Cricket

IPL 2020 mid-season review: RCB roaring, CSK seething, anchors sinking, stars rising

  • Yash Jha
  • October 13th, 2020
  • 18:23:23 IST

We’ve seen two Super Overs. We’ve seen two supernatural, 30-run overs (plus a third, extras-aided one).

We’ve seen the highest successful chase in IPL history, made possible by quite possibly the most bizarre innings in IPL history.

We’ve seen Desert Storm 2.0 of sorts, by way of seven successive 200+ scores at Sharjah; we’ve seen a few chasing chokes of South-Africa-in-a-World-Cup-knockout proportions.

We’ve seen CSK on a losing spree. We’ve seen RCB on a winning spree.

In a year where the IPL was going to be as different as ever possible, it has provided a spectacle, so far, as absorbing as imaginable. And it’s barely half-time right now.

28 games in, there’s a three-way tie at the top, and while it’s not as tight a squeeze beneath the summit as it was, say, a week ago, there still remains every possibility of a peak squeaky-bum finish.

So as the league stage of IPL 2020 hits the mid-term mark, let’s take stock of what we’ve witnessed so far.

Runs flow in the desert, but brace for the ‘old normal’

The pandemic-enforced shift to the UAE had many wary of potentially attritional contests on traditionally sluggish pitches. The thought wasn’t without reason: the three chosen venues had seen a combined scoring rate of 7.64 since the start of 2018. Even six-central Sharjah, in that two-year period, had seen runs scored at ‘only’ 8.06 per over.

Sharjah has seen a quite dramatic transformation from a graveyard to a paradise for the spinners. Sportzpics

Sharjah has seen a quite dramatic transformation from a graveyard to a paradise for the spinners. Sportzpics

Within the first 10 days of the season, the 200-run mark was crossed seven times – thrice outside Sharjah, too. To put things in perspective, before IPL 2020 began, teams had scored 200 or more only 12 times in 157 T20s in the UAE since the start of 2018.

So we were seeing a good-ol’ run-fest. The average score batting first was above 180, and teams taking the first strike had scored 170+ on 15 occasions in the first 23 games.

But look what happened over the two double-headers this past weekend, as the tournament entered it’s four week. Four matches, across Abu Dhabi and Dubai, didn’t see a single team reach 170 – the average total batting first falling from 184 to 163. Even at Sharjah, on Monday, all batsmen not called AB de Villiers only managed 218 runs off 207 balls.

Sharjah, in fact, has seen a quite dramatic transformation from a graveyard to a paradise for the spinners; after being smashed at 10.81 runs an over in the first three matches, spinners have had an economy rate of just 6.86 in the last three games here – their average, too, has dropped from 53 runs a wicket to just 28.

Expect this to be the changing trend of the second half; as good an eleventh-hour job as the curators may have done, the pitches will lose life – and the bowlers will find theirs, again.

Pace packs a punch for early heavyweights

Two teams established themselves as the front-runners well in advance, in Mumbai Indians and Delhi Capitals. Aside from astute leadership groups, they have one thing in common: potent pace attacks.

The defending champions have found new in old, as Trent Boult and James Pattinson fit perfectly into their tried-and-tested formula of two overseas pacers to join Jasprit Bumrah. The returns have been sensational: 31 wickets between the three – that’s only three less than the entire wickets tally for KXIP, or for SRH – at just over eight runs per over, and a wicket every 16 balls.

The Capitals, seeking a maiden title run, continue to remain blessed by the powers of Kagiso Rabada – 17 wickets in seven games, providing a staggering return of 42 wickets in 19 outings since the start of IPL 2019. Sportzpics

The Capitals, seeking a maiden title run, continue to remain blessed by the powers of Kagiso Rabada – 17 wickets in seven games, providing a staggering return of 42 wickets in 19 outings since the start of IPL 2019. Sportzpics

The Capitals, seeking a maiden title run, continue to remain blessed by the powers of Kagiso Rabada – 17 wickets in seven games, providing a staggering return of 42 wickets in 19 outings since the start of IPL 2019 (Bumrah, next-best on the list, has 30!). But arguably the more divine intervention for Delhi was the late inclusion of Anrich Nortje, a replacement for Chris Woakes, and among the revelations of the first half of IPL 2020. The South African pairing has leaked only 7.45 per over while pocketing their 25 scalps so far, with a wicket every 13 deliveries.

