhiman Saha or Manish Pandey as an opener in all likelihood, weakening a strength – overperformance from one of those two is fundamental for Sunrisers to balance the side.

IPL CricViz Predictions – Patrick Noone

Winner: Kolkata Knight Riders

KKR look to have all bases covered: an aggressive top order of Chris Lynn, Sunil Narine and Robin Uthappa, supplemented by the emerging talents of Nitish Rana and Shubman Gill in the middle order. Dinesh Karthik, the captain and wicket-keeper is a safe pair of hands in every respect and the big hitting prowess of Carlos Brathwaite and Andre Russell down the order round off their batting nicely. With the ball, Narine, Piyush Chawla and Kuldeep Yadav, KKR have arguably the most complete spin attack in the tournament, a huge weapon given that they will play half of their matches at the spin-friendly Eden Gardens. The seam attack lacks IPL experience, aside from Russell, but Lockie Ferguson and Harry Gurney have shown their prowess in the death overs in other leagues. Injuries to Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi and Anrich Nortje are less than ideal, but KKR still have enough options to cover those losses.

Top Four: Chennai Super Kings

Chennai have never failed to finish in the top four when they’ve competed in the IPL and the defending champions will likely be in amongst it again this year. Aiming for a record fourth title, the Super Kings have an experienced team who have been there and done it time and time again. Shane Watson scored a match-winning hundred in the final last year, capping off a fine tournament in which he and Ambati Rayudu each scored more than 500 runs from the top of the order. Chennai’s only questionable area of their squad is whether their Indian seamers can step up and perform regularly; Lungi Ngidi’s injury is a huge blow and with Watson, Faf du Plessis, Dwayne Bravo and Imran Tahir likely to occupy their overseas spots, one of Mohit Sharma, Shardul Thakur and Deepak Chahar will have to carry the seam bowling burden.

Sunrisers Hyderabad

Sunrisers could consider themselves unlucky not to claim a second IPL title last season, falling at the final hurdle. Any team containing Rashid Khan is likely to go far and Sunrisers can also count on Bhuvneshwar Kumar as their premier pace bowler. Kane Williamson, last season’s leading run scorer will lead the side again and though Shikhar Dhawan has departed, Sunrisers’ batting still looks strong with the returning David Warner and the incoming Martin Guptill and Jonny Bairstow. Sunrisers will potentially be affected more than most by World Cup call-ups which could see them severely weakened in the latter stages of the competition.

Delhi Capitals

After years of underachievement, having not qualified for the playoffs since 2012, Delhi have undergone a rebranding, shaken up their squad and look to have assembled a team capable of finally finishing in the top four. The precocious talents of Rishabh Pant and Prithvi Shaw alongside Shikhar Dhawan, Colin Ingram and Colin Munro makes for an explosive batting lineup while they look to have all bases covered with their spin bowling as Sandeep Lamichhane, Amit Mishra and Axar Patel all offer something different with the ball. With Trent Boult and Kagiso Rabada in their ranks as well, Delhi Capitals have a highly-skilled, varied attack capable of causing any team problems. The middle order is perhaps an area of concern for Delhi: their all-rounders are broadly bowling all-rounders and, even though players such as Chris Morris are capable of giving it a whack down the order, it’s easy to see them losing momentum during the middle overs if they lose early wickets.

Bottom: Kings XI Punjab

Perennial strugglers Kings XI look set for another tough season. The presence of Mujeeb-Ur-Rahman and Ravichandran Ashwin in their squad means that they are well covered in the spin department while Chris Gayle’s recent form for West Indies offers them some encouragement alongside the batting firepower of KL Rahul and David Miller. But beyond those three big hitters, there is not a great deal that suggests Kings XI will be mixing it with the big boys this season. Sam Curran has done little in the shortest form of the game to justify his huge price tag while their other all-rounder options are Moises Henriques or inexperienced Indian players such as Varun Chakravarthy. Similarly, aside from Andrew Tye, last season’s leading wicket taker, Kings XI are light on top quality seam bowling options. Juggling their overseas players will be a challenge for Kings XI as well: Gayle and Tye are presumably locked in, leaving Miller, Curran, Henriques, Mujeeb, Nicholas Pooran and Hardus Viljoen battling it out for two places. It is hard to see a way in which Kings XI can regularly field a well-balanced team containing all their best players.

