HALF-TIME hysteria

It is just past half-time in the Indian Premier League (IPL). It is that stage where the initial enthusiasm has died down for most owners, and they have to really pump themselves up on each match day, and some actually dread going to the stadium with their entourage to witness another defeat. They, and their money managers, are counting the value they have got for the crores they splurged on superstars, big names, rookies and unknowns. This midway stage is a nightmare for the owners of teams which are not doing well, and those which are almost there, but still far away from the playoffs. Which makes a total of a good six out of the eight teams. For those occupying the bottom slots of the table, the campaign is as much as over. It is that classic do-or-die phase where every match from now onwards has to be won.

Mumbai Indians: For the three-time champions, this fate is not what the team management would have ever mapped as a scenario. With just four wins from 10 matches, there is no way out but to win. But it is an uphill task as there has not been any standout performer. Rohit Sharma, Kieron Pollard, Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya, Krunal Pandya, Mustafizur Rehman, JP Duminy — all have had average to bad outings. Bulk of the money was spent on these players, but none have delivered. The fact that they had to bench superstar Pollard is sufficient to state how bad the affairs are. Value has come from local star, Suryakumar Yadav, and an unknown Mayank Markande. And also from a discard, Mitchell McClenaghan, whom they ignored in the auction and later brought in as a replacement for the injured Aussie, Jason Behrendorff. But McClenaghan’s performance is also average compared to his heroics in the 2017 edition. The well-paid superstars will now have to put on some superlative action for any course correction.

Delhi Daredevils: On par with RR as far as points are concerned, but have one match less to play. Means they need 5 out of 5. Very tough. This is one franchise which starts every season with one of the best squads on paper. This year they even got local star, Gautam Gambhir, as captain. Leave aside captaincy, Gambhir has had one of the poorest runs with the bat and had to voluntarily relinquish his spot and even take leave-without-pay. But the situation is beyond redemption and he is not the only culprit. Glen Maxwell, Jason Roy, Colin Munro, Amit Mishra, Mohammed Shami, Vijay Shankar are all faring equally bad. The youngsters -– Shreyas Iyer, Risabh Pant, Prithvi Shaw -- along with veteran Trent Boult are keeping some semblance of hope alive.

Rajasthan Royals: Returning after a two-year break due to suspension, the management did the right things in retaining key players, and buying winners at the auction. But one had not bargained for their captain, Steve Smith, to be out of the league for cheating in another continent. A good mix of talent, youth etc, but nothing is going right for the Royals, leaving them gasping for breath at seventh position. Can afford to lose one match from the remaining six, if it is any consolation. The combination of Ben Stokes, Ajinkya Rahane, Rahul Tripathi and Jayadev Unadkat took their last season’s franchise, Rising Pune Supergiant, to the final. But they had the presence of two of the best minds in the cricketing world, Smith and MS Dhoni, on the ground with them during that campaign. Rahane is doing a decent job, both with the bat and captaincy, but in T20 cricket, that is not proving to be enough.

Royal Challengers Bangalore: What Virat Kohli would not give to win the IPL. He is leading from the front while the other superstar AB de Villiers is ok; and it ends there. Quinton de Kock, Brendon McCullum, Chris Woakes, Corey Anderson, Yuzvendra Chahal, Washington Sundar, Tim Southee -- it is not that there isn’t enough power out there, but they are not firing. Add to that, Sarfaraz Khan, dubbed the worst retained player in IPL. Have an outside chance like RR to make the play-offs. But it will have to be a Kohli or ABD show in each of the remaining matches to achieve the impossible.

Kings XI Punjab: The fourth on the table, the surprise package of this season. It should not be a problem for them to enter the last four. If there is VFM in this IPL, it comes from the super-superstar, Chris Gayle. Not just for the franchise, but even for the IPL. What is a T20 tournament anywhere in the world worth if Gayle does not send those rockets into the sky? Discarded, ignored, humiliated, the man had destiny on his side. As big-buck names were falling by the wayside, he launched into opposition bowlers and notched the first century of IPL XI. Prompting himself to say that team mentor, Virender Sehwag, saved the IPL itself by picking him. More than saving his reputation, Gayle’s performance has only aided in making even decent performances from other superstars look mediocre.

Kolkata Knight Riders: Riding on his last-ball six which won India the T20 tri-series in Colombo, the new captain for the franchise, Dinesh Karthik, is making his presence felt. And his confidence is rubbing on stars such as Sunil Narine, Andre Russell, Robin Uthappa, Piyush Chawla, Chris Lynn and Nitish Rana, who are all putting their money’s worth on the field, enabling the team to be at the doorstep of the play-offs. With U-19 star Shubham Gill also joining the party, it is Korbo Lorbo Jeetbo Re times for the management.

Chennai Super Kings & Sunrisers Hyderabad: Clubbing these two teams together to show the importance of one player in a T20 team -- the captain. For CSK, coming into the league after a two-year suspension, the legendary MS Dhoni is worth all the money that the franchise has spent on him. When the team was selected and it comprised so-called oldies like Shane Watson, Dwayne Bravo, Ambati Rayadu, along with Dhoni himself, there were enough naysayers. But just 7-8 matches were enough to put all doubt to rest. With Dhoni leading, all these stars are playing some of their best T20 cricket, making it look absolutely easy and stress-free. On the other hand, Kane Williamson had to fill the huge shoes of David Warner who had admirably led the Sunrisers during the last two seasons. If Warner was around, Williamson would have had to fight for a slot in the team. Now he is the highest run-score for the side, and has commendably marshalled his resources to be perched at the top of the table. Even the absence of their strike bowler, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, has not fazed Williamson and his captaincy has been a standout feature in Sunrisers’ success. This is value for money at its best, and it won’t be a surprise if the management hands out a bonus!

(The author is a co-founder of SportzPower and The Fan Garage)

Columnist: 
CP Thomas