The much anticipated IPL 2017 is here and the action is coming in thick and fast. While the defending champs are off the blocks and looking confident, the others in the competition are warming up.
Here’s a quick wrap of the week gone by.
Played 2, Won 2, Lost 0.
Positive: Rashid Khan
Rashid has already taken more wickets (5) in his first eight overs of this season than Sunrisers Hyderbad’s leading spin wicket-takers last year: Deepak Hooda and Bipul Sharma (3). He has bowled with control and skill, conceding runs at just 6.87 runs per over and varying leg breaks and googlies with regularity.
Negative: The fifth bowling option
Ben Cutting and Moises Henriques have conceded 96 runs in 9.4 overs and not taken a wicket across Hyderbad’s first two matches. While Bipul has also filled in well as the fifth bowler Hyderabad will be wary of the struggles of Cutting and Henriques. In closer matches than those they’ve had so far, a couple of expensive overs could be costly.
Tactical Tip: Don’t change anything
Given the struggles with the ball of Henriques and Cutting, it might be tempting for Hyderabad to bring in Mohammad Nabi and have a look at him, perhaps in Cutting’s position. While it would be hugely exciting to see Nabi play, Hyderabad should be wary of changing things simply for the sake of doing so. Henriques and Cutting may have struggled with the ball but it’s only been two matches and they’ve done their job with the bat. Hyderabad have looked supreme so far; there’s no reason to upset that now.
Kolkata Knight Riders
Played 2, Won 1, Lost 1
Lynn’s form in the CPL and BBL was already hard to ignore but Andre Russell’s absence robbed Kolkata of firepower and has forced them to rethink their prevailing strategy of two overseas bowlers and two overseas all-rounders that saw them select a specialist overseas batsman just seven times in their last 29 matches across the last two seasons. How Kolkata were going to accommodate Lynn was unclear with many suspecting he would slot into the middle order.
Opening with him is an inspired idea. Lynn has historically struggled against spin so getting him in as early as possible when teams are keen to give the new ball to seamers suits his game. Secondly, while Kolkata are not a slow scoring team in the Powerplay, they may have had a creeping sense that Gambhir and Uthappa are not the pair to fully maximise the Powerplay as they get older and the game moves on. Lynn, with a career run rate in the bracket above them, is.
Negative: Death Bowling
Kolkata has conceded 92 runs in the last four overs against Gujarat Lions (42-1) and 3.5 overs v Mumbai Indians (50-1). Against Gujarat, it was Trent Boult and Chris Woakes who were tasked with closing out the innings and although they bowled a handful of poor deliveries Dinesh Karthik played some clever shots. Against Mumbai, it was Boult and Ankit Rajpoot who bowled eight full tosses between them in the last 2.5 overs to help the home team over the line.
Tactical Tip: Don’t be afraid to promote Sunil Narine
In Kolkata’s second match against Mumbai, with 3.5 overs to go, Chris Woakes walked in after Suryakumar Yadav got out. While Kolkata is understandably keen to entrust Woakes with responsibility and to give him the best possible chance to fill the Russell-sized hole in their batting order they should be wary of overlooking alternative options to achieve that objective. Sunil Narine has evolved into an excellent lower-order hitter recently and could be better utilised.
Kings XI Punjab
Played 1, Won 1, Lost 0
Positive: Glenn Maxwell
In his first game as Punjab captain, he led relatively well in the field and batted responsibly with the bat, seeing his side over the line. Punjab’s overseas players are critical to their season and Maxwell as their captain and middle-order lynchpin is the most important of them all.
Negative: Promoting Axar Patel
Punjab will have had a reason for promoting Patel to number four against Pune - perhaps it was to maintain a left-hand, right-hand combination, but in a small run-chase such as that one, it was arguably a risk that did not need to be taken. Patel ended up facing 18% of Punjab’s deliveries and scoring just 15% of their runs - chasing a slightly bigger total that could have been hugely damaging. There’s nothing wrong with being flexible but Maxwell and David Miller coming in below Patel when chasing a below par total seemed odd.
Tactical Tip: Open with Maxwell
Both Kolkata and Mumbai have elevated their star batsmen in Lynn and Joe Buttler to open the batting this week to take advantage of the fielding restrictions. Punjab could do the same with Maxwell who scored a rapid hundred for Australia when doing so against Sri Lanka. Opening with Maxwell would allow Punjab to select Miller and Eoin Morgan in the middle order, dropping Hashim Amla to make room for the Englishman.
Played 2, Won 1, Lost 1
Positive: Indian power-hitting
Players like Nitish Rana and Hardik Pandya are the next breed of Indian T20 batsmen; not as classical as Manish Pandey and Lokesh Rahul but less refined and more powerful. Rana’s innings v Kolkata and Hardik’s v Pune and Kolkata were scintillating. Their form gives Mumbai arguably the deepest and most powerful batting order in the league.
Negative: Bowling strategy v Pune
To have Jasprit Bumrah, Tim Southee and Mitchell McClenaghan in the same team but to end up with Kieron Pollard bowling the last over is indicative of poor captaincy and planning. An additional over of Krunal Pandya could have been squeezed in earlier thereby giving someone with more death bowling prowess than Pollard the chance to defend 13 off the last.
