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 Royal Touch

Sitting pretty comfortable at the number 3 spot in the points table, Rajasthan Royals have impressed one and all with their gritty performances and a thoroughly clinical all round show of sheer talents this year! Rajasthan Royals have had a mixed bag of experience at the IPL. The IPL started 6 years ago and the franchisee of Rajasthan Royals was then the only team to have an overseas leader. Led by Australian legend Shane Warne, the team lifted the inaugural IPL golden ware. The team, since then did not put any noticeable performances up until last year when the team managed to qualify for playoffs and also made it to the finals of Champions League t20 2013. And this year the team is again looking all set to qualify for the playoffs. Don’t be startled if you the men in blue lift the IPL golden ware for the second time.

Rajasthan Royals have never been short of talent and have been famous for honing the young brigade of Indian and overseas players like Ravindra Jadeja, Yusuf Pathan, Ajinkya Rahane, James Faulkner and many more. It would be an understatement to say that it was this team of Rajasthan Royals that re-launched the career of Shane Watson. And this year, the team led by Shane Watson, has already highlighted the talents of Karun Nair, Sanju Samson and PravinTambe. Unlike other teams the Rajasthan Royals do not boast of big names and superstars but are certainly not short of talent. The team had a low budget coming in to the auctions due to unfathomable reasons, but they did manage to get a good mix of youth and experience. Having retained a young player like Samson, showed how bold the decision making in the camp was.

The team started of IPL 2014 with a win over the Sunrisers Hyderabad in the UAE. A rather comprehensive win by 4 wickets. In the next two that followed, the weaknesses of Rajasthan Royals were exposed and the team lost those games to Chennai Superkings and Kings XI Punjab. The bowling looked a bit odd. Neither did the last season’s performer Faulkner seemed in a good touch nor did the golden wicket taker at the CLt20 2013, Pravin Tambe trouble the batsmen. But the team did really well to bounce back and registered a 6 wicket win over the Royal Challengers Bangalore. Their next encounter was an epic one. Rajasthan Royals won on the boundary count against the Kolkata Knight Riders. On this very rare occasion the world of cricket witnessed a tied super over! Te team extended its winning streak and went on to beat Delhi Daredevils, Kolkata Knight Riders, Sunrisers Hyderabad and Royal Challengers Bangalore in the next four games they played. A spectacular run chase was on display against RCB, when the team chased down 190; kudos to the heroics of James Faulkner and Steve Smith. The team tried to experiment quite a lot in the last game against CSK and it did not prove be a successful trick. The team suffered a 5 wicket defeat against the two time champion Chennai Superkings.

Having played 10 games this season, Rajasthan Royals sit pretty comfortable at number three spot with 6 wins in their bag. The opening duo of Ajinkya Rahane and Karun Nair has been consistent performers for the team. Ajinkya Rahane is the leading run scorer of the side with 248 runs. Skipper Shane Watson has led from the front whenever needed and been a key with both bat and bowl. The team holds the distinction of getting 6 wickets in 8 balls against KKR. A downfall of KKR that was initiated by Watson and carried forward by the hattrick of Pravin Tambe. Pravin Tambe has been a key player and has been among the wickets. Tambe along with Bhatia have choked the opposition during the middle overs and have been by and large the reason for team’s success. Young talents like Sanju Samson have impressed in bits and pieces. No one can forget a straight six right over the bowler’s head; Samson sent the world’s best Steyn right out of the boundary.

With such blend of experience and youth and also a clinical display in most of the games they played, Rajasthan Royals are surely a team to watch out for in this edition of IPL.

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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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Age is just a number!

Pravin Tambe took the first hattrick of IPL 2014. The Rajasthan Royals spinner scripted his team’s win against Kolkata Knight Riders.

