Tuesday, 13 April: Kolkata Knight Riders need 31 runs from 31 balls, with seven wickets in hand… and Mumbai Indians win by 10 runs.
Wednesday, 14 April: Sunrisers Hyderabad need 54 runs from 42 balls, with nine wickets in hand… and Royal Challengers Bangalore win by six runs.
In a game eerily similar to their opening clash at IPL 2020 – SRH, needing 43 from 32 balls, lost eight wickets for 32 to lose by 10 runs – SRH, just like KKR 24 hours earlier, snatched defeat from inside the gut of victory (no, this wasn’t just the jaws of victory) to hand RCB two points in a second slow-burner in as many nights at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai.
It gives RCB the rare taste of successive wins to kick-start an IPL campaign, a feat they last achieved in 2014 (and only once before that). To have done so at Chepauk, of all places, with negligible contribution from Yuzvendra Chahal (0/70 in eight overs), is something even the most ardent RCB fans wouldn’t have called a week ago.
Here’s what we learned from match six of IPL 2021.
At Chepauk, DO NOT field first… and please DO NOT leave it late
In four games at Chepauk so far this season, chasing teams have only once got over the line – take away the genius of AB de Villiers on the opening night of IPL 2021, and that number would have been zero.
Yet, all four captains to win the toss have elected to field. While there’s not a huge difference in the raw data – teams have scored at 8.08 runs per over batting first, and 7.77 batting second – it has been clear, even if intangibly so, that Chepauk isn’t looking like a chase-friendly venue, especially with dew not having come into the picture so far.
The clearer trend, even tangibly, is the difficulty in run-scoring in the second half of the innings – irrespective of whether batting first or second.
In the first 10 overs of the innings, batters are averaging 56.64 and it’s taking 44 balls for every wicket to fall, with runs being scored at 7.79 per over – that’s an average 10-over score of 78 for 1.
In the last 10 overs of the innings, the scoring rate has only increased to 8.07 – but a wicket, on average, has fallen every nine balls, and at the cost of 13 runs. That’s an average second-half score of 81 for 7.
There are six more games to come at Chepauk, all in the coming 10 days. Expect a visible change in batting tactics, and the use of enforcers in the top-half of the innings.
Difficult combination calls for SRH to take
SRH were always going to have tough selection calls over their overseas contingent. Jonny Bairstow or Kane Williamson? Or both? Jason Holder or Mohammad Nabi? (And that's without putting Jason Roy into the mix.)
The early performances of their Indian batting/all-round selections only add to the confusion. The larger question is: Are SRH utilising their resources, overseas or domestic, most efficiently?
Albeit over a small sample, Wriddhiman Saha’s sparkling burst as an opener to power their surge into the playoffs of IPL 2020 – scores of 87(45), 39(32) and 58*(45) in their last three league outings, before missing the playoffs due to an injury – made him a justifiable choice to partner David Warner at the top.
While two poor games present an even smaller sample, the presence of Bairstow provides an enticing alternative, especially given the Englishman’s stellar record as SRH opener: An average of 41.58 at a rate of 8.54 runs per over, while forming one of the most lethal opening combines in IPL history alongside Warner – 20 innings, five century stands, five half-century stands, an average of 60.55 and a scoring rate of 9.26 (best and fifth-best, respectively, among all openers with at least 10 innings together in the IPL).
Arguably, Bairstow’s best utility to the team would be from the top of the order. His 'keeping abilities could also allow the inclusion of a lower-order batter/all-rounder in Saha’s place.
— SunRisers Hyderabad (@SunRisers) April 14, 2021
The need for that role arises due to the indifferent displays of their middle-order options, aside from Abdul Samad.
Twice in two games, Vijay Shankar has flattered to deceive at the death; an overall scoring rate of 7.08 since returning to SRH in 2019 didn’t inspire much confidence for the finisher’s role in the first place.
Manish Pandey – their most pedigreed domestic batting resource – comes with longer-term concerns: His scoring rate (7.34) is the second-slowest among all top-4 batters to have faced 2500+ balls in the IPL. Since the start of IPL 2020, Pandey has scored at 6.50 per over between overs 7-16.
Given the lack of experience across the Indian batting options in the squad, Pandey’s spot, of course, is safe. But is Abhishek Sharma’s case – a scoring rate of 8.21 in the last two editions of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, while also being a rare left-handed option, and with reasonable ability as a slow left-armer – any less compelling than Shankar’s?
Credit where it’s due: Sunrisers did correct Samad’s position, at least, on Wednesday. The 20-year-old’s potential – 4.5 balls per boundary, and a scoring rate of 10.68 in the IPL – surely warrants greater and more sustained faith.
