Umesh Yadav : The pace spearhead

While it was the in-form Robin Uthappa who delivered with the bat, Umesh Yadav’s containment of the KXIP batsmen was instrumental in sending KKR to their second IPL final in three years.

Before Wednesday’s encounter against the on-song KXIP, Sunil Narine and Morne Morkel were being touted as the biggest threats to the swashbuckling KXIP batting line-up. The Kings XI Punjab batsmen had tormented bowlers all through the tournament’s group stage and hence it was crucial for Morkel and Narine to bring their A-game to the 1st Qualifier of the 2014 IPL. Surely, KXIP would have prepared to take on the dynamic duo. What they probably wouldn’t have counted on was an inspired (and ultimately match winning) bowling display by Umesh Yadav.

Umesh Yadav was at his best against KXIP in Qualifier 1

Yadav had had a below-par season leading up to the game; 7 wickets from 10 games at an economy of over 8 runs per over. He had strayed in line and his variations hadn’t quite worked in his team’s favour. But all of that changed at The Eden Gardens, as Umesh bowled perhaps his best spell ever. His figures were impressive enough: 4-0-13-3. But what was far more impressive was his approach to the task at hand.

He never allowed the batsmen to settle. Dismissing the dangerous Sehwag early would have been on top of KKR’s priority list and Umesh did just that. He looked much more in control and his line-length was spot on throughout. Glenn Maxwell has looked a shadow of his former self in the past few games and Umesh took full advantage of Maxi’s jittery form and trapped him leg-before before he could do any damage. In the final over of the game, Umesh had 30 runs to defend and did so with efficiency, conceding only a single while picking up the wicket of George Bailey.

It was quite a show from the Vidarbha speedster, who was rightly adjudged Man of the Match for his stellar show with the ball which restricted Punjab to a mere 135/8.  Successfully executed variations, good shape on the ball and consistency in hitting the right areas meant that Umesh carried out KKR’s plan of cramping the KXIP batsmen to perfection. This was the main reason for everyone’s surprise at the exclusion of Yadav from India’s squad for the upcoming tour of England, where his pace and ability to generate late swing would have come in handy.

Regardless, Umesh has managed to steer his side to the final of IPL 2014. He will need to put his best foot forward once again, in one last push, as his side look to claim their second title in three years. It will be either KXIP or CSK who challenge KKR for the title in Bengaluru on June 1. It could be the perfect stage for Umesh Yadav to show everyone just what Team India will be missing in England in the near future.

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Mumbai Indians achieve ‘Mission Impossible’

In the most thrilling fashion, defending IPL champions Mumbai Indians pulled off a coup against Rajasthan Royals and booked their place in the play-offs.

Only a week ago, Rajasthan were all set to finish 3rd in the points table and Mumbai were pondering where they went wrong as they found themselves at the wrong end of the table. After successes and failures of an entire season - stretching across 14 games and two countries, the fourth and final play-off spot was still up for grabs as Mumbai Indians and Rajasthan Royals squared off at the Wankhede in Mumbai. It was Rajasthan’s to lose; and boy! did they ever! The equation of 190 runs needed from 14.3 overs for MI, boiled down to a boundary needed off a solitary delivery to acquire a better net run-rate (NRR) and qualify for the play-offs. And with one mighty heave from Aditya Tare, MI did the seemingly impossible. And this win, in many ways summed up Mumbai’s season - one of resilience and resurgence.

After failing to register a single win from five games in the UAE leg of the season, the defending champions were looking deflated. But with six wins from their remaining eight games, coupled with teams around them dropping points, Mumbai have qualified. It’s been a roller-coaster season for Rohit Sharma and his team, who only started to play to their potential once the tournament came back to India. The past few games in particular have seen the players come into their own and shine.

Michael Hussey, who was misfiring for a good part of the season, seems to have found his touch. An unlikely hero who has played a central role in salvaging Mumbai’s season is West Indian Lendl Simmons, who’s swashbuckling innings’ powered MI to some crucial wins in the latter part of the season. Simmons has accumulated 327 runs from just 7 games, including the first century of this season’s IPL. This has coincided with Mumbai stringing together a run of good results. Rohit Sharma remained gritty in the face of adversity, both as a batsman and captain.