Orange Cap: Prithvi Shaw

Assuming he has fully recovered from the knee injury that ruled him out of the Australia tour, Prithvi Shaw has an opportunity to own this IPL. He showed glimpses of his undoubted talent in the nine matches he played last year and he is set to open the batting throughout the tournament for the rebranded Delhi Capitals. Of IPL venues to have hosted 50 matches or more, the Feroz Shah Kotla is the second fastest scoring ground behind Bengaluru’s Chinnaswamy Stadium, so Shaw will have conditions in his favour alongside the ability and temperament to go big.

Purple Cap: Jasprit Bumrah

35% of IPL wickets fall in the death overs and Jasprit Bumrah is arguably the best death bowler in the world at the moment. He’s struggled with injuries recently, but if he can play the majority of Mumbai Indians’ matches, there is no reason to think he can’t go home with the purple cap. Bumrah has finished as one of the top ten wicket takers in each of the last three IPL seasons, with tallies of 15, 20 and 17 wickets in those years. The winner of the purple cap has averaged 24 wickets across the last five IPL seasons and, given how Bumrah bowled for much of 2018, you wouldn’t bet against him reaching a figure in that region this time around.

Most Valuable Player: Rishabh Pant

Rishabh Pant has already lit up previous tournaments for the Delhi franchise. Only Kane Williamson scored more runs than the left-hander’s 684 in 2018, a performance that ultimately led to him breaking into India’s Test XI. Pant’s strike rate across 14 matches last season was 173.60; if Delhi can deliver this season and finally make an impact on the top four, Pant will surely be one of the driving forces behind it.

Emerging Player: Shivam Dube

The all-rounder enjoyed a fine Ranji Trophy earlier this year, finishing as the leading wicket-taker and second highest run scorer for Mumbai. He showed his prowess in the shortest form as well, as he was named Player of the Series in the 2018 Mumbai T20 League, a performance that led to RCB stumping up Rs 500 lakh for his services in this year’s IPL. A left-handed batsman with long levers, Dube is capable of clearing the ropes regularly, and will be playing half of his matches at the batting-friendly Chinnaswamy Stadium. He could play the role of finisher for RCB and chip in with some handy overs of medium pace as well. Genuine all-rounders are worth their weight in gold in any form of cricket and RCB have one who is young, talented and Indian who is set to take his first IPL by storm.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

IPL Season Preview: Chennai Super Kings

Patrick Noone previews Chennai Super Kings.

Last season: Winners

Chennai secured their third IPL triumph with a convincing 8-wicket win over Sunrisers Hyderabad in Mumbai. It was their first season back after a two-year ban and the men in yellow hit the ground running, winning five of their first six matches before ultimately finishing second in the final ladder. Shane Watson and Ambati Rayudu scored the bulk of Chennai’s runs while five bowlers took more than ten wickets throughout the competition.

Personnel Changes

Chennai were the least busy of all teams in this year’s auction, retaining 23 players from last season and signing just Mohit Sharma and Ruturaj Gaikwad as Mark Wood, Kanishk Seth and Kshitiz Sharma were released.

Squad Summary

  • Total players: 25
  • Number of overseas players: 8

Squad Composition

  • Openers (3): Faf du Plessis, Shane Watson, Murali Vijay
  • Middle order batsmen (7): Suresh Raina, Kedar Jadhav, Ambati Rayudu, Chaitanya Bishnoi, Sam Billings, Dhruv Storey, Ruturaj Gaikwad
  • Wicket-keepers (2): MS Dhoni, N Jagadeesan
  • All-rounders (4): Ravindra Jadeja, Dwayne Bravo, Monu Kumar, David Willey
  • Wrist spinners (2): Karn Sharma, Imran Tahir
  • Finger spinners (2): Harbhajan Singh, Mitchell Santner
  • Pace bowlers (5): Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar, KM Asif, Lungi Ngidi (injured), Mohit Sharma

Strengths

Middle order batting

Chennai bat deep and have a wealth of options to choose from when selecting their middle order. Ambati Rayudu and Shane Watson routinely laid platforms for Chennai at the top of the order, allowing the engine room of Sam Billings, MS Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja to prosper later in the innings. That depth in Chennai’s middle to lower order allowed them to score at more than 11 runs per over in last year’s competition, the second fastest of all teams in the IPL.

