Patrick Noone, Freddie Wilde and Ben Jones take a look at the week that was in the IPL.
Chennai Super Kings
This Week – Played 3, Won 3 (v KKR, v RR & v KKR)
A return to form for the defending champions who bounced back from their defeat to Mumbai Indians with three wins on the bounce to cement their place at the top of the league table. The most memorable of their three victories was undoubtedly the dramatic win over Rajasthan Royals, but arguably their twin triumphs over Kolkata Knight Riders will prove to be more crucial when they look back at their campaign. Chennai have pulled away from the chasing pack this week and, with six games still to play, their place in the top four is almost assured.
CSK have been helped by winning three tosses from three, allowing them to play each match to their preferred gameplan of squeezing the opposition with their spin attack, before chasing the target down, usually with ease. Imran Tahir has been their most consistent performer this week, picking up six wickets at an economy rate of just 6.33, while Mitchell Santner has performed a quietly impressive job as the support spinner. The pair have been the spinners to induce the lowest Timing ratings from batsmen this week, illustrating how much control they have exerted, despite two of their three matches being away from their spin-friendly Chepauk home.
The concern for Chennai, if there is one, has been their top order batting. Shane Watson’s scores this week of 17, 0 and 6 are indicative of a poor season for a player who was considered one of CSK’s bankers at the start of the season. Their slightly scratchy starts to batting innings have been reflected in the fact that they have lost more Powerplay wickets and scored a slower rate than any other team in that phase.
While this is in part down to the slow nature of the Chepauk pitch, there is no doubt that CSK’s batsmen are under performing. Up to now, someone in the middle order has always stepped up and Chennai deserve credit for finding ways to win despite players like Watson having a barren run, especially given how key that aspect of their game was last year. Whether it can be sustained remains to be seen.
Next Week – v SRH (A), v RCB (A)
This Week – Played 2, Won 2 (v KXIP & v SRH)
This was a superb week for Delhi who followed up their comfortable victory against RCB last Sunday with more impressive wins over KXIP and SRH to move up to second in the league table. After a tumultuous start to the season marked by dramatic finishes and batting collapses, Delhi’s season is heading in the right direction and after eight matches they have already equalled their points total from last season.
It was particularly encouraging that Delhi’s victories this week were contrasting in nature – with the batsmen tracking down a stiff target of 178 against KKR before their bowlers brilliantly defended 150 against SRH.
One of the major areas of concern for Delhi before this season was their Indian seam bowling. However, so far this season they have been able to rely on Ishant Sharma to fulfill the role by deploying him as a new ball specialist – not once bowling him in the death overs. Across six matches he has taken five wickets at an economy rate of 7.26. Ishant’s excellence with the new ball has allowed Delhi to hold more overs of Kagiso Rabada and Chris Morris back and together the South African pair have been sensational, taking 28 wickets between them at an economy rate of 7.95. The performances of Delhi’s spinners – Amit Mishra, Sandeep Lamichhane, Rahul Tewatia and Axar Patel – have been inconsistent but the brilliance of the pace attack has protected against that. Keemo Paul was an excellent addition against SRH, returning figures of 3 for 17. This season Delhi comfortably have the lowest pace bowling average of all teams. Delhi are likely to lose Rabada and possibly Morris to the World Cup but they are making the most of them at the moment.
Delhi’s victory over KKR was powered by Shikhar Dhawan’s 97 not out. Earlier in the season head coach Ricky Ponting expressed concern of Dhawan’s scoring rate, so his strike rate of 153.96 against KKR will have been encouraging. Against SRH, Delhi recovered from a stodgy start with cameos from Rishabh Pant and Colin Munro (in for Colin Ingram who is visiting his newly born baby) elevating them to what proved to be a defendable total. Delhi’s batting remains a little fragile but it appears as if they are beginning to become more familiar with their roles and responsibilities. This is a team heading in the right direction.
Next Week – v MI (H), v KXIP (H)
Kolkata Knight Riders
This Week – Played 3, Lost 3 (v CSK, v DC & v CSK)
It was a horror week for Kolkata Knight Riders who finished last weekend at the top of the table but, after three defeats from three, find themselves in third and looking over their shoulder at the chasing pack. To compound things, star allrounder Andre Russell picked up an injury while bowling during Sunday’s defeat to Chennai Super Kings after failing with the bat for the first time this season.
Taking wickets has been a problem for KKR in this campaign. Russell and Piyush Chawla both have six each, but the lack of penetration shown by their much-vaunted spin attack of Chawla, Sunil Narine and Kuldeep Yadav is becoming a real issue for the Knight Riders. Far from the trio being a strength, batsmen are targeting each of them and having plenty of success when doing so. Of spinners to have bowled 100 balls or more, only Krunal Pandya has seen batsmen register a higher Attack rating than the KKR three, while Moeen Ali and Shreyas Gopal are the only spinners to have induced a higher Timing rating.