The 42 year old Pravin Tambe has been the talk to the town since his arrival at the big stage. Making his IPL debut last year at the age of 41, Tambe has been proving that age is merely a number in the sporting arena. What matters is one’s zeal and enthusiasm when it comes to the performance. The leg spinner Pravin Tambe had not even played a top-level game for a first-class team when he was picked from the vast meadows of Mumbai’s cricket gymkhanas at the age of 41, by Rajasthan Royals for IPL 2013. Pravin Tambe has been working day in and day out, managing his game and his job in Mumbai for the last 20 years. His wait came to an end when the Wall of Indian cricket spotted this sturdy and 5’5” wily leg spinner. Before getting a call for the IPL, the closest that Pravin had been to be known in the top level cricket was when his named featured in the Ranji probables list in the year 2000 for Mumbai.

The Mumbai-born Tambe is now a Rajasthan Royals veteran. The bowler has been the go to man for his skipper this season. Tambe, along with the economical customer Rajat Bhatia, has been the key to Rajasthan’s success in this edition of IPL. The duo have played their part to the optimum best and have choked the opposition during the middle overs and thereby ensuring their team’s victory. Last week, when the Kolkata Knight Riders were cruising along chasing the target of 171, riding on the knocks of Gambhir and Uthappa, it was Tambe who put the brakes on the run chase. He picked up the first hattrick of the season by dismissing three batsmen of just two legal deliveries. He managed to get Manish Pandey stumped of a wide delivery, castled Yusuf Pathan and finally dismissed Ryan ten Doeschate to grab the season’s first hattrick! Although the downfall was initiated by skipper Watson, it was Tambe who ripped apart the KKR middle order. Claiming the hattrick of just two deliveries is not something we witness every now and then. It was just second time in the history of game that such a feat was accomplished; Isuru Udana’s hattrick in Champions league t20 2010 was the first occasion of the rare sight.

Earlier in the tournament, he went wicketless in the first two games that he played. But he did play a containing role. Picking just one wicket in the third game against Chennai Superkings, Tambe announced himself in the game against Royal Challengers Bangalore by picking up 4 wickets for 20 runs. Since then, he has been among the wickets. Picking up couple of wickets against KKR and then replicating the same against Delhi, he got his hattrick in the team’s second game against KKR on May 5, 2014.

Tambe, the oldest player to make an IPL debut, has looked in sublime form in this season. He has continued his form from the previous year’s Champions League where he received the Golden Wicket (for taking most number of Wicket in the tournament). Despite of being highly successful at the shortest format of the game, Tambe failed to make a mark at the Ranji level. Making his debut at the age of 41, it was his dream to represent Mumbai in Ranji trophy. Tambe, who worked as a coordinator for the matches at DY Patil Stadium in the earlier editions of IPL, toiled hard in the vast Kanga Leagues of Mumbai before finally making his debut in Ranji trophy against Odisha last year.

Tambe got the Golden Wicket in CL T20 2013

But coming back to IPL, he has performed and performed well this season. The stocky leg spinner has hit the purple patch and is also a leading contender for the purple cap this season. The ever inspiring fairy tale story of Pravin Tambe fascinates every aspiring cricketer and this story of this man from Mumbai makes him the player to watch out for in this IPL season!

 

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Welcome to the theatre. Now Showing: the Indian Premier League

The recent spat between Kieron Pollard and Mitchell Starc is just a tick in an assembly line of ‘incidents’ that have occurred over the several editions of IPL.

Indian Premier League: Never short of drama.

When Sunil Gavaskar was appointed as the interim BCCI Chief a few days before the annual Indian cricket carnival event took off, he was adamant that this year’s IPL should be remembered only for the cricket and nothing else. He was, of course, referring to the previous edition’s fixing scandal, that brought about much shame and disrepute to the Indian cricket in general. But alas Mr.Gavaskar, this is the Indian Premier League, which thrives on controversy and public scrutiny.