Versatile bowling attack

A measure of how remarkable Chennai’s 2018 success was the fact that they had built their squad around playing their home games at the Chepauk Stadium, only to have to relocate after one match to the more seam-friendly MCA Stadium in Gahunje. The Super Kings have the attack to cover all eventualities with the spin threat of Imran Tahir, Mitchell Santner and Ravindra Jadeja alongside David Willey’s left-arm swing, although they will be be without the raw pace of the injured Lungi Ngidi. Mohit Sharma has been resigned to supplement the local pace talent of Shardul Thakur and Deepak Chahar.

Weaknesses

Aging squad

13 of the 25 players on Chennai’s roster are the wrong side of 30. While it could be argued that having an experienced core is a positive – and it certainly did Chennai no harm last year – there is a suspicion that players such as MS Dhoni and Dwayne Bravo are on the decline and the squad lacks freshness with only a handful of young Indian talents emerging. As problems go, it’s far from the worst, but Chennai will have to start the 2019 season well if they are to avoid accusations of it being a season too far many of their stalwarts.

Death over bowling

For all the options Chennai have with the ball, the one player they seem to lack is a truly dependable death bowler. When bowling first last season, they only once restricted their opponents to less than 40 runs in the last five overs and only twice kept the overall score below 140. More often than not, they had the batting power to chase down big scores, only losing two games in which they batted second, but the fact remains that Chennai had the second highest economy rate during the last five overs. They will surely need to restrict teams on a more regular basis if they are to repeat last season’s success.

Key Player: Ravindra Jadeja

With bat, ball and in the field, Jadeja is effectively three players in one who balances Chennai’s team beautifully. In the middle overs, Jadeja was one of only four spinners to register an economy rate of less than seven runs per over in last year’s IPL and his tally of 11 catches was only bettered by Shikhar Dhawan’s 12, of non-wicketkeepers. Jadeja was rarely required with the bat but, when called upon, he scored at a healthy rate of 120.27. Chennai’s team is packed with stars, but Jadeja is arguably the hardest of all to find a replacement for.

Best XI

1) Shane Watson

2) Ambati Rayudu

3) Faf du Plessis

4) Suresh Raina

5) MS Dhoni*+

6) Kedar Jadhav

7) Ravindra Jadeja

8) Dwayne Bravo

9) Mohit Sharma

10) Deepak Chahar

11) Imran Tahir

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz

IPL Season Preview: Kolkata Knight Riders

Patrick Noone previews Kolkata Knight Riders.

Last season: 3rd

Three wins in their last three matches propelled the Knight Riders into the top three, before defeating Rajasthan Royals in the first Qualifier. They fell short in the first Qualifier, losing to eventual runners-up Sunrisers Hyderabad. The aggressive opening pair of Chris Lynn and Sunil Narine ensured that KKR recorded a higher Powerplay run rate than all other teams (9.12) while Dinesh Karthik’s run rate of 10.50 at the death was second only to MS Dhoni, of players who faced 100+ balls at that phase.  

Personnel Changes

KKR have retained 13 players from their 2018 campaign, including the big-hitting overseas trio of Andre Russell, Sunil Narine and Chris Lynn with Kuldeep Yadav, Dinesh Karthik and rising star Shubman Gill among their key Indian retetions. At the auction, Carlos Brathwaite was their most expensive signing at Rs 500 lakh, Lockie Ferguson, Joe Denly and Harry Gurney were their other high profile overseas pick-ups. They replace Tom Curran, Mitchell Starc and the retired Mitchell Johnson who were all released by the franchise in the off-season.

Squad Summary

  • Total players: 21
  • Number of overseas players: 8

Squad Composition

  • Openers (2): Chris Lynn, Robin Uthappa
  • Middle order batsmen (3): Shubman Gill, Nitish Rana, Rinku Singh
  • Wicket-keepers (2): Dinesh Karthik, Nikhil Naik
  • All-rounders (4): Andre Russell, Joe Denly, Shrikant Mundhe, Carlos Brathwaite
  • Wrist spinners (3): Piyush Chawla, Kuldeep Yadav, KC Cariappa
  • Finger spinners (1): Sunil Narine
  • Pace bowlers (6): Sandeep Warrier, Prasidh Krishna, Prithvi Raj, Harry Gurney, Anrich Nortje (injured), Lockie Ferguson

Strengths

Top order batting

A likely top three of Chris Lynn, Sunil Narine and Robin Uthappa gives an indication of the firepower KKR possess at the top of their batting lineup. The Knight Riders scored faster than every other team during the Powerplay and the firepower they have throughout the order means that they can afford to take greater risks while the fielding restrictions are in play; only Delhi Daredevils faced fewer balls per dismissal than KKR during the first six overs last season.