Lendl Simmons’ blistering form has come at the right time for MI

Ambati Rayudu has staked a serious claim to a spot in the national side with his performances this season. Along with scoring 359 runs at a healthy strike-rate, he has done a fair job of keeping wickets as well. Kieron Pollard has chipped in with crucial runs, though he hasn’t been at his flamboyant best. Corey Anderson has shown in spells, why he is such a highly rated young cricketing talent; and  never more so than in that crucial last game against RR, smashing 95*(44).

The Mumbai bowling unit has been a mixed bag. Lasith Malinga was unsurprisingly, their leading wicket-taker with 16 scalps in just 10 games. But with the ‘slinger’ away on international duty, Mumbai needed other bowlers to step up. And the veteran Harbhajan Singh responded with a return of 12 wickets. Bhajji’s contribution with the ball was all the more important as the usually reliable Pragyan Ojha has been a major disappointment, picking up only 3 wickets from 11 games. Jasprit Bhumrah hasn’t run through opposition batting line-ups, but with his unorthodox bowling action has managed to bowl some decent spells at crunch times. Some above-average fielding has helped their cause as well.

The Mumbai Indians squad pose with owner Nita Ambani after their sensational win against Rajasthan Royals at the Wankhede

It would be unfair to say that Mumbai don’t deserve a place in top four, particularly on the back of their performances in India. But one cannot deny the fact that they were given a major helping hand by other teams such as Sunrisers Hyderabad, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Rajasthan Royals themselves, who couldn’t get the job done when it mattered most. But with all said and done, the reigning champions will now hope to ride this wave of momentum into the Brabourne Stadium as they take on the resolute Chennai Super Kings in the Eliminator on May 28. And if they can channel this rich vein of form and translate it into performance on the field, they could well be on their way to defending their crown in Bengaluru on June 1.

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Indian pacers rule the roost at IPL 2014

While T-20 is usually considered to be a batsman’s game, young Indian fast bowlers have been making a name for themselves with some stellar performances at this year’s IPL.

At the beginning of IPL 2014, fans and pundits predicted a duopoly of Sri Lankan pacer Lasith Malinga and West Indian spinner Sunil Narine over the Purple Cap, the reward for being the highest wicket-taker in an IPL season. But as the tournament nears its business end, it is clear that this season has seen the rise of a phenomenon - that of young Indian pace bowlers coming into their own against the best opposition in the world. And if this IPL season is anything to go by, the future of Indian pace bowling looks to be in capable hands.

The next generation of Indian fast bowlers have demonstrated their skills quite brilliantly. May it be knocking over top order batsmen to pile on pressure on the opposition, cleaning up tail-enders at the death, or slowing the scoring rate in the middle overs; young Indian quicks have shown this season that they are ready to step their game up to a whole new level.

Consider this - four of the top six wicket-takers this season are Indian pacers. These four pacers have accounted for a combined 71 dismissals between them. With an average age of just 23 years, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Mohit Sharma, Sandeep Sharma and Varun Aaron have exhibited traits which give some assurance with regard to fast bowling in India in the years to come. In a country where emphasis on nurturing quality young fast bowlers has gained steam over the past few years, the 2014 IPL has certainly provided a glimpse into the future.

Bhuvaneshwar Kumar - the current Purple Cap holder

Bhuvi has cemented his place in the national team over the past year and a half. Ever since his debut in a T20I against Pakistan in 2012 (where he finished with figures of 4-0-3-9), he has shown a lot of promise. He isn’t the quickest bowler, but what he lacks in speed, he makes up for it with swing. This season, bowling alongside one of the world’s best - South African Dale Steyn, Bhuvi seems to have evolved in his bowling - particularly in the death overs. The young lad from Uttar Pradesh has outshone Steyn on most occasions this season, which is no small achievement. No wonder then, that with 20 wickets, he currently holds the Purple Cap.

