By Jaideep Varma and Jatin Thakkar
For the last 2 weeks, the buzz has been that the bookies are certain that Mumbai Indians will win IPL 2012. Even if that were to happen, would it be correct to attribute that to match-fixing, as is the implication? There are actually a couple of reasons why Mumbai Indians should be one of the two favourites, now that they have reached the playoffs (which should have actually been the tough part for them).
Delhi Daredevils have topped the league table but given their overwhelming reliance on 2 key batsmen, can this team really be considered the favourites? They are interestingly not even the highest impact side in this IPL. However, Impact Index suggests that history might just be on their side this year.
Kolkata Knight Riders have actually been the highest impact side of IPL 2012 so far. But given their immense dependence on Gambhir when it comes to batting, and having very little specialist talent at its disposal there, will the big match scenario expose their shortcomings?
Chennai Super Kings’ distinct lack of hunger has been palpable, which is entirely understandable given what their captain has gone through over the last year. And yet, they have just scraped through to reach the playoffs. Will they be a different entity now? Their history would certainly suggest that but why are they still not the favourites?
The four metros are all in the playoffs, ensuring the highest possible viewership possible to be squeezed out of this tournament. The cynical think that has been manipulated…but then why does this not seem strange at Impact Index?
For the second successive year, Impact Index has got 3 of its 4 projected semi-finalists right, which would have been a source of considerable pleasure for us if we saw ourselves as a predictive entity in this seemingly random format and extremely close tournament. However, it is much more meaningful for us to examine strengths and weaknesses others can’t always identify, and find mathematical reasons to explain what has happened. They provide more insights that are otherwise difficult to confirm, and sometimes even sense.
For example, here is the list of all the nine teams in IPL 2012 with the IMPACT they registered through their 16 matches each at the league stage.
For the first time in the history of the IPL, 3 of the 4 highest impact sides in the league phases did not make it to the playoffs. This bizarre occurrence happened mainly because of the close matches and the unprecedented tight competition between 7 of the 9 teams (and the last 2 fought tooth-and-nail for the second-last place). The extremely tight cluster between 6 teams on the Team Impact chart made this perhaps the most exciting tournament ever in cricket history – which, given its scale, is quite remarkable.
If the intensity of the cricket could not silence the doubters, it is unlikely Impact Index’s justification will. It is extremely interesting though, how this whole thing unfolded and the manner in which the dust eventually settled. This is how it did.
Kolkata Knight Riders has had its best year by far, so far – this was the highest impact side of IPL 2012 by a distance. The team, packed with all-rounders and arguably not enough specialist talent, ended up relying way too much on Gambhir (even more than RCB did on Gayle) – McCullum, Bisla and Kallis did contribute at different times, but Gambhir’s enormous contribution propelled Kolkata onwards at one end, while Sunil Narine’s outstanding performances held up the other end. The bowling, still, was stronger than the batting, given how Shakib and Balaji pitched in – in fact, KKR’s bowling had the lowest failure rate in IPL 2012.
Kings XI Punjab was actually the highest impact batting side of the tournament – more batsmen delivered consistently for them than any other side this year. Mandeep Singh, Gilchrist, David Hussey, Shaun Marsh, Gurkirat Singh and Azhar Mahmood all came through – at different times. Harris, Awana, Mahmood and Chawla did well on the bowling front too – this was one of the most consistent sides this year. To accomplish this without their highest impact players- Gilchrist for a big part (out with injury) and Mahmood in the beginning (visa problems), and Shaun Marsh at the fag end – suggests a show of character that their position in the points table does not do justice to. If they had made the play-offs, they would have been perhaps the most serious title contender this year.
Royal Challengers Bangalore, for the second year in a row, had Chris Gayle provide a miraculously consistent high impact performance right through the tournament. The dependence was near-complete, and most of the time, the only other batsmen who gave him support off-and-on were overseas players – de Villiers and Dilshan. Kohli did too, though in this format, he is not anywhere near the high impact ODI player he is. The bowling was better but Muralitharan did not play enough, and not being able to play him and Vettori together was one of RCB’s biggest losses (and perhaps blunders). It may have done the team a lot of good to play Vettori for Dilshan but it would have weakened the batting immensely. The lack of consistent Indian talent has been RCB’s debilitating weakness, which Gayle could not cover up for (unlike last year), and it is shocking that it was allowed to repeat itself this year too.
Rajasthan Royals registered adequate impact through Watson, Dravid, Rahane, Shah and Hodge in batting and Cooper, Hogg, Pankaj Singh and Trivedi in bowling – a lot of players bearing the responsibility somewhat, but eventually spreading themselves too thin on impact overall (with Chandimal – one of the highest impact T20 players in the world, not even getting a game). Watson’s absence in the first half of the tournament, several close finishes not going their way, and two feeble performances at the end of league phase - all resulted in much ado about nothing in the end. Given that they had the highest impact overseas players this year, it can be said they underachieved. Like RCB, they need to find some good Indian talent (though unlike RCB, their dependence was not total on them).
