Another chapter of the annual everyday-is-a-new-movie festival is over and has been consigned to the archives. IPL 2019 began amid concerns of ‘workload management’ and worries around the amount players would want to invest with a World Cup around the corner. But after over 51 days and 60 matches, all the skepticism was quashed, and the bar was raised higher.
Only one other season could better the six-hitting count of IPL 12 (785). Only one other season had seen two Super Overs contested in the same campaign. Never before had a batsman maintained a strike rate above 190 while hitting more than 350 runs in a season — this year, that peak was scaled by two men.
Those two — Andre Russell and Hardik Pandya — were two of the top-most draws of the edition that has just passed us by, but they weren’t alone. Here’s a selection (Dream XI, if we may!) of the best performers from IPL 2019, assembled to resemble the closest-to-perfect team balance keeping in mind the T20 game as it showed itself over the course of this Indian summer.
1. David Warner (Sunrisers Hyderabad)
Matches 12 | Runs 692 | Average 69.20 | Strike Rate 143.86 | 50s 9 | Best 100*
At the top of the order, comes the man who topped the run-scoring charts — but that was his second-greatest achievement. David Warner showed on his return to top-level cricket that he belonged right where he’d left the game under a dark cloud a year ago — at the very top, that is.
Only two of Warner’s 12 innings saw him score less than 35 runs, and six of his nine scores of 50-plus were bashed at strike rates above 140.
Warner, along with his opening partner who follows on this list, literally carried an otherwise surprisingly-mediocre Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) into the Playoffs. His consistency was at par with, if not better than, peak-Warner from a couple of years ago, and his ability to sand stand and deliver during Powerplay and beyond remains quite unmatched.
Watch out, bowlers at the World Cup!
2. Jonny Bairstow (Sunrisers Hyderabad)
Matches 10 | Runs 445 | Average 55.62 | Strike Rate 157.24 | 50s 3 | Best 114 | Dismissals 11
There was no dearth of opening batting options from IPL 2019 — five different openers actually made more runs than the Englishman — but this author doesn’t want to separate the best-performing opening combination in any season of the IPL.
Warner and Bairstow added 791 runs in just 10 partnership innings, scored at a rate touching 10-an-over. From the point they were separated, Sunrisers only managed to win one out of five games.
What about Bairstow individually? His 445 runs may be behind KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Quinton de Kock, Chris Gayle, and Virat Kohli, but bear in mind that he played several lesser games; Bairstow topped 35 in seven out of 10 innings, and if you’re doing that while scoring faster than an in-form Warner, you’re in deep purple.
The keeping was only a further add-on (although we’re not short on ‘keepers in this XI).
3. KL Rahul (Kings XI Punjab)
Matches 14 | Runs 593 | Average 53.90 | Strike Rate 135.38 | 50s 7 | Best 100*
Yes, he played the tournament as an opener. But KL Rahul’s form – and touch – was no lesser than that of the Sunrisers duo granted the top spots, and given the lack of returns among the regular, genuine number threes this season (barring Shreyas Iyer and Suryakumar Yadav), he merits the final top-order berth.
After two single-digit scores to kick-start the season, Rahul timed his revving of the gears sweetly enough to coincide with the selection of the Indian World Cup squad. In five matches between 30 March and 11 April — three of which were against finalists Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings — Rahul made 312 runs while getting out only twice, with a century and three fifties to boot.
Two rapid 70s towards the close of the season, the second of them a 36-ball 71 vs CSK, ensured a consistent run — and, possibly, a few happy headaches for Virat Kohli and team heading to England.
4. Rishabh Pant (Delhi Capitals)
Matches 16 | Runs 488 | Average 37.53 | Strike Rate 162.66 | 50s 3 | Best 78* | Dismissals 24
This wasn’t an easy IPL campaign for Rishabh Pant. He played the second half of it harbouring the disappointment of not having made the World Cup squad, and appeared to spend a majority of his playing time drawing criticism over his failure to finish the job.