With the bat, Chris Lynn has carried on his good form with an eye-catching 82 against Chennai in their last outing, but the middle order are consistently finding it difficult to kick on. Robin Uthappa, Nitish Rana, Shubman Gill and Dinesh Karthik did not manage a 30+ score between them this week and, with Russell for once failing to explode at the death and possibly facing a spell on the sidelines with injury, KKR need their engine room to start firing fast. To emphasise the extent of the middle order’s struggles this week, KKR had four of the slowest scorers from positions 3-7 in week 3.
The over-reliance on Russell was always a high-risk tactic and it’s starting to come back to bite them. KKR still have the talent in their ranks, but they need to start performing again quickly, or risk getting sucked into the scramble for top four places.
Next Week – v RCB (H), v SRH (A)
This Week – Played 2, Won 1 (v KXIP), Lost 1 (v RR)
One of the all-time great comeback wins from MI against KXIP on Wednesday took Mumbai’s winning streak to three matches, but that was snapped at the weekend when they slipped up against RR.
Mumbai find themselves relatively well-placed in fourth with a game in hand over the teams above them and they are in this position despite not yet playing anywhere near their best cricket.
Through the season the opening partnership between Quinton de Kock and Rohit Sharma has generally been fairly solid and Mumbai’s death over hitting has been exceptional, but they have the lowest balls per wicket of any team in the middle overs and bowling has been plagued by inconsistency. Both these issues have cost them matches they should otherwise have won.
With the ball the only two bowlers for Mumbai who have negative True Economy Rates are Jasprit Bumrah and Rahul Chahar. After Alzarri Joseph’s superb debut when he took 6 for 12 he has since bowled five overs for 75 runs without taking a wicket and has now been ruled out of the season. The selection of Jason Behrendorff in Australia’s ODI squad will rob them of another fast bowler from early May as well.
These exact problems were clearly apparent in the defeat against Rajasthan were Mumbai only posted 187 after being 96 for 0 after 10.4 overs and then in the defence Bumrah, Krunal Pandya and Chahar took 4 for 91 from 12 overs (ER 7.58) but the rest of the attack took 0 for 95 in 7.3 overs (ER 14.58).
Next Week – v RCB (H), v DC (A), v RR (A)
Kings XI Punjab
This Week – Played 2, Lost 2 (v MI & v RCB)
The major landmark of the week for a Kings XI Punjab player was KL Rahul’s third T20 century, his first in IPL cricket. Since Rahul debuted in T20, 12 men have made more centuries than him; all of those 12 have played more matches than him. He’s a serious T20 batsman. However, more specifically for KXIP, what he’s done is make a change in his approach, allowing them to play a rather different strategy with the bat. He is attacking less (43% of deliveries, compared to 63% and 53% in 2018 and 2016, respectively), and he’s playing with more control. Just 13% of his shots have brought a miss or an edge, lower than last year and staggeringly lower than the year before, when he played 22% false strokes. The version of Rahul we saw in 2018 was a rapid, dicey opening batsman, that for all his skill was inherently quite unreliable – this year, he’s taken on an extra layer of responsibility that has defined KXIP’s batting approach.
They are cautious in the Powerplay, the second slowest at just 7.68rpo, but with the second largest dismissal rate at 36. As a result, they can use this platform to attack in the middle overs, where they score at 8.7rpo, the fastest of any team. Usefully they also manage to maintain a dismissal rate of 36 in this period, again the second best of any side. This allows them to score at just under 10rpo at the death, the third fastest, accelerating through to the end of the innings with aplomb. Rahul’s consistency and caution at the top, paired with Chris Gayle’s natural inclination to start slow and get quicker, has defined KXIP’s batting this year.
Slow starts have also defined the bowling, and not in a good way unfortunately. KXIP have the worst economy in the first six overs, and the second worst strike rate; Ashwin has been unable to find the right combination of opening bowlers to maintain incisiveness and control. Despite being signed as a Powerplay specialist, Sam Curran has gone wicketless in the first six overs, with an economy of just under 10rpo – for a swing bowler, that is a problem. When you throw into the mix that KXIP also have the worst death overs economy (8.84rpo), it’s not clear where
Next Week – v RR (H), v DC (A)
This Week – Played 1, Lost 1 (v DC)
Sunrisers have now lost three matches on the bounce, a relatively unknown state of frustration descending on a team used to consistency and control. Kane Williamson’s side have struggled to get a foothold in the competition after a strong start, and now look as if they may have to win five of their last seven matches to ensure qualification for the play-offs.
Despite this, they have had a clear area of strength this season – the Powerplay batting. Traditionally over the last few years, Sunrisers have been cautious at the start of the innings, opting for wicket retention at the expense of the scoring rate. In 2019 however, they have scored significantly faster (8.33rpo their fastest PP scoring rate since 2015), and that increase in power hasn’t come at the expense of dismissal rate. In fact, Sunrisers’ 2019 dismissal rate in the Powerplay – a wicket every 84 balls – is the best ever by an IPL team. Jonny Bairstow and David Warner have taken them to a new level at the start of the innings. That part of the team is working perfectly.
