The eleventh edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) ended with MS Dhoni’s team Chennai Super Kings (CSK) walking away with the trophy for the third time. As much as the sight of MS Dhoni leading the Yellow Army into the finals of the marquee event is a predicted one, the fact remains that before the tournament started, the side was hardly given much of a chance to succeed. With a number of players above 30 in their ranks, the franchise was criticised for picking an 'old' team at the auctions – the average age of which had crossed 33 at one stage. Despite warhorses like Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Shane Watson, Dwayne Bravo and Harbhajan Singh in the side, CSK was duly written off.
CSK is not the only team in this year of the IPL that surprised. Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) too had been relegated to the back-burners due to the bizarre auctions that they had had. Not only had they spent their entire purse, they also had the smallest number of members of all the IPL teams this year - 19. Their bench strength had lacked the firepower and with several domestic players, the fear was that the KKR team did not have much of a reserve strength. With Chris Lynn and Andre Russell facing injury scares before the IPL began and Sunil Narine being pulled up for his bowling action, KKR faced a severe test of skill. Mitchell Starc’s injury further pushed them into the dudgeon and it was not long after that the side was written away, with their choice of captain being criticised as well.
The two teams that allegedly did play it well were teams like Delhi Daredevils (DD) and Kings XI Punjab (KXIP). Both sides had a couple of match-winners and big names who had made a reputation in the shortest format of the game in the recent past. The two sides were sure-shot contenders for the top-4, then what is it that went so wrong in the tournament? How did a team like Delhi finish at the bottom, while Punjab failed to grasp onto their brilliant start to finish seventh? More surprisingly, how did a side like KKR with an unsettled pace leader go on to reach Qualifier 2? While CSK’s success might not have come as a surprise to many, the tale of thee other three franchises did leave one befuddled. Was it a fluke?
However, much to the contrary, the success of a team like KKR this year was brought about right on the auction day, when the management refused to just go in with big names. Instead, they focussed on tapping the potential of a few influential cricketers who did not only have a good performance rate under pressure but also who checked parameters like a high boundary percentage and a low dot ball percentage. Firstly, they retained 7 core members from 2017 (Russell was banned last year but he was still a part of the KKR set-up) that ensured continuity and secondly, they chose to pick out players after carefully analysing their records and numbers in the T20s.
While the selection of Shubman Gill was based on form and current performance, Rana's was a well-thought out selection. He faces an average of 19.15 balls per innings in T20s, which is more than what Glenn Maxwell, Shane Watson, Colin Munro and Russell face. In his stay of 19 balls, he hits a four twice and a six once (a four every 9 balls and a six in every 14). When Gill and Rana combined with Chris Lynn and Narine, who score 67.89% and 81.85% of their runs in boundaries, respectively in the IPL, KKR’s top order was a solid unit. With Russell scoring 45.86% of his runs in sixes and with a six in every 8.34 balls, KKR’s display in the death overs was duly taken care off as well. Captain Dinesh Karthik too pitched in, scoring an average of 31.13 runs per innings this year that further paved their journey to the playoffs.
Chennai on the other hand was criticized for the selections of Ambati Rayudu, Shane Watson and Faf du Plessis in particular, who are not conventional T20 players on first glance. Especially after a poor season last year, Watson was dissed aside. However, he scores a boundary off every 5.01 balls, scoring 27.32 runs at an average in every innings that he faces in the IPL. With a hundred before the tournament, Watson with the bat had proved himself in the league and even while most of his countrymen struggle to get going in Indian conditions, Watson was just the contrary. Du Plessis scores 28.37 runs at an average in an innings in the IPL and is twenty second on the list of the most consistent players in the history of the tournament. This was on display in Qualifier 1, when the South African single-handedly took his team to the finals with a brisk 67, despite having played only 5 games prior to the crunch-game. Rayudu too might not inspire with a strike-rate of 130.25 in 130 IPL games, but time and again he had shown with the Mumbai Indians that he had the maturity to help his side finish close games, none more famous than the game where he took his side over the line against KKR in 2011 when MI needed 22 from the last over.
Even though the side had an average bowling attack, the consistency with the bat and the re-emergence of Dhoni worked in their favour. The strong bowling attack of KKR and the ability of players like Shivam Mavi and Prasidh Krishna to stand tall helped the side into the top three, making both CSK and KKR the surprise performers of IPL 2018.
Punjab, on the other hand, despite the brilliance of KL Rahul failed to get going in the latter stages, with a feeble middle-order. Their inconsistent mindset had been on display in the auctions, when they, along with Delhi Daredevils had bid for almost every player, without much of a plan in place. Even though the two sides managed to grab Aaron Finch, Chris Gayle (both Punjab), Munro and Maxwell ( both Delhi), who are big-players in their own rights in the format, none of them, except Gayle have played defining innings in India.
Maxwell stays at the crease for an average of 12.75 balls in the IPL, which is less than what he faces in the Big Bash League (BBL). Munro fares worse, facing only 8.88 balls per innings on an average, scoring only 11.63 runs in the interim in the tournament and despite being in stellar form in international circuit for the last year, his struggles against spin are well-documented. Finch too has hardly put up a knock worth remembering and despite being big players, they have been as inconsistent as ever.
Hence, it is not only going after reputation that pays off in the IPL. Over the years, both CSK and KKR have gone in with efficiency and fearlessness rather than reputation and in their constant backing of players like Mohit Sharma, Ankit Rajpoot (previously with CSK) and Kuldeep Yadav (KKR), they have shown that immaculate planning trumps mindlessness during the auctions.