Agreed, the ghosts from the bottling of the year by Delhi against Kings XI Punjab, when Pant’s dismissal with 23 required off 21 balls triggered a collapse of 7/8, should linger for a while. But Pant crossed 40 five times in IPL 2019, and the Capitals won each of those games; the 21-year-old’s hand was the telling one in four of those, including a 21-ball 49 to decide the Eliminator and take Delhi to their first-ever win in an IPL playoff/knockout.
Oh, and he topped the glove-work chart by a margin, averaging 1.5 dismissals per game.
5. MS Dhoni (Chennai Super Kings)
Matches 15 | Runs 416 | Average 83.20 | Strike Rate 134.62 | 50s 3 | Best 84* | Dismissals 16
From the to-be finisher, to the finisher. Well, to some (read: many), this was the ‘has-been’ finisher, but haven’t they gone hiding on social media? In his 12th – and who’d dare say, potentially final? – IPL season, MS Dhoni had, arguably, his best-ever run with the bat, bettering the previous-best returns from last year (455 runs @ 75.83, strike rate 150.66).
How cruel, then, that the title slipped away with what could well be the tightest run-out call ever? Still, Dhoni with the bat carried a non-existent CSK middle-order through the league stage.
He made 30 or more seven times in 12 innings, and two of his three half-centuries would qualify among the top knocks of the season. The last of those saw him nearly pull off a heist that was impossible even by his lofty standards. He scored at a strike rate in excess of 160 at Chepauk, where runs were scored at 7.58 per over, or a strike rate of 126.30.
Then came his glove-work, adept enough to embarrass 20-somethings (the twin stumpings vs DC being a shoo-in to any highlights reel from IPL 2019). And the captaincy wasn’t too bad either, was it?
6. Andre Russell (Kolkata Knight Riders)
Matches 14 | Runs 510 | Strike Rate 204.81 | 50s 4 | Wickets 11 | Economy 9.51
The man who redefined every notion of big-hitting through the summer, inning after inning. It wasn’t one of those clichéd repetitions from the commentary box; impossible, really, was nothing when Andre Russell was out in the middle.
Prior to 2019, no team had ever successfully hit more than 50 runs in the final three overs of a run-chase. In the first two weeks of the season, Russell did it twice – on the second instance, he had taken KKR home with five balls still to spare.
Russell batted 13 times in IPL 2019, and only thrice did he actually face more than 25 balls – yet, he finished with over 500 runs. Imagine what that tally could’ve been had he got the batting position(s) he yearned for at livid press conference appearances.
As if all that wasn’t enough, he was also the leading wicket-taker for the Knight Riders. Did we mention he was nursing shoulder troubles virtually through the season?
7. Hardik Pandya (Mumbai Indians)
Matches 16 | Runs 402 | Average 44.66 | Strike Rate 191.42 | Wickets 14 | Economy 9.17
Explosive hitter. Effective bowler. Livewire in the field. It is the multiple-dimensional ability of Hardik Pandya that has seen him be touted as Indian cricket’s game-changer ever since he burst upon the scene, and IPL 2019 was perhaps the moment he exploded and made the scene his own.
While his runs – and striking – were both slightly behind Russell, the sensationalism of his batting numbers lies in the fact that he only once faced more than 20 balls in an innings (in which he shellacked 91 off 34).
32* off 15, 25* off 8, 28* off 11, 37* off 16, 32 off 15. He didn’t need time to get his eye in, he didn’t need a certain number of balls to have an impact on the outcome of games (four of the five scores mentioned came in Mumbai wins).
More impressively, he was often called upon to bowl the hard overs by Rohit Sharma – covering up for first-choice bowlers at the death when they were having off days – and he lived to fight on most occasions.
If he can extend his summer from India to England, this might come to be known as the summer of Hardik Pandya.
8. Shreyas Gopal (Rajasthan Royals)
Matches 14 | Wickets 21 | Economy 7.22 | Average 17.35 | Strike Rate 14.4 | Best 3/12
Virat Kohli. AB de Villiers. Marcus Stoinis.