Even Royal Challengers Bangalore – now level with the two front-runners on 10 points – have seen their stocks go north since being able to call upon their key acquisition, Chris Morris. In two games with Morris in the XI, RCB’s pacers (excluding one over of Shivam Dube) have taken 9/144 in 24 overs.

Dread it, run from it – RCB have arrived

Yep, there’s only so long we can pin it to being just one of those 2020 things. Halfway into an IPL campaign, RCB are level on points on top of the charts – and they’ve earned the right to be there.

To understand how far along they’ve come from the disasters of 2017/18/19, ask yourself a basic question: Where would you expect to see RCB if you were told Virat Kohli had only contributed, or looked fluent, twice in the first seven games? That’s right. It’s happening.

RCB have been on a roll with five wins from seven matches. Sportzpics

RCB have been on a roll with five wins from seven matches. Sportzpics

And it’s not happening out of some stroke of luck, some wild sorcery. It’s the fruition of well-laid-out plans. It’s the reward for a meticulously thought-out auction.

In adding Morris, Aaron Finch and Isuru Udana to their roster, RCB had set the compass in the right direction. They showed an ability to course-correct too, with the signing up of Adam Zampa after Kane Richardson’s withdrawal (his only outing so far may not have been one to remember, but don’t count him out of the tournament yet). They placed faith in young talent within their ranks, most notably in Devdutt Padikkal (real faith, not the roulette-style functioning of yore). They convinced AB de Villiers to don the ‘keeping gloves.

Possibly most vitally, though, they lost their rigidity and found their flexibility. Just look at the way Kohli and the think-tank have used their bowlers in varied roles – varied, yet defined, in a welcome change.

Finch and Padikkal already have as many, if not more half-century stands at the top than RCB’s openers managed through the entire season in any of the years past the 2016 high. De Villiers has already delivered three specials. Kohli is yet to kick into complete Kohli gears.

Washington Sundar has a tournament economy of 4.90. Yuzvendra Chahal is gripping the middle overs. Morris has injected high-class fuel into an already-performing fast-bowling engine room. RCB have bowlers to go to at the death!

Without wanting to tempt fate, really, could this be it?

CSK meet Murphy, finally

Without wanting to tempt fate, really, could this also be the year the streak of the IPL ends? On the evidence of the first half, surely, the end isn’t just near – it’s probably here.

There’s not one other IPL franchise – the seven existing ones outside of CSK, and the five defunct ones – that hasn’t had at least one year where everything fell apart; one year nothing worked; one year where Murphy’s Law prevailed.

MS Dhoni's Chennai Super Kings find themselves languishing second from bottom at the halfway stage. Sportzpics

MS Dhoni's Chennai Super Kings find themselves languishing second from bottom at the halfway stage. Sportzpics

That law, or any such laws (no wickedness intended), didn’t seem to apply to Chennai Super Kings. Then, 2020 happened.

They lost two stalwarts – the gun batsman of their entire existence and the only off-spinner in their squad, at that – to pre-tournament withdrawals. They were the only camp to be hit by the Coronavirus in the lead-up to the tournament. But the biggest damage, arguably, had been done in the months prior.

A squad that was old enough to be named ‘Dad’s Army’ in 2018 was now two-and-a-half years further into its tenure – and that extra half is rather essential. Make no mistake, it takes a fool to count them out, or to suggest inanities to the tune of T20 being a young person’s game; this is, after all, the same team that came within one ball of having won both the most recent IPL titles.

But think of what every player had to say about the challenge of going through the lockdown, and coming out of it, and getting oneself back to match-readiness. If it’s challenging for the Kohlis and the Bumrahs and the Pandyas, it’s certainly challenging for a core group of individuals on the wrong side of 35 (yeah, not even 30).

Now add to all of this the loss of Chepauk, and the harrowing heat of the desert. This was uphill even before things started going South.

All good things do come to an end. Even the fictional fable of Undertaker at Wrestlemania did, eventually, come to a halt.