Mohit Sharma - CSK’s highest wicket-taker in IPL-7

After the ICC World T-20 in Bangladesh, which preceded the IPL, not many knew what to make of young Mohit Sharma. After playing 12 games and taking 18 wickets for the Chennai Super Kings this year, Mohit has made a name for himself on the international stage. Despite the likes of R. Ashwin, Ravi Jadeja and Ben Hilfenhaus being in the squad, Mohit has managed to stand out and deliver the goods for his team. And though he could do with a slightly lower economy rate, we are sure to see more of Mohit Sharma in the coming years.

Kings XI Punjab spearhead - Sandeep Sharma

Perhaps the greatest find at this year’s tournament has been Sandeep Sharma. However, Sandy isn’t a rookie, despite being only 21 years old. Along with having represented India at two Under-19 World Cups (2010 and 2012), Sandeep was the leading wicket-taker of the 2012-13 Ranji Trophy season. He has carried over his domestic form to the IPL, and with 17 scalps from 10 games, has played a key role in the rise of Kings XI Punjab this season. The fact that most of his victims have been top-three batsmen make his exploits all the more impressive.

Varun Aaron - RCB’s pace machine

Jharkhand quickie Varun Aaron has been a mixed bag for the Royal Challengers Bangalore. He can work up some serious pace, without question. Consistently touching (and crossing) the 140 kmph mark, Aaron has taken 16 wickets in IPL 2014. His problem has been in the middle overs and also at the death, where he has gone for quite a few runs in recent matches. Still, he remains a key figure on the bowling front for his side.

The IPL has provided new prospects for Indian cricket. While some players have burst onto the scene, others have reaffirmed themselves. One thing is certain though - with this new breed of Indian pacers, there is much to work with and one can expect great things in the future from this fantastic quartet.

 

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A “Royal Challenge” awaits RCB

A stop-start season for the Royal Challengers Bangalore has landed them in a three-way battle with Kolkata Knight Riders and Sunrisers Hyderabad for the fourth and final play-off spot.

The top of the IPL table looks set. Kings XI Punjab, Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals have all but booked their place in the semi-finals of this season’s competition. The race for the fourth spot in the IPL points table is heating up. Three teams are neck and neck, vying for the final play-off spot. The Royal Challengers Bangalore is one of the teams in the hunt. It’s been a strange season for RCB; a confident start was followed by a slump in form which saw them go on a dismal run in the middle of the tournament.

 

In the first two games, they looked like the RCB of old, with controlled performances by all departments. They lost a nail-biter against Kolkata in their third game and then the slump began. This run of poor results saw them lose six of their next seven games. The lowest point for RCB this season was against Rajasthan, when they were skittled out for 70 runs. There’s no denying that RCB boasts one of the strongest squads on paper. The addition of Yuvraj Singh to the already existing pool of talent - Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers - further solidified a formidable batting line-up. Unfortunately, the big guns have failed to fire this season. RCB now face an uphill battle against teams in and around them in the points table.

Gayle and Kohli have been the major disappointments this season. The West Indian powerhouse, who has played some whirlwind innings for his team in the past has looked like a shadow of his former self. Niggling injuries have not helped his cause either. Spin has been his undoing, as he has found himself unable to put bat to ball on numerous occasions. He has looked edgy more often than not, and his scoring rate this season doesn’t reflect his ability to find the boundaries. Kohli has been a let down as well. Despite being a victim of poor umpiring decisions on a couple of occasions, Virat hasn’t shown the kind of form which won him the Player of the Tournament award at the 2014 ICC World T-20. His shot selection has been dubious on many occasions.

Yuvi is proving to be a late bloomer for his side. After an indifferent start to his RCB career, he has come up with crucial match winning efforts recently, and piled on 308 runs in 11 games. He has started to find gaps and boundaries at will; something which he was struggling to do in the initial stages of the tournament. The highest paid player at this season’s auction seems to be starting to live up to his billing.

