IPL Dream XI: From Malinga to Raina, the best from 12 years of the cricketing carnival
With everything on hold, it's time to look back, time to reflect, time to ponder, time to wonder. So Firstpost presents you with IPL Dream XI.
In an alternate universe, sixes were raining last night – when Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, David Warner and Jonny Bairstow teed off at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, where Royal Challengers Bangalore took on Sunrisers Hyderabad in Game 11 of IPL 2020. In that same parallel universe, fans were waking up this morning to the prospect of India’s T20 openers of choice – KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma – locking their bats and brains at Mohali later in the evening.
*Cue collective sigh of what-may-have-been*.
No such sights to savour in the actual universe, which lies dormant like it hasn’t ever since the Second World War – everything, currently, is on a break. Including the IPL.
What that does provide, on the bright side, is time. Time to look back, time to reflect, time to ponder, time to wonder.
This writer’s favourite annual pastime is to sit down and collate ideal XIs for every IPL season. (Here's last season’s XI) That might not happen this time around, so then why not delve into the more manic task: that of picking an all-time IPL XI.
This was, to put it mildly, a grueling exercise, and one that’s likely to split opinion – but then again, what’s a compilation XI without some debate?
Without any further ado, let’s get straight into the selections.
Matches 126 | Runs 4706 | Average 43.17 | Strike Rate 142.39 | 100s/50s 4/44 | Best 126
Controversy right at the top, eh? Don’t scroll further down, and no need to refresh the page – there’s no Chris Gayle in this XI. That’s right: the man with the most centuries in the IPL, the man with more than a hundred more sixes than anyone else in the IPL, the ‘Universe Boss’ – he doesn’t make the cut.
Here’s why. No one has more 50+ scores in IPL history than Warner. No one with more than 600 runs in the IPL returns more runs per innings than Warner. Of the 15 batsmen with more than 3000 IPL runs, only three have made them at a higher strike rate than Warner’s. He is the only player to have won the Orange Cap on three occasions (having done so in 2015, 2017 and 2019).
Along with Virat Kohli, he forms an exclusive club of batsmen to have amassed over 500 runs in five separate seasons of the IPL. What he’s got over Kohli is the taste of that IPL trophy, which he delivered as captain to Sunrisers Hyderabad with arguably the single-biggest contribution to any title-winning campaign – in the form of 848 runs in 2016.
Matches 177 | Runs 5412 | Average 37.84 | Strike Rate 131.61 | 100s/50s 5/36 | Best 113
Warner’s 848 runs in 2016 came second to what surely counts as the most invincible batting display in any T20 tournament. Virat Kohli piled on a monstrous 973 runs that edition, with four centuries, but watched in anguish from the dugout as his Royal Challengers Bangalore teammates couldn’t get over the line against Warner’s Sunrisers.
Warner and Kohli come together at the top of this selection, and it becomes important here to provide the context of Kohli the opener: 2339 runs from 60 innings, at an average of 48.73 and a strike rate of 140.40, with five centuries and 15 half-centuries.
Kohli, as opener, supersedes every other opener in the 12-year history of the IPL for the volume of run-making – and while some cynics are quick to point at his overall strike rate, the jump in his scoring rate when opening the batting leaves no room for doubting his presence at the top of this lineup.
Matches 193 | Runs 5368 | Average 33.34 | Strike Rate 137.14 | 100s/50s 1/38 | Wickets 25
Christened ‘Mr. IPL’ by some, and for good measure – an ever-present at Chennai Super Kings means ‘Chinna Thala’ has also been an ever-present at the business end of the competition thanks to CSK’s unreal success rate; he’s also been an ever-present in the run-scoring charts.
In 12 seasons, Raina has topped 400 runs nine times – and his lowest tally in the three remaining seasons was 374. The epitome of consistency in what we know of the IPL till date, his legacy is fuelled further by a jaw-dropping conversion rate in the big games in the first wind: prior to CSK’s two-year suspension, Raina’s record in playoff/knockout matches read 634 runs at an average of 52.83 and a strike rate of 169.07, with seven fifties in just 17 innings.
Add to that his ability in the field (no outfielder come close to his tally of 102 catches), and with the ball (at least for the majority of his IPL career), and Raina is a shoo-in for any IPL XI.
Matches 188 | Runs 4898 | Average 31.60 | Strike Rate 130.82 | 100s/50s 1/36 | Best 109*
Third-highest appearances. Third-most runs. The only captain to have lifted the trophy four times. The only man to have been part of five title-winning campaigns. You can’t have an IPL ‘assemble’ without Rohit Sharma.