The IPL, now in its 7th successful edition, has never been shy of a little drama. The IPL has always been viewed as “cricketainment”, an enticing combination of cricket and entertainment. With all the fancy team jerseys that make players look like walking bill boards, over-enthusiastic cheerleaders and high profile after match parties, cricket has never been the sole factor in the success of the IPL.

The pre-match show generally starts an hour before the scheduled start of play, but the actual cricket content and analysis, in bits and pieces, lasts about a third of the running time. Most of it is focussed on the in-studio panellists going gaga over the special guests who turn up to promote their respective trades (read, actors and movies, mostly), a drummer who goes “ba-dum-tuss” everytime Navjot Sidhu enlightens the public with one of his annoying yet trademark ‘shayaris’ and the acrobatic cheergirls shaking a leg to hit Bollywood numbers.

While the glitz and glamour of the IPL have always been there for all the editions, the transgressions in discipline and deteriorating standards in on-field composure also seem to have never abandoned it. Way back in 2008, Harbhajan Singh caused an uproar when he slapped his opponent and India team-mate Sreesanth. He was subsequently banned for the rest of the tournament, but the Mumbai Indians had to deal with a massive PR burnout. Last year, Virat Kohli and Gautam Gambhir, both Delhi and India team-mates got into an ugly spat which was later on justified by Gambhir in his newspaper column, calling it “a tense moment between two passionate individuals”. There is also the incident where the normally zen-like Rahul Dravid took a jibe at Mitchell Johnson after being sledged and thrashing him for a boundary the very next ball. The list of such incidents just keeps on growing as the years go by.

So what makes the competition among the players so fierce? It is after all, franchise based cricket, where the honour of a nation is not at stake. There are a few explanations, though.

A T20 game might be nerve wracking for the fans but it is a high pressure affair for the players, where the dynamics of a game can change in an over. The fact that one missed stumping or dropped catch or even a mis-field can cost the game for a team makes it a highly volatile environment. It sometimes brings out the best in individuals. For example, the two time hiding that AB de Villers has given to Dale Steyn in 2012 and 2014, arguably the best bowler in the world, proves the point. There have also been instances where bowlers have defended a meagre six runs off the last over, a phenomenal feat, considering the nature of the game.

But however intense the environment maybe, flinging bats at opponents and constant bickering can never be justified. And unfortunately, the IPL has a huge fan base among youngsters and budding cricketers, which complicates the issue. When their role models indulge in aggressive acts and use gestures/abusive language, the example being set is not really a favourable one. In a format where quick thinking and swift execution is of prime importance, the “spirit of cricket” seems to have always taken a backseat.

In the past decade,T20 cricket has sparked some wild innovations in all departments of the game and has definitely taken the quality of cricket being played to a notch higher. The IPL is one of a kind tournament, the one that fills the BCCI coffins with mind boggling revenues and brings together the best talent in the world. The general perception is that the IPL has improved relations among the players of different countries. But periodic incidents such as the Pollard-Starc spat force us to reconsider the authenticity of that statement. The focus of this cash rich league has never really been on cricket alone and sadly has relied on gimmicks and controversies to stay in the limelight.

It is probably true when somebody remarked that “cricket is no longer a game, but a multi-million dollar business industry”. An industry where showmanship has taken the lead over the willow vs cherry contest. The good old cricket fan might cringe at this thought, but it remains a sad fact. Cricket is, in every sense of the word, a sport. The players must recognize that being a sport also counts, just playing will not suffice.

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The Defending Champions…

Five defeats in a row and now, two consecutive wins. What to expect from the defending champs?

“Sachin…Sachin…” was the roar in IPL 2013 and the Mumbai Indians emerged victorious in the sporting festival as the audience or “the sea of blue” erupted in the all joyous scenes for the men in blue. The team went on to win the Champions League T20 as well and it was a fitting farewell for their hitherto batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar. This year, the team without the services of the batting legend, had a big task in front of them during the auctions.

The Auction of 2014 brought a lot of surprises for the