Delhi Daredevils have a simple narrative – Sehwag and Pietersen, then Sehwag and Warner, with the batting. Morne Morkel and Umesh Yadav with the bowling (with support from Aaron as bowler and Pathan as all-rounder). Too much impact concentrated in too few people. The impact was very high though, which is why DD won so many matches – some comfortably, but on an impact chart they are not as high as many would expect, as the rest of the players did not register much impact to speak of. They are likely to get through the playoffs through individual brilliance too – not the best situation to be in. But then, with Ross Taylor also showing signs of getting his touch back, they are also the side most likely of that kind of brilliance from more sources than any other team.
Chennai Super Kings was off-colour – middling batting impact overall from du Plessis, Michael Hussey, Raina and Dwayne Bravo with flashes of quintessential brilliance from elsewhere (like Albie Morkel). The bowling was a mess – Ashwin was lacklustre, Jakati feeble; only Hillfenhaus delivered, and he didn’t even play half the matches. CSK were very lucky to enter the playoffs but it may be a different ballgame now for them, as this stage of the tournament might be more their natural habitat. It will all come down to desire now – Dhoni not completing jobs now which he would always finish before - perhaps a sign that lack of hunger could be a problem this year for CSK.
Mumbai Indians won 5 close matches – it can’t be put down to just luck (though that can’t be discounted either). The bowling, largely dependent on Malinga (with reliable support from Pollard), and the batting, mustering up reasonable impact between Tendulkar, Rohit Sharma and Rayudu (with support from Gibbs, Smith and Pollard) – made up for their low specialist talent through all-round impact. The tough part for them was reaching the playoffs – they might just flourish as a big match outfit.
Deccan Chargers just had Steyn as a high impact bowler – even Amit Mishra came to the party only in the last 2 matches. In batting though, they flourished more – with Shikhar Dhawan and Cameron White leading the way and Duminy and Christian following a part of the way. They did not get the benefit of their highest impact players – Sangakkara was out-of-form, Darren Bravo missing and Daniel Harris not tried properly. The selection was muddled but they might just have the least to get right next year – just a little more clarity could do it for them, and another high impact bowler.
Pune Warriors were unlucky – they lost their star captain through illness. The makeshift one was inspirational for a short while but he just did not have the talent available in his squad to keep that momentum going. They lost 9 games in a row eventually, ending up last, just like Impact Index had predicted.
Here’s a small preview of the first two playoff matches:
1) Qualifier: Delhi Daredevils (1.84) vs Kolkata Knight Riders (1.95)
KKR is a side of primarily all-rounders whereas DD has more specialised talent. That makes DD a side more capable of individual brilliance with the bat or the ball in terms of consistency. KKR is a more solid, reliable side, which might hold them in good stead in the big match situation but they could find that X-factor missing if things go out-of-hand for them early on.
DD’s batting is stronger – Sehwag and Warner hold the key. With Taylor showing signs of getting his mojo back, it could be a lethal combination. KKR relies way too much on Gambhir – if he gets out early, KKR will struggle – but they are still likely to scrap their way to the end.
Their bowling is almost par on numbers (though KKR is more consistent) – it is very clearly a case of pace (Morkel and Yadav) vs spin (Narine and Shakib) though. The pitch, expected to be slow, therefore could favour the KKR attack.
Big match players are the same in both sides – KKR may consider getting Brett Lee in; he is an average T20 bowler usually but transforms into an outstanding T20 player in knockout situations (5 out of 6 times in his career he has shown this). Of course, if the pitch is not likely to have much for the pacers, that will not even be considered.
Both teams are excellent in chasing which is what either might prefer. However, 5 of the 8 matches in Pune have been won batting first (62%), but it is important to remember that the weakest IPL team this year played in each of them, so perhaps there is not much to look at there.
On pure Impact numbers KKR looks the more likely winner (especially with the pitch likely to support their attack). However, DD could take the match away on sheer individual brilliance – it is their only hope of countering KKR – so, the steady game should not be their game-plan against them. The success of Sehwag and Warner (and maybe Taylor) will perhaps determine this game.
Even if they don’t prevail in this match, Impact Index history seems to favour DD when it comes to winning IPL 2012. In all 4 previous editions, the second-highest impact team at the league stages went on to win. DD was not the second-highest impact team this year at the league stage, but they are that team amongst the four in the playoffs.
Eliminator: Mumbai Indians (1.83) vs Chennai Super Kings (1.83)
These are two very similar sides in a contest that is literally too close to call. Defending Champions both – one, IPL 2011, the other, Champions League 2011. Identical Team IMPACT. Identical Batting IMPACT. Almost the same number of big match players in their squads.
And both have been similarly lacklustre at the league stage – especially batting (despite some inspiring performances through the league). CSK, moreover, has been particularly poor in bowling – Ashwin and Jakati have been off-colour and only Hillfenhaus has looked promising (though his last over lost a game against MI in the league phase).
So, it is bowling that could swing it for MI (despite having no one other than Malinga doing the high impact hi-jinks, with some support from Pollard). Or perhaps it is more accurate to say CSK’s mediocre bowling could swing it for MI.
The toss could play a part too – in the last two years, 62% of the matches in Bangalore have been won chasing. MI has a better record than CSK this year when it comes to chasing.
It is too close to call – unless CSK bat first, in which case, MI should prevail.
For more information, please go to www.impactindexcricket.com