The bowling unit has been under pressure, mainly because of the inability of the batsmen to play to their potential. Still, the likes of Mitchell Starc and Varun Aaron have done a fabulous job of keeping RCB in the hunt for long periods. Albie Morkel and Ashok Dinda have been fairly inconsistent.

de Villiers and Chahal have consistently performed well for RCB this season

The two undisputed stand out performers have been South African AB de Villiers and young Indian leggie Yuzvendra Chahal. ABD has shown his class on numerous occasions, coming up trumps for his side regularly. There has been nothing orthodox about de Villiers’ batting, and he has successfully experimented with a variety of strokes. He hasn’t been afraid to pull out all the stops, even against the world’s best - his demolition of fellow countryman Dale Steyn at the Chinnaswamy will be one to remember for ages! This season, his efforts have largely been in a losing cause, as the rest of the team has failed to perform. Chahal has been one of the finds of the tournament. Though he isn’t known for turning the ball too much, his economical bowling and ability to pick up wickets at crucial times has served his side well. Twelve wickets, at an economy rate of less than seven runs an over, have resulted in Chahal being one of the first names to go on the teamsheet for RCB this season.

The many individuals in the RCB side have failed to click together and that has been the drawback for the two-time finalists. They need their big players to be firing on all cylinders if they hope to clinch a top four finish. Back to back wins against Delhi Daredevils and Chennai Super Kings, have certainly provided them with momentum. While the win against Delhi emphasized their batting prowess, their victory over Chennai was largely due to some brilliant death-bowling by the pacers.

With RCB’s next two games being against Hyderabad and Kolkata, it will be all to play for in the race for the top four. The destiny of each team lies in the hands of its players. With KKR’s win over SRH on Sunday, Bangalore’s clash against Kolkata at The Eden Gardens on May 24th, might prove to be a winner-take-all encounter. In any case, this team of superstars will have to get their act together if they are to mount a serious challenge for the IPL title this season.

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“The Walking Assassin” gets a move on!

After a relatively slow start, Kolkata Knight Riders opener Robin Uthappa has started to show why he was once touted as one of India’s promising young talents, and what he still has to offer to Indian cricket.

In April 2006, a 21-year old Robin Uthappa strode out to the pitch in Indian national colours for the first time. Opening the innings that day, against a resolute English side, he played a composed knock of 86 runs. The following year, Uthappa came into his own as he steered India to series-leveling win against England in England, with a well-compiled innings. At the 2007 ICC World T-20 in South Africa, Uthappa would deliver some crucial knocks again, as India lifted the cup in the inaugural tournament. By this time, Robin Uthappa had announced himself on the international stage.

But in the game of cricket, things can change very quickly. A slump in form meant that Uthappa lost his place in the national side, and has never managed to reclaim it. The IPL has been a stage for players to kickstart their international careers with strong performances. For Robbie, it was the perfect platform to get his international career back on track. And although the past six seasons have not done much to reignite his career, his performances at the top for KKR this season, coupled with some good outings in the domestic circuit, might just prove to be the spark his career needs.

Robin Uthappa’s efforts at the top of the order for KKR this season have been splendid

After playing for Mumbai Indians in 2008 and Royal Challengers Bangalore from 2009-10, Uthappa plied his trade with the Pune Warriors for the past three seasons and did reasonably well. His problem - failing to convert starts into big scores. Despite scoring over 1000 runs in 3 seasons with Pune, his average hovered in the mid-twenties. This season, however, has been a very different story. Opening the batting with his captain Gautam Gambhir, Uthappa seems to have regained his confidence, as some crucial contributions have kept his team in the mix for a play-off opportunity.

Three half centuries in ten matches, with a healthy average of 38.20, the man from Kodagu has certainly proved his mettle and carved out a regular starting spot for himself in the team. Along with his batting, Uthappa also keeps wickets for KKR, though one can argue that it’s not necessarily his strong suit. Still, with the likes of Morne Morkel and Sunil Narine turning their arm over, a return of six dismissals doesn’t reflect too poorly on the 29-year old.

At the moment, Robin Uthappa is a man in form. His latest outing, a well compiled 80 runs which helped KKR overcome defending champions Mumbai Indians, will do wonders for his confidence and self-belief. The driving force behind KKR’s performances this season, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for this innovative player, should his current purple patch in the IPL continue.