Tactical Tip: Drop Parthiv
For a squad boasting as much batting power as Mumbai, it is peculiar that Parthiv Patel plays and opens the batting, as often as he does. Patel fails to capitalise on the fielding restrictions and leaves more work for the middle and lower order. Since the start of last season, he has scored runs at a rate of 6.08 runs per over in the Powerplay phase. Mumbai should promote Rohit to open with Buttler and pick another young batsman, perhaps new signing Krishnappa Gowtham in the middle and lower order until Ambati Rayudu returns to fitness.
Rising Pune Supergiant
Played 2, Won 1, Lost 1
Positive: Not picking Faf du Plessis
Pune could not afford to give overseas spots to two batsmen considering the weakness of their bowling and they have not fallen into the trap of doing so in their first two matches, picking two spinners and then one all rounder and one spinner to strengthen the bowling, and, in the case of Dan Christian, give a little more depth to their batting.
Negative: Bat first hoodoo
Pune have now lost all eight matches when they have batted first. While chasing is universally preferred these days, such stark troubles will not go unnoticed and Pune must solve this problem if they are to stand a realistic chance of making the top four. This year, with a clear batting structure, their batting order is better suited to batting first than last season.
Tactical Tip: Consistently pick one of the leggies
With Imran Tahir and Adam Zampa to choose from, it is important that Pune does not interchange them too regularly and instead give one of them an extended run as the frontline spinner. It appears that Tahir will be that man with Zampa coming in on particularly helpful pitches.
Royal Challengers Bangalore
Played 2, Won 1, Lost 1
Positive: Kedar Jadhav
In the absence of Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers and with Chris Gayle still looking short of his best, Jadhav has stepped up brilliantly, scoring 31 (16) and 69 (37) to elevate RCB’s batting. Jadhav’s form in the middle order means RCB can, when Kohli and de Villiers return, match the batting depth of last season when Rahul batted in the middle order.
Bangalore made four team changes after their opening match defeat to Hyderabad. While the decisions were vindicated by victory against Delhi, such wholesale changes after one match are only likely to confuse roles in the team.
Tactical Tip: Don’t be afraid to play two overseas bowlers
Bangalore’s win against Delhi proved the value of bowling depth. Bangalore had dropped batsman Travis Head for an extra overseas bowler in Billy Stanlake, who proceeded to play a crucial role in their defence of 157, taking 2 for 29 from his four overs. Even when de Villiers is back, Bangalore should not be afraid to try this strategy again which could only realistically be accommodated by leaving out Gayle.
Played 1, Won 0, Lost 1
Positive: Rishabh Pant
Pant’s innings against Bangalore was one of the great IPL innings. His father died earlier in the week and for him to play that innings, on that stage, in that match, at just 19 years of age, after all that had happened to him, was simply staggering. Pant displayed a mental toughness in that innings that makes the power of his batting all the more exciting.
Negative: Not replacing Duminy
The negative for Delhi came off the pitch when it was announced that they had signed Ben Hilfenhaus to replace JP Duminy. There is nothing wrong with the signing of Hilfenhaus specifically; he is an excellent bowler, but rather the decision to sign him as a replacement for their key batsman Duminy in a squad already packed with seam bowlers, is peculiar. Delhi is already short of batting and they have passed up an opportunity to remedy that issue.
Tactical Tip: Change the overseas balance
With Delhi short of batting, it was intriguing to see Carlos Brathwaite selected alongside Chris Morris and Pat Cummins in their first match. Corey Anderson and Angelo Mathews have more to offer with the bat than Brathwaite and should be given an opportunity in an otherwise inexperienced Indian middle order.
Played 2, Won 0, Lost 2
Positive: Jason Roy plays
How Gujarat was going to choose between their enviable batting options was a key question heading into this season. They answered that by not choosing between any of them and picking them all, and while that has caused major problems in the bowling department it has meant that Jason Roy, one of the most exciting opening batsmen in the world, has been given a chance at the top of the order. Even with strategic changes looming, Roy deserves an extended run at the top.
Negative: Team selection and bowling
With Dwayne Bravo and Ravindra Jadeja out injured, it is amazing that Gujarat has not strengthened their bowling by picking a frontline overseas bowling option. A couple of good bowling performances from Dwayne Smith last season appear to have convinced the management that he is a genuine all round option when in fact since the start of last year he has a bowling average of 41 and an economy rate of 9. That Gujarat has taken just one wicket in their two matches and conceded runs at more than 10 runs per over says a lot about how badly that strategy has gone.
The blame cannot be entirely attributed to the strategy though. Gujarat has bowled terribly in both matches, particularly the first, and must improve quickly to stop their season unravelling as soon as it has begun.
Tactical Tip: Pick an overseas bowling option
Even when Jadeja returns, Gujarat must strengthen their bowling by picking one of Andrew Tye or James Faulkner, the former of whom has the superior record since the start of 2016. Whoever it is can make way for Bravo when he is fit again.