No World Cup call-ups

The composition of KKR’s squad is such that they are likely to have a settled roster throughout the tournament, unaffected by World Cup callups. Chris Lynn is the only potential absentee and there is a chance that even he will miss out on Australia’s 15-man squad. Whether that factor is by accident or by design, it is a huge advantage for KKR in a season where other teams could lose several players to their respective national teams.

Spin attack

In last year’s IPL, KKR bowled more overs of spin (167.3) than any other team and the 53 wickets they took was 12 more than the next most prolific team (Sunrisers Hyderabad). The trio of Piyush Chawla, Kuldeep Yadav and Sunil Narine provides the Knight Riders with a versatile collection of spinners, each capable of turning the ball both ways. With Eden Gardens likely to be one of the most spin-friendly venues in the competition, it will be no surprise if the triumvirate replicate their performances from last year, when all finished in the top six wicket takers in terms of spinners.

Weaknesses

Powerplay bowling

For all the quality on show in KKR’s spin attack, question marks remain over their potency with the ball during the first six overs. Last year, KKR had the highest SR in that phase and only Delhi Daredevils (9.63) recorded a higher economy rate during the Powerplay than the Knight Riders’ 9.26. Their pace attack struggled to exert control throughout, conceding runs at 10.18 runs per over. Of course, there has been a shake-up in personnel, but Harry Gurney and Lockie Ferguson do their best work during the death overs. South African quick Anrich Nortje could make a difference – his T20 Powerplay economy rate is 5.61 – but he is inexperienced and will be playing his first IPL. Therefore, it remains one of the few areas where KKR appear to be lacking depth.

Indian all-rounders

On the face of it, KKR have a good pool of all-rounders to call upon with Carlos Brathwaite, Andre Russell and Joe Denly on their books but, with Narine and Lynn guaranteed to be in the XI, and one of Ferguson, Nortje or Gurney likely to fill one of the pace bowlers’ spots, KKR could do with a local player in the lower middle order to prevent a long tail and ease the pressure on the overseas players.

Injuries to fast bowlers

KKR’s preparations have been rocked by injuries to their young Indian quicks, Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi, while Anrich Nortje has also been ruled out of the competition. At the time of writing, the Knight Riders are yet to name a replacement for Nortje, while right-arm quick Sandeep Warrier and leg-spinner KC Cariappa have taken the place of the youngsters. It’s far from a lost cause for KKR, who have the promising Prasidh Krishna as well as their overseas options, but it is an area in which they are a little lighter than they had bargained for.

Key Player: Sunil Narine

Having reinvented himself as a pinch-hitting all-rounder, Sunil Narine is indispensable with both bat and ball. No player to face 100 balls or more in last year’s IPL scored at a quicker rate than Narine’s 189.89. That explosiveness with the bat is matched by his excellence with the ball – in the middle overs, his economy rate was just 6.60, the third best of spinners to have bowled 150+ balls at that stage.

Best XI

1) Chris Lynn

2) Sunil Narine

3) Robin Uthappa

4) Nitish Rana

5) Shubman Gill

6) Dinesh Karthik*+

7) Andre Russell

8) Prasidh Krishna

9) Kuldeep Yadav

10) Piyush Chawla

11) Harry Gurney

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

IPL Season Preview: Rajasthan Royals

Ben Jones previews Rajasthan Royals ahead of IPL 2019.

Last season: 4th

Last year was defined by the work of Jos Buttler. His promotion to the top of the order was an enormous turning point in the season, as his 428 runs at 9.95rpo as an opener (and an average of 107) almost single-handedly dragged Rajasthan into the play-offs. They fell before reaching the final, but overall most suggested they had over-achieved to reach that stage at all, and would do extremely well to get close to matching that this season.