 

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Kolkata Knight Riders: A quest for revival

With a win over high-flying Kings XI Punjab, KKR have landed themselves right back in the race for the play-offs

After three games in the tournament, the knights from Kolkata had won two of their games - against defending champions Mumbai Indians in the opening game of the season and against a star-studded Royal Challengers Bangalore. They had scored 150 runs or more in each of these three games and kept the bowling quite disciplined.

But what followed was a nose-dive in form and results; four losses on the trot meant that KKR were languishing at the wrong end of the table for a substantial amount of time. This poor run of results saw them submit cheaply to KXIP and Chennai Super Kings, and lose to Rajasthan Royals twice in the span of a week. This included the thrilling super-over finish which was decided by the number of boundaries hit by the winning team. At that point, KKR were clearly a team struggling with form and confidence. But with back-to-back wins against Delhi Daredevils and table-toppers KXIP, KKR are now right back in the mix for a top-four finish.

Gambhir and Uthappa have struck form at the right time for KKR

Openers Robin Uthappa and Gautam Gambhir have played a major role in redeeming KKR’s season. Particularly Gambhir, who failed to score a single run for the first three games, has really come into his own and shouldered responsibility at the top of the order. Uthappa has supported his captain well, playing some good, attractive, attacking cricket. Manish Pandey, a player who broke on to the scene in the 2009 edition of the IPL, has shown glimpses of his abunant talent with some good knocks. Veteran Kallis has looked rusty in bits and brilliant in parts.

A major disappointment has been Yusuf Pathan. Despite boasting a reputation as a big-hitter, Pathan has done little to contribute to his side’s exploits this season. Bangladesh skipper Shakib Al Hasan has also not made the kind of impact one would have hoped for. Chris Lynn looked good in the games he played; Ryan ten Doeschate has had little opportunity to do anything with bat or ball. A positive in batting has been the revelation of Surya Kumar Yadav, who has demonstrated his ability to play some improvised shots to chip in with valuable runs lower down the order.

It is the KKR bowling unit which has performed well whenever the team have been successful. In Morne Morkel (2012 Purple Cap winner), Umesh Yadav and Vinay Kumar, they have three quality pacers, who, when on song, can trouble most batsmen. Their trump card however, unsurprisingly, is West Indian Sunil Narine. The spinner, who has largely been hard to read, has been amongst the wickets and has bowled some tidy overs at crucial times to bail his team out of trouble. But one gets a sense of over-reliance on Narine; lack of support from other bowlers has put him under immense pressure to deliver in every game. Leggie Piyush Chawla has shown flashes of brilliance.

Morne Morkel has produced some good spells

Sunil Narine has been KKR’s go-to bowler

 

It’s only a case of stringing together a few solid performances consecutively for the 2012 IPL champions. And with their recent “revival”, they look to be well on course to do the same.

In many ways, it’s been a mixed season for most teams. Some magnificent wins have been cancelled out by some sloppy losses. Sunrisers Hyderabad, KKR, Delhi Daredevils, RCB; teams have struggled to achieve consistency in performance and results. With the business end of the tournament rapidly approaching, teams will have to take advantage of every opportunity in order to have any hope of qualifying for the play-offs. If KKR wish to clinch a spot, they will have to hand in more performances similar to the one against KXIP on Sunday. It’s not beyond them, that much is a certainty.

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Maxwell mania grips IPL!

The carnage Glenn Maxwell has left in his wake is truly jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring!

Match 3 of the 2014 Pepsi IPL - chasing a stiff target of 204 set by the Chennai Super Kings, the Kings XI Punjab were in a spot of bother. And out walked their new recruit; an Australian prodigy, who, ever since taking stance in that game at the Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi, has lit up the Indian Premier League. This young lad from Victoria, Australia - a level head on his shoulders and a cannon for a bat in his hands, has played a pivotal role in the rise of KXIP this season.