Could SRH also benefit by not being as rigid with Rashid Khan’s low slot? The Afghan scores at 9.18 per over in the IPL, finding the boundary every five balls – and clearing it every 8.5 balls.
There are questions and combinations that could drive the greatest permutation experts into overdrive. The sooner SRH answer some of them, the likelier their chances of maintaining the proud run of having finished in the top-four every season since 2016.
New team, new role… New Maxwell?
Having made a few hundred mentions of how he went an entire IPL season without a six, it’s only fair to amplify that Glenn Maxwell has hit five maximums in his first two outings in the RCB red.
But ‘New Maxi’ – the avatar we’ve seen so far in IPL 2021 – could yet to be about a lot more than his six-hitting. Believe it or not, that might come rather handy to the RCB cause – as it has, twice so far.
Consider Maxwell’s pacing of his innings against the Sunrisers.
He began sedately, not taking any risks against the obvious threat of Rashid that was thrown directly at him, and only scored nine from his first 16 deliveries. Then came the targeted attack on Shahbaz Nadeem, who he smashed for two sixes and a four in the 11th over.
— Royal Challengers Bangalore (@RCBTweets) April 14, 2021
Almost immediately after that came a dramatic slide in the innings. But even as RCB collapsed from 91/2 in 12 overs to 110/6 at the end of the 17th, Maxwell, unlike past IPL versions of himself, didn’t decide to go for broke – and patiently nudged on from 26 off 20 balls to 35 off 30.
Then, RCB scored 39 decisive runs in their last three overs; 24 of those runs came from the 11 balls that Maxwell faced.
Even in his 28-ball 39 against Mumbai Indians, Maxwell’s approach was visibly calculated: five runs off eight balls against the pacers, 34 off 20 against spin.
An addition of a method to madness has proved seismic for many a batter to move from middling to masterful. “A new franchise for me this year, they gave me a pretty specific role,” Maxwell said after being named the Player of the Match. “Having AB behind you in the order gives you a bit more freedom to play your shots, gives me a bit of time to get myself in, and it’s a very similar role to what I play for the Australian cricket team,” he added.
The gulf between Australia’s Maxwell and IPL’s Maxwell has been the subject of much discourse. It’s early season, and you don’t want to tempt fate – but are we in for a Big Show, at last?
It’s okay to praise Kohli’s captaincy calls too
Over the last two nights, we witnessed two remarkably similar games, with identical finishes. At the helm of both winning teams were two most discussed active Indian internationals.
Social media was abuzz with words of wonderment about Rohit Sharma’s tactical genius in inspiring Mumbai Indians’ heist over Kolkata Knight Riders – and it was rightly deserved. On Wednesday, Virat Kohli’s decision-making deserved similar adulation, if not more, given the far more modest look his bowling attack wears compared to the MI machinery.
Regardless of which side you lean towards, the move to give the 17th over of the SRH chase to Shahbaz Ahmed will count as one of the moves of this season.
SRH needed 35 from 24 balls, with Bairstow and Pandey in the middle. Bairstow’s struggles against slow left-arm spin had been well-documented through England’s Test series in Sri Lanka and India (five dismissals in seven innings); Pandey, across the IPL and T20Is, scored at barely a run-a-ball.
It wasn’t just about Kohli going by the match-ups; it was, through the Shahbaz move, or the deployment of Harshal Patel, or not feeling compelled to hand Kyle Jamieson a fourth over, a step away from the rigidity that has been quite a constant in Kohli’s captaincy.
It ought to be appreciated.
...but RCB will need more from Kohli the batsman
33 runs off 29 balls, with four fours. Against two varying attacks, in two carrying circumstances, Kohli has begun IPL 2021 with identical innings. Neither is a shining example of T20 batting.
The concern is that it follows a familiar pattern in Kohli’s batting for RCB in recent times.
Since the start of IPL 2020, he’s scored at less than 7.5 runs per over – that’s a strike rate under 125 – in 14 out of 17 innings. Even in the other three knocks, two have seen him score at only a smudge above eight per over.
Kohli faced 100 dot balls out of 384 in IPL 2020. He has started IPL 2021 with 21 dots out of 58.
It’s not about these two innings in isolation, it’s a trend that is bothersome – one that needs correcting for RCB’s hopes this season.
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There is a possibility that Warner could be dropped from the playing XI and West Indies captain Jason Holder is likely to replace him.
RCB skipper Virat Kohli reached Mumbai on Tuesday, the day IPL-14 was indefinitely suspended due to multiple COVID cases in its bio-bubble. By Thursday early morning, all the other playing and non-playing staff had also left for their onward destinations.
Unless there is a drastic change for the lower half of the table – be it in their form, and/or fortune, and fickle-mindedness – this could be a rather long second half for RR, PBKS, KKR, and SRH.