If it does, it will be no scratch to the legacy of MS Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings, for this is an empire that stood tall through it all.

But what CSK can change – must, rather – is their approach, which has been archaic from the first week of the competition, and yet not been altered well into week number four.

A little more intent. Surely, it can’t be that difficult?

An IPL with too many ‘anchors’ to host

One of the underrated features of this year’s belated IPL, for a significant portion of its India-based viewership, was to be the relief it would provide from the scourge of primetime lockdown-living – anchors on the telly. Well, even if you have, thankfully, changed channels, you still get to see an awful lot of anchoring.

This author doesn’t necessarily prescribe to the idea that there is no room for the anchor’s role in T20 cricket. But this season, anchors, ironically, are causing a scary amount of sinking ships.

Remove the century against RCB, and Rahul’s strike rate is a measly 116.97. Sportzpics

Remove the century against RCB, and Rahul’s strike rate is a measly 116.97. Sportzpics

KL Rahul, quite possibly the most in-form batsman in world cricket pre-lockdown, blazed 132* off 69 balls in the first week of IPL 2020. He’s followed that with three half-centuries – each of which fall in that ignominious bracket of ‘match-losing’ innings. Remove the century, and Rahul’s strike rate is a measly 116.97. He might under-play the importance of strike rates, but that his team lie at the bottom despite featuring two of the fastest scorers of the season (Mayank Agarwal 158.96, Nicholas Pooran 176.36) tells you the negative impact caused by even one slow batsman.

And he isn’t alone, at all; only three of the top-10 run-getters at the halfway mark of IPL 2020 have strike rates above 140.

Fluent and easy-on-the-eye as they are, Shubman Gill and Devdutt Padikkal are only striking at 119.24 and 126.56, respectively. Virat Kohli isn’t much better, at 127.36. Even David Warner is down at 125.

Look at most of the names listed out here, and you’ll notice there’s not a lot under the ‘W’ column for their respective teams; Padikkal and Kohli are outliers, but that’s a luxury you only get when you have an AB de Villiers strutting about at 185.36.

Conversely, look at the top-orders of the table-toppers. Rohit Sharma (137.57), Quinton de Kock (143.60) and Suryakumar Yadav (155.33) keep Mumbai ahead of the curve more times than not, despite knowing the power that comes in later on; Prithvi Shaw (150.74) has been giving Delhi the starting spurts to negate his sedate partner (Shikhar Dhawan, 125.62), while Shreyas Iyer (138.41) has scored at a faster clip than he’s accustomed to in the format.

‘Intent’ is the buzzword. Look at the top and the bottom of the standings, look at the intent and the lack thereof, and you can see why.

Arise, India’s unheralded crop of riches

Rahul’s hit the highest score by an Indian in IPL history. AB’s been on his belligerent sprees. Rohit’s been among the runs. Rabada has been unstoppable. Bumrah has been indomitable. Rashid has been irresistible.

Yet, ask around in your social circles what’s the first performance they can recollect from the tournament gone by, and the overwhelming majority of responses will say Rahul Tewatia.

Words can’t do adequate justice to the miracle he pulled off against KXIP, and they won’t be attempted either. But by adding a Houdini 2.0 over the weekend versus SRH, Tewatia has established his first effort was no stroke of fortune.

It was the sweet reward of unheralded labour, and how blessed is Indian cricket to have a storm of such stories emerging this IPL.

Nine Man-of-the-Match awards in the 28 games so far have gone to players with fewer than 10 India caps; the entire 2019 season had only six such awardees.

Like Tewatia, Rahul Tripathi, another journeyman of sorts, has grabbed the limited opportunities that have come his way. Suryakumar Yadav, for the third season running, is making many wonder what more he needs to do to earn a maiden India call-up. Varun Chakravarthy has to be the redemption tale of IPL 2020.

Add to that the fresh produce, the new kids on the block – Devdutt Padikkal, Ravi Bishnoi, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi, Priyam Garg, Abdul Samad, Abhishek Sharma, T Natarajan.

Where talent meets opportunity, indeed.

Updated Date: October 13, 2020 18:23:23 IST

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