In 2013, the Mumbai Indians bought Maxwell for a sum of US $ 1 million. That was some outrageous money for a 23 year old. And despite featuring in just three games for Mumbai, he finished the season with a winner’s medal! In 2014, after MI were ineligible to retain him, Maxwell made the switch to KXIP. And there has been no turning back since. With 435 runs in 7 matches so far this season, “The Big Show”, as he is nicknamed by some of his mates, has done bulk of the scoring for a rejuvenated Punjab outfit. Whether it be chasing a mammoth score or setting a target for the opposition, Maxwell has been relentless in his pursuit of boundaries. And the way things have panned out so far, his pursuit has been anything but futile.

It’s been the Maxwell show so far, and he is the player to watch out for in the 2014 IPL

Cheeky flicks and tilt-a-whirl pick up shots are bread and butter stuff for him; the amount of times he has successfully executed those shots is audacious! And he hasn’t been afraid to show off his amazing repertoire of shots, even against the world’s best bowlers. Turning in the crease and lofting the ball over third-man for six has become an all too common sight with Maxwell.

Reverse sweeps and other manufactured shots are Maxwell’s specialty

It is such innovative stroke play, coupled with heaves on the leg-side, that have accounted for most of his 41 boundaries and 27 sixes so far in IPL 2014. Fast bowlers or spinners, strike bowlers or part-timers, Maxwell has taken a liking to every bowler who has bowled to him. His knocks against Rajasthan Royals, Sunrisers Hyderabad and on two occasions against Chennai Super Kings have proved that he is no flash in the pan. It hasn’t been a one-man show for KXIP; Sehwag, Miller, Bailey and Sandeep Sharma have played their part well. But Maxwell has been the focal point.

His only failure in the tournament so far has been against RCB. Apart from that, he has simply been quite exceptional. With his consistent performances, Glenn Maxwell, the current orange cap holder, continues to prove his worth and stamp his authority on the tournament. With his continued trail-blazing performances, KXIP will be looking to go all the way in this season’s competition.

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The kings of consistency

Chennai Super Kings sit pretty at the top of the IPL points table; a sight that has become all too common.

If there is one team on which one can confidently put his/her money, it is the Chennai Super Kings. Over the seven editions of the IPL, CSK have by far been the most consistent side. Consider these stats and figures: the only team to win two IPL titles (2010 & 2011), 5-time finalists, top-four finish in all the previous six seasons . These are figures of a team that is rarely out of form. And this year too, the trend looks set to continue.

Apart from the opening game where they failed to defend 204, CSK haven’t put a foot wrong so far. In that opening game too, CSK looked at their fluent best until Maxwell and Miller turned it around. Ever since that opening game disappointment, CSK have looked sturdy and unrelenting in their performance. This has been possible due to the retention of the core of their immensely successful squad, coupled with some smart buys in the auction.

Smith and McCullum have come out all guns blazing this season

Dwayne Smith and Brendon McCullum are proving to be the buys of the season for CSK. Their opening stands have set up many a game for the Men in Yellow this year. Chennai let the dependable Michael Hussey and the flamboyant Murali Vijay go, but Smith and McCullum have more than compensated for those losses. Exuberant stroke play and big hitting; these traits have characterized CSK’s opening partnerships. When both openers of a team are among the top 5 run scorers in the tournament, pressure eases considerably on the rest of the batting.

The middle order is the backbone of the side, and quite a formidable backbone it is. Suresh Raina, Dwayne Bravo, “Sir” Jadeja, captain MSD and R. Ashwin can all single-handedly win games for their side. Furthermore, this group of players has been a constant for Chennai over the past six IPL seasons. While Bravo has been out with injury, the others have all done their bit with bat and ball, to take CSK to the summit of the points table. While Raina has been playing the anchoring role - letting the innings build around him , Jadeja has been chipping in with useful all-round contributions - the most recent being a Man of the Match effort against Kolkata.