Imagine getting those three wickets off successive deliveries.
Imagine getting the first two names on that list on both occasions you faced up to them.
Shreyas Gopal did both those things this season – delivering the only hat-trick of IPL 2019, and maintaining a scarcely-believable stranglehold on the two finest batsmen of this decade (Gopal to Kohli and de Villiers in T20s: 40 balls, 45 runs, 7 wickets. Yes.)
What made the 25-year-old leggie’s particularly impressive was his tremendous control. Gopal’s economy of 7.22 may not find him in the top-10 of the economy charts, but these numbers came in a Rajasthan Royals setup which would have been the leakiest in the competition had it not been for his frugality.
Gopal, in fact, was used a lot more in the back half of the innings than he was in the first – making his case all-the-more redoubtable.
He proved to be no mug with the bat, either, playing deft cameos in two successful chases for the Royals.
9. Imran Tahir (Chennai Super Kings)
Matches 17 | Wickets 26 | Economy 6.69 | Average 16.57 | Strike Rate 14.84 | Best 4/12
The prima donna spinner of the season, and the eventual Purple Cap winner. If it weren’t for his arms-wide-open maverick sprints, the prime focus would arrive on Imran Tahir’s mastery with the ball – and that is a sight almost as appealing as those mad post-wicket dashes of his.
You could be forgiven for thinking his returns were as astronomical owing to the eight matches he played at spin-paradise Chepauk, but the South African’s figures were no lesser when he bowled away from home comforts. Tahir’s economy in games away from Chepauk was 7.21, and he took a wicket every 16.5 balls.
What made him a truly invaluable asset was that his being a spin bowler didn’t stop his captain from using him at the back-end of the innings; Tahir was held back to grind out the tough overs to the likes of Russell and Pandya, and he delivered in those circumstances too.
10. Kagiso Rabada (Delhi Capitals)
Matches 12 | Wickets 25 | Economy 7.82 | Average 14.72 | Strike Rate 11.2 | Best 4/21
If it weren’t for a shoulder niggle, or if this weren’t a World Cup year, Kagiso Rabada could well have sat pretty atop the list for most wickets in a season in IPL history. The Capitals played four matches after Rabada’s premature departure to South Africa, and at his average of two wickets per game, he stood set to surpass Dwayne Bravo’s mark of 32 wickets in 2013.
Rarely is it possible to laud tangible consistency in a bowler’s season returns in the shortest format – there would be some games where the economy is good but the wickets column dry, there would be some the other way around – but what makes Rabada the standout bowling performer of the season was his seeming invincibility. Only thrice in his 12 appearances did Rabada fail to take two wickets – and not once did he go wicketless.
And then there was his Super Over. Go watch it, if you haven’t. Or even if you have. They’ll probably never again come as good.
11. Jasprit Bumrah (Mumbai Indians)
Matches 16 | Wickets 19 | Economy 6.63 | Average 21.52 | Strike Rate 19.5 | Best 3/20
That Jasprit Bumrah is the best limited-overs' bowler in the world was established well enough before IPL 2019, but in the details of the season lay the evidence that he is there to stay.
For all the analysis and analytics, the streams of video footage rival camps go through, the steadfast tactics of ‘playing out’ his overs, Bumrah held his own – in fact, he only improved on the already-potent record he held.
Bumrah’s economy rate was his lowest for any IPL season, and almost one whole run lesser than his IPL career mark of 7.55. He finished among the top-five wicket-takers despite batsmen trying to play him out. And his impact in the toughest games was second to none.
In a 180-meets-180 clash vs RCB at Mumbai, he gave 3/20 in 4. In a Super Over, he didn’t let Sunrisers Hyderabad play out their six allotted deliveries. In the final, he took 2/14 – and showed the champion he’s shaping into with his demeanour.
And despite all the talk of workload management, he played all 16 games and came out clean for the World Cup.