Among the more commendable aspects of Sharma’s IPL career – the abundant trophy haul aside – is how he’s contributed to pretty much every edition since the tournament’s inception. The first two of those came while he was still firmly in his ‘talent’ phase; he was the Emerging Player of the Year when Deccan Chargers triumphed in 2009, with a rich all-round return of 362 runs and 11 wickets (yes!) – including a hat-trick.
Since making the move to his hometown franchise in 2011, the bowling may have been pushed to the back, but the batting output has only expanded with his growing international repute. The ‘Hitman’ has tallied in excess of 400 runs five times in nine years, and his best season with the bat coincided with Mumbai Indians’ maiden championship run (538 runs in 2013).
The last three campaigns have been quiet by his standards, but there’s no arguing over Sharma’s spot in the XI – especially given his tactical chops.
AB de Villiers
Matches 154 | Runs 4395 | Average 39.95 | Strike Rate 151.23 | 100s/50s 3/33 | Best 133*
Arguably the most impactful overseas batsman in IPL history. Warner’s numbers may shadow de Villiers’ very slightly, but if de Villiers had a little more support from the rest of RCB (barring Kohli), his individual statistics would be further embellished with at least one IPL crown, if not more.
He is the league’s ninth-highest run-getter, despite having spent the initial years batting in the middle order; only Gayle has blasted more sixes; no non-opener has more hundreds than his count of three; of the nine batsmen with a higher strike rate than his, only one has 2000+ runs to his name (Virender Sehwag).
Statistically unparalleled, de Villiers’ legend in the IPL only rises with the burgeoning list of unforgettable gems wielded by his willow: think the 59-ball 133* against Malinga and Co in 2015, or the numerous blitzes at the Chinnaswamy, or his tour de force – an unbeaten 79 off 47 balls to take RCB into the 2016 final after having been tottering at 29/5 in a chase of 159.
The dazzling movements in the field come as more than just a bonus.
Matches 134 | Runs 3575 | Strike Rate 139.53 | 100s/50s 4/19 | Wickets 92 | Economy 7.93
This Could end up being the most eyebrow-raising selection of the lot, but only if you choose to ignore what’s written henceforth. Andre Russell? Dwayne Bravo? Kieron Pollard? How can the overseas all-rounder not be West Indian!?
Let’s break it down. Russell is the first elimination from the all-rounder selection, because an ‘all-time’ team cannot have room for recency bias; his performances in recent years are, undoubtedly, extraordinary, but longevity ought to matter a bit more for such an exercise. (The same factor rules out Hardik Pandya, Indian fans).
Pollard? Barnstorming with the bat, but 56 wickets in nearly 200 overs at an economy touching nine isn’t what you go looking for in a pure all-rounder. With Bravo, the fault line is swapped – that he is the league’s fifth-highest wicket-taker shouldn’t be undermined, but an average of 23 (despite 38 not outs in 102 innings) and a strike rate under 130 doesn’t cut it for someone who needs to bat at six/seven either.
Now, view Watson – the only man to feature in the top-20 of both the batting and bowling charts in the IPL. He has more IPL runs than Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Ambati Rayudu and Yusuf Pathan; he has more IPL wickets than Irfan Pathan, RP Singh, Praveen Kumar and Pragyan Ojha.
Few have defined the ‘all-rounder’ tag better through the 12 years of the IPL; his runs have come across the top-four in the batting order, and in his pomp, he could bowl in the Powerplay as much as he could at the death.
To hammer home the longevity factor, Watson was the Player of the Tournament in IPL 2008 (472 runs and 17 wickets), and remained good enough to be the Player of the Final in IPL 2018 (117* off 57 balls) – weeks before turning 37.
MS Dhoni (Captain & wicketkeeper)
Matches 190 | Runs 4432 | Average 42.20 | Strike Rate 137.85 | 50s 23 | Dismissals 136
There have been 12 IPL finals – MS Dhoni has featured in nine.
Three-time champion. Seventh-highest run-getter. Most prolific wicket-keeper. And then, the captaincy.
In all IPL history, only Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers have received more Man-of-the-Match awards than Dhoni (17).
And to those bogged down by ‘recency bias’, Dhoni’s aggregate from the last two seasons of the IPL read thus: 871 runs from 27 innings, out only 11 times, average 79.18, strike rate 142.55.
Selections don’t come any easier.
Matches 147 | Wickets 157 | Economy 7.35 | Strike Rate 19.7 | Average 24.19 | 4w/5w 3/1
The top-performing spin bowler in the 12-year history of the IPL takes the first of two spin-bowling slots in the XI. The wily Mishra has stayed difficult to read from 2008 to 2019 – barring a slight slump in 2014-15, the leggie has returned at least 10 wickets in every edition; in eight out of 12 seasons, he has conceded under 7.5 runs per over.