Raina, Jadeja, Ashwin - marquee players behind the continued success of the franchise

It is Dhoni’s uncanny ability to bring out the best in others which has defined his role as captain. This season, young talents like Ishwar Pandey and Mohit Sharma (the purple-cap holder) are turning out to be the beneficiaries of the same. Ben Hilfenhaus looks rejuvenated and along with the likes of Ashwin and Jadeja, has formed a very potent bowling unit, capable of tearing through any batting line-up. It is not just posting big totals, but the ability to defend mediocre ones which makes CSK such a successful outfit. This year, for instance, CSK have gone from posting 204 against KXIP in their first game to successfully defending 148 in their last game against KKR. Adaptation and perseverance, quite evidently, are the keys to success.

Dhoni’s “midas touch” has been a constant for CSK

With great strength in depth, man management and squad rotation are the least of Chennai’s concerns. At this moment, CSK look untouchable. Almost all their batsmen are in good form and their bowling is as incisive as it has ever been. Add to that the world class ground fielding and athleticism and one has the closest thing to “a perfect squad”. As always, they are looking like the team to beat as the season progresses, and it will be no surprise to see them in contention of their third IPL title.

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Confident Kings XI overcome stuttering RCB

Punjab’s bowling unit comes up trumps again as Bangalore’s dip in form continues

At the toss, RCB skipper Virat Kohli broke the news which all RCB fans (and certainly most cricket fans) were eagerly waiting to hear; the return of a certain Christopher Gayle to the side after injury. But ultimately, even the return of their talisman couldn’t stop the Kings XI Punjab from inflicting another defeat on the Royal Challengers; their third loss in a row. Although Kohli would be feeling a little undone by the lack of temperament shown by his batsmen, all credit must be given to the Kings XI bowlers for their superb showing, in what was billed as one of the high-profile encounters by fans and pundits alike.

Put in to bat by Punjab skipper George Bailey, RCB got off to a flying start. 20 runs came off the first over from Glenn Maxwell; Gayle following two tentative boundaries with two confident sixes down the ground. But that is all he could offer, as he was clean bowled in the very next over, after a failed over-ambitious attempt to loft young Sandeep Sharma out of the ground. Kohli dispatched his first delivery to the point boundary in style. But a rare umpiring blunder from Billy Bowden on the very next ball gifted Sharma his second wicket in the space of three balls, as Kohli was wrongly adjudged leg-before to a ball that was missing leg stump.

Sandeep Sharma celebrates after dismissing Gayle and Kohli in the same over

Two wickets in 3 balls soon became four wickets in 24 balls as Takawale and Parthiv Patel were dismissed in quick succession, with only 28 runs on the board. Yuvraj Singh and AB de Villiers led the fightback; RCB managing 44 runs from the powerplay overs with the loss of 4 wickets.

Yuvi looked in better touch than he has in recent games; he welcomed Balaji to his spell with an expansive drive and then lofted Akshar Patel over his favourite mid-wicket region for a maximum. The duo added 39 runs before a loose shot ended de Villiers’ unusually quiet innings. His South African compatriot Albie Morkel added 25 runs with Yuvi before chopping a gentle medium pacer from Balaji onto his stumps.

With pressure building, Yuvraj (35 off 32) holed out in the deep as he tried to accelerate the scoring rate; RCB were 97/7, with all their specialist batsmen back in the hut. Starc and Aaron struggled to find the boundaries as RCB finished with a below-par score of 124 for 8. Man of the match, Sandeep Sharma, the hero in Punjab’s previous game, shone with the ball again, with figures of 3 for 15.

Sandeep Sharma was adjudged Man of the Match for the second consecutive game

Needing just over a run a ball, Sehwag and Pujara started slowly; 22 runs coming off the first four overs, with little fancy stroke play. Pujara was caught behind off Dinda’s very first delivery in the fifth over. Wriddhiman Saha, promoted up the order, was sent back after Mitchell Starc plucked one out of thin air at fine leg. Sehwag continued to play his natural game at the other end; KXIP managing 40 runs off the first six overs. Starc then pulled off another stunner at fine leg to get rid of the dangerous Maxwell and suddenly RCB were looking to make serious inroads.