Personnel Changes

There are no real changes to Rajasthan’s list from last season. They have added strength in depth for their overseas players, bringing in Liam Livingstone and Ashton Turner to try and cover for World Cup departures, as well as signing Oshane Thomas to strengthen their seam bowling, but all in all this is the same squad as 2018. Given quite how much they were carried by Buttler in 2018, this could be an issue.

Squad Summary

  • Total players: 25
  • Numbers of overseas players: 8

Openers: Ajinkya Rahane, Rahul Tripathi

Middle-order batsmen: Steven Smith, Aryaman Birla, Manan Vohra

Wicketkeepers: Jos Buttler, Sanju Samson, Prashant Chopra

Allrounders: Ben Stokes, Stuart Binny, Jofra Archer, K Gowtham, Mahipal Lomror, Riyan Parag, Shashank Singh, Liam Livingstone, Ashton Turner, Shubham Ranjane

Wristspinners: Shreyas Gopal, Midhun S, Ish Sodhi

Fingerspinners:

Fast bowlers: Jaydev Unadkat, Dhawal Kulkarni, Varun Aaron, Oshane Thomas

Strengths

Pace Bowling

Depending on the balance of their overseas selection, Rajasthan Royals could feasibly field a seam attack of Jofra Archer, Ben Stokes, Jaydev Unadkat, Oshane Thomas and Dhawal Kulkarni. That’s a serious attack, capable of taking wickets on different surfaces, with raw pace and swing – and with the benefit of Unadkat’s change of angle.

All-Rounders

When it comes to balancing the team, Rajasthan should be comfortable. With Archer, Stokes, Gopal, Binny and Gowtham all available to offer plenty of bowling as well as strong hitting, finding enough bowling options shouldn’t be an issue for the Jaipur franchise.

Weaknesses

Overseas Availability

Whilst Thomas and Sodhi will stay for the duration, Rajasthan will certainly lose Buttler and Stokes, and potentially Archer, Smith and Turner. That’s a hefty blow to take, the rise of Turner amplifying an already established problem with their list.

Domestic Batting

Sanju Samson is a very solid performer, but other than that they’re in trouble on the domestic front. Ajinkya Rahane may be a very experienced international, but he can only play in a certain way – solid, secure batting but essentially unexplosive. Gopal and Vohra can do a job but they are unlikely to be match-winners. Rajasthan desperately need Tripathi to replicate his brilliant season for RPS in 2017. It was a weakness that was exposed last season, as Rajasthan’s Indian batsman averaged less and scored more slowly than all but one other team. It needed to be addressed in the auction, and it wasn’t.

Middle Overs Batting

Last year Rajasthan really struggled to keep the scoring rate ticking in the middle of the innings, scoring more slowly than every other team in the competition. Partly this was due to several high profile failings against spin (Stokes and Short averaged 13.85 and 11 against slow bowling last year), which built pressure, but also the nature of their home ground makes it hard for even the best players to score quickly – the scoring rate of 7.81rpo at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium was the second lowest of any venue.

Key Player: Jos Buttler

Last year’s IPL was a watershed for Jos Buttler. His run of outstanding form in the 2018 tournament catapulted him into the England Test team, and he’s barely looked back since then. His summer against India in the Test series was superb, and he’s backed that up in Sri Lanka on spinning surfaces. Rajasthan more likely than not need him to step up and perform if they’re to trouble the scorers beyond 180, even with Stokes and Gowtham there to provide the flourish at the end of the innings. Last year, they were the second fastest scoring team in the Powerplay, largely down to Buttler’s fireworks at the top. One advantage they do have this season is that they can start the season with Buttler in his rightful place at the top of the order, and hope that he’ll hit the ground running.



Best XI:

1 Rahane (c)

2 Buttler (k)

3 Samson

4 Tripathi

5 Stokes

6 Gopal/Vohra

7 Gowtham

8 Jofra

9 Unadkat

10 Sodhi

11 Kulkarni

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

IPL Season Preview: Mumbai Indians

Freddie Wilde previews the Mumbai Indians.

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IPL Season Preview: Royal Challengers Bangalore

Freddie Wilde previews the Royal Challengers Bangalore.

Last season: 6th

A late run of victories took RCB to the brink of qualification and a win in their last match of the season against Rajasthan Royals would have been enough to finish in the top four. However, they lost and ultimately finished sixth on Net Run Rate. This was probably a fair reflection on a season marred by death bowling struggles, inconsistencies in selection and an over-reliance on Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers.