If Mishra was a little more of a favourite with the fans, or the broadcasters, his numbers would have been regaled from the rooftops: among all spinners with more than 50 wickets in the IPL, only Imran Tahir and Yuzvendra Chahal strike more regularly than Mishra. He also has 11 Man-of-the-Match awards – that’s the same number as Russell and Sehwag, and the next-best among pure bowlers is eight.
Further signaling his chops are the batsmen he’s dominated – Mishra’s most frequent IPL dismissals are two men who make this XI, in Rohit Sharma and Shane Watson (both falling six times to Mishra). Next on Mishra’s hit-list: Suresh Raina, Robin Uthappa and Glenn Maxwell (four each).
Oh, and he has three hat-tricks. Yuvraj Singh has two; no one else has more than one.
Matches 139 | Wickets 125 | Economy 6.79 | Strike Rate 23.4 | Average 26.48 | 4w 1
The second spinner’s selection wasn’t as straight forward. The unavailability of overseas slots (you’ll find out why below) meant the contenders pool comprised of Harbhajan Singh, Piyush Chawla, Ravindra Jadeja and Yuzvendra Chahal, alongside Ashwin. A desire for variety in the attack led to the elimination of leggies Chawla and Chahal. Batting depth isn’t a concern for this team, so Jadeja was next to go out of the mix, owing to a significantly inferior bowling record.
Ashwin versus Harbhajan could be looked at as a bit of a coin-toss: economy 6.79 to 7.05, strike rate 23.4 to 22.5, average 26.48 to 26.44 – precious little separated the two.
Numbers-wise, frugality tipped the scales in Ashwin’s favour: of the 47 bowlers with 50+ wickets in the IPL, only four have a better economy rate (Rashid Khan, Sunil Narine, Muttiah Muralitharan, Dale Steyn). A more consistent spread of wickets also benefits the ex-CSK man compared to the current CSK tweaker when assessing their respective IPL careers.
Matches 117 | Wickets 133 | Economy 7.24 | Strike Rate 19.6 | Average 23.71 | 4w/5w 2/1
Two pacers to pick, one Indian and one overseas. There were options galore for the Indian draft; of the 25 highest wicket-takers in the IPL, 12 are Indian pace bowlers. The leader of that pack presented the most compelling case.
With 133 wickets, Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s haul is rich – rich enough to place him at sixth on the all-time list. Then you add a more-than-decent ability to strike, with a wicket every three-odd overs. He’s bagged the Purple Cap twice, in 2016 and 2017, a feat matched only by Bravo.
But the biggest argument in favour is the tight leash he’s operated on. Among fast bowlers with 50+ wickets in the IPL, only Dale Steyn and Laisth Malinga have had better economy rates. Quite astonishingly, Kumar – now nine seasons old in the competition – hasn’t leaked eight per over in any of his nine seasons. That he’s managed those returns while only bowling the ‘tough’ overs, at the start and the death, makes his achievement all the more remarkable.
Jasprit Bumrah can be marked as something of a sure-shot entrant to this list in the years to come – he’s already on 82 wickets, and the economy is hovering around the 7.5 mark – but for the time being, he falls in the Russell/Pandya bracket.
Matches 122 | Wickets 170 | Economy 7.14 | Strike Rate 16.62 | Average 19.80 | 4w/5w 6/1
The best bowler in the history of the IPL, hands down.
The leading wicket-taker – 13 ahead of his nearest competitor, despite a deficit of 25 matches played. But that’s not all. Among the 47 bowlers who have taken 50 or more wickets in the IPL, Malinga ranks first on average, second on strike rate and seventh on economy rate. And he’s on top of the four-fors list, too.
A proper beast; a magician whose tricks haven’t aged. Malinga has touched the 10-wicket mark in every season of the IPL that he’s played in (nine in total), with a high of 28 in 2011 – surprisingly the only year he actually claimed the Purple Cap.
10 years since his first foray with the Mumbai Indians, he did demonstrate signs of wear and tear in 2019 (season economy 9.76). But then he went and ended the season the way he did; form temporary, class permanent.
The Nearly-There XI
Sure, this list wouldn’t have pleased everyone. Is it possible to, really? There are dream XIs propping up everywhere you look in the IPL – not without reason does it bear the tag of the most coveted league across the T20 universe – so, as mentioned at the top, an exercise as subjective is bound to divide opinion.
So we end with an XI of those who narrowly missed this bus:
Chris Gayle, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Dinesh Karthik, Kieron Pollard, Yusuf Pathan, Andre Russell/Dwayne Bravo, Sunil Narine, Harbhajan Singh, Ashish Nehra, Jasprit Bumrah.
To some, this XI may read better even; credit that to the IPL – how much we miss you, you thing of beauty!
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