But any momentum RCB had was quickly taken away by David Miller, who smashed four boundaries in the space of eight balls, including three consecutive fours off Albie Morkel in the 11th over. Leg spinner Yuzvendra Chahal, one of the finds of the tournament so far, landed a double blow in the 13th over, as he dismissed Miller with a wrong one edged to the keeper and did the same to end Viru’s resilient innings two balls later. But defending such a low total would always be a challenge and KXIP skipper Bailey (16 off 16), along with Rishi Dhawan (23 off 22) kept their heads to see their side home with 7 balls to spare.

It’s back to the drawing board for Kohli & Co.

With this win, Punjab extended their winning run in the IPL to eight games, as they remain the only unbeaten side in this year’s competition so far, and are most likely guaranteed a place in the play-offs. For RCB, a season that started brightly seems to be hitting a rough patch. Kohli & Co. need to get their act together quickly and hope that Lady Luck smiles on them more than it has in recent games. The return of Gayle is a big boost to a side that seems to be lacking the form and confidence necessary to produce good results on a regular basis, despite boasting one of the most well balanced squads.

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Super Kings trounce Daredevils in Abu Dhabi

Delhi Daredevils’ capitulation against Chennai Super Kings brings into focus the need for a squad’s strength in depth.

As Delhi Daredevils prepared to take on Chennai Super Kings, they knew they were missing the services of Kevin Pietersen. And when Nathan Coulter-Nile did not take to the field on Monday, Dinesh Karthik knew that his job had become even tougher. After all, his Daredevils side was now a bowler short against the star-studded batting line-up of CSK. And in the end, it turned out to be a lop-sided affair in Abu Dhabi.

Suresh Raina scores a half century against Delhi Daredevils

Delhi had won their previous match against Kolkata Knight Riders. CSK on the other hand, had failed to defend 204 against Kings XI Punjab. The handicapped Delhi bowling unit restricted Dhoni & Co. to 178, but was eventually let down by a timid batting display from their big guns.

The CSK openers; Smith and McCullum, both of whom played whirlwind innings in the previous game, started off strongly. Dwayne Smith played a couple of powerful pull shots, and McCullum lofted one down the ground, and suddenly one feared the worst for the DD bowlers. McCullum was dropped by Duminy in the 4th over, only to be caught at short third-man off Jaidev Unadkat’s very next ball. Smith misread an arm ball from Shahbaz Nadeem and was cleaned up.

Suresh Raina’s steady innings was customary. A mixture of fashionable and powerful hitting, he brought up his 20th IPL half century in just 36 balls. He found the gaps at will, often lofting the ball over the in-field. He also took advantage of Coulter-Nile’s absence as he took 13 runs off a rare Murali Vijay over. By the time Raina fell in the 15th over, the foundation for the lower middle-order had been laid.

Dhoni and Faf du Plessis provided the late surge. Shami’s inability to find a fuller length; a rarity in itself; was exploited by both batsmen. Dhoni in particular, was in a destructive mood as he bludgeoned 32 of 16. Mithun Manhas scored a quick-fire 13 off 5 deliveries after both Dhoni and du Plessis holed out in the deep. Unadkat’s effort of 3 for 32 was the only positive for the Daredevils.

Delhi’s innings was a stuttering affair all through. Their woes were further compounded by some brilliant fielding by Raina and du Plessis. Raina ran backwards and dived to his left to latch on to a miscued shot by Mayank Agarwal in the second over. Du Plessis caught Vijay; running backwards from mid-on. He followed this up by pulling off a stunning diving effort to send Tiwary back. Delhi was reeling at 15/3 from 5 overs, and could never recover from this position.

Dinesh Karthik tried to hold the innings together, but wickets kept tumbling around him. With the dependable Duminy and the power hitter Ross Taylor back in the hut for cheap, and the run rate barely over 5, Delhi’s fate was sealed long before the innings came to a close. The tail had a tall order to accomplish which was too much to ask, as the innings folded in the 16th over; Delhi Daredevils skittled for 84 runs.

It’s still early days in the IPL and it’s the team that gets the early momentum that’ll be in an advantageous position come the business end of the tournament. Chennai seem to have found their footing in the Arabian desert, with a clinical performance. Delhi have problems to deal with and will do well to sort them out before losing too much ground to the other IPL outfits.

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