Personnel Changes

RCB have made a number of changes to their squad from last season. Before the auction they released Brendon McCullum, Chris Woakes, Corey Anderson and Sarfaraz Khan, traded Quinton de Kock to Mumbai Indians and Mandeep Singh to Kings XI Punjab in exchange for Marcus Stoinis coming in to the squad. Star batsmen de Villiers and Kohli were retained along with all the all rounders and the majority of the bowling attack. At the auction RCB spent the bulk of their purse on three players: the exciting all rounder Shivam Dube, rising star batsman Shimron Hetmyer and the local batsman Akshdeep Nath. RCB also picked up South African wicket-keeper batsman Heinrich Klaasen for just Rs 50 lakh.

Squad Summary

  • Total players: 24
  • Numbers of overseas players: 8

Squad Composition

  • Openers (1): Devdutt Padikkal
  • Middle order batsmen (5): Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, Milind Kumar, Himmat Singh, Shimron Hetmyer
  • Wicket-keepers (2): Parthiv Patel, Heinrich Klaasen
  • All rounders (7): Moeen Ali, Colin de Grandhomme, Marcus Stoinis, Prayas Ray Barman, Akshdeep Nath, Gurkeerat Singh, Shivam Dube
  • Wrist spinners (1): Yuzvendra Chahal
  • Finger spinners (2): Washington Sundar, Pawan Negi
  • Pace bowlers (6): Kulwant Khejroliya, Umesh Yadav, Navdeep Saini, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Mohammad Siraj, Tim Southee

Strengths

Star-studded batting

De Villiers is the best T20 batsman in the world and Kohli is one of the most consistent, together they have formed the bedrock of RCB’s batting for half a decade and will continue to do so this season. Hetymer is an exceptional talent and will join de Villiers and Kohli in a potentially fearsome triumvirate, Klaasen is also a dangerous T20 basman. On their day they RCB be hard to stop, particularly at the batting-friendly Chinnaswamy Stadium.

Spin bowling

Chahal, Washington and Negi has the potential to be a strong spin trio. Chahal has been a consistent performer in the IPL for many years now. RCB need Washington to replicate his brilliant debut season, not his first season for RCB where his struggles robbed the team of a controlling finger spinner and a potential all rounder.

Powerplay bowling

Umesh, Southee and Coulter-Nile are all dangerous new ball bowlers. The earlier wickets are taken the more valuable they are and last season Umesh was a revelation for RCB, making regular breakthroughs in the first six overs – helping RCB to the equal best Powerplay strike rate of all teams of 20.1 balls per wicket.

Weaknesses

Indian batting depth

Aside from Kohli RCB’s Indian batting is alarmingly light. This was a problem for RCB last season with Indian players other than Kohli averaging 17.11 runs per dismissal. Since then they have traded Mandeep, their second highest Indian run-scorer last year, to KXIP and made no significant Indian additions to the batting other than Nath who remains unproven at IPL level. The experienced Parthiv will be carrying considerable responsibility.  


Squad balance

Having used three overseas spots used on all rounders and spent a large proportion of their budget on batsmen RCB’s squad is unbalanced. They have a number of bowling options but their first choice attack is unclear while their batting appears to be heavily reliant on de Villiers, Kohli and Hetmyer.

Death bowling

Death bowling was one of RCB’s major problems last season – their economy rate in the last five overs of the innings of 11.86 was by far the worst in the competition. This season they will be strengthened by Coulter-Nile who missed last with injury but Umesh, Southee and Siraj are inconsistent defensive bowlers and they may struggle to contain runs towards the end of the innings once again.


Key Player: Virat Kohli

RCB’s reliance on Kohli cannot be overstated. Their failure to bolster the Indian batting leaves him with huge responsibility to anchor the innings and provide stability to the big hitters around him. His captaincy will also be put under pressure, particularly in the death overs where he lacks options.

Best XI

1) Moeen

2) Parthiv+

3) Kohli*

4) de Villiers

5) Hetmyer

6) Dube

7) Washington

8) Coulter-Nile

9) Siraj

10) Umesh

11) Chahal

Freddie Wilde is an analyst at CricViz. @fwildecricket