So why are they struggling? Well, the main issue has been the performance of everyone after Warner and Bairstow. Sunrisers batsmen coming in at No.3-7 have scored more slowly than every other side, and have the second lowest dismissal rate. What has long been the weakest element of Sunriser’s approach and recruitment – late-order hitting – has now become a terminal weakness, dragging the whole side down. They are starting innings better than most teams have ever done in IPL history, but they’re unable to capitalise on that platform.
Then, with the ball, it’s been another tale of two halves. In Overs 1-10, Sunrisers have had an economy rate of just 6.47rpo, the second best only behind table-toppers Chennai Super Kings. But they aren’t able to make that pressure pay, conceding over 10rpo at the death. Whereas previous SRH attacks have been able to keep that intensity up across a whole 20 overs, pouncing on any opposition mistakes, too many big players going missing at the death. Both Sid Kaul and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have death economies of over 12rpo this season – that’s unsustainable, and if they don’t improve, will cost SRH their place in the finals.
Next Week – v CSK (H), v KKR (H)
This Week – Played 2, Won 1 (v MI), Lost 1 (v CSK)
Trying to determine Rajasthan Royals’ strategy has been a difficult task throughout this competition so far. On the face of it they are a bowling heavy side, who select a batting order with plenty of anchoring ballast, hoping that the individual fireworks of Jos Buttler or Sanju Samson can spark an above par score. The latter has been unable to really cut loose, but has still scored briskly alongside Buttler. The issue for RR has been that whilst Buttler has played well this season (288 runs, scoring rate 9.19rpo, dismissal rate 26.8), he’s not had quite the impact he was able to last year, and reasonably so. 2018 Buttler was one of the best streaks of form any T20 player has ever been in – to build a strategy, a batting line-up and squad, around the idea that he could get anywhere close to those levels again, was a folly.
However whilst they are, on the face of it, a bowling-side, they are one who on the whole has bowled poorly. The Rajasthan seamers have continued to struggle significantly this season, recording an economy rate of 9.48rpo, the second worst of any side. Ben Stokes and Jaydev Unadkat have disappointed, particularly the former given the expense that Rajasthan went to in order to secure his services. Jofra Archer has been a soaring success, and an outlier within a struggling attack; getting through 82% of his work at either the start or the death of the innings, he has still maintained an economy rate of just 7.22rpo (True RR -1.26). On a side who look from their batting line-up as if they are meant to be restricting sides with bowling, Archer is one of the few – arguably the only one – who has delivered on that strategy.
There have also been tactical choices from Rahane which confuse, a little. Shreyas Gopal has the best economy rate of any RR bowler this season, and the second best strike rate behind Stokes. The Englishman benefits from bowling a lot at the death, in this matter – Gopal’s record is nothing to be sniffed at, and he has been right up among the elites in this year’s IPL. In the first three matches of the season, when Rajasthan were getting battered, Gopal bowled out on just one occasion; since then, he has finished his four-over allocation in ever match, with an economy of less than 8rpo in three of those matches. The failure to understand quite what an asset Gopal would be this season, and maximise his effectiveness in those opening matches, is immensely frustrating.
Next Week – v KXIP (A), v MI (H)
Royal Challengers Bangalore
This Week – Played 1, Won 1 (v KXIP), Lost 0
RCB played just one match this week and finally recorded their first win of the season – a relatively comfortable win away at KXIP – powered by a brilliant fifty from AB de Villiers. The win keeps RCB’s tiny hopes of a top four finish alive with a minimum of six wins from their remaining seven matches required if they are to sneak into the Play Offs.
RCB’s win against KXIP was deserved – it was arguably their most complete performance of the season with Navdeep Saini, Yuzvendra Chahal and Moeen Ali returning excellent combined figures of 3 for 75 from their 12 overs before fifties from Virat Kohl and de Villiers took RCB home.
It was not a complete performance from RCB though with Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Siraj being taken for 96 from their eight overs. However, the control offered by the other three bowlers ensured KXIP only finished with 173 – a below-par total on an excellent pitch in Mohali.
Parthiv Patel has played a useful role for RCB at the top of the order this season and got the chase off to a quick start with a quickfire 19 off 11 balls before Kohli and de Villiers took over in a superb partnership that took RCB to the brink of victory before a 16-ball 28 from Marcus Stoinis pushed RCB over the line.
This victory will have done little to assuage fears that RCB’s bowling remains vulnerable. Moeen, Saini and Chahal are emerging as consistent performers with the ball but the rest of the attack looks very weak. Their batting is also clearly over-reliant on Kohli and de Villiers. That said, a win is a win and they’ll be relieved to finally be on the board.
This week RCB confirmed that Nathan Coulter-Nile would be unavailable for the entire season and will be replaced by Dale Steyn. RCB placed a huge amount of faith in Coulter-Nile to carry their bowling attack – this was a big risk considering his recent injury history and Australia’s reluctance to make players available for the IPL. Steyn will be available from April 18th.
Next Week – v MI (A), v KKR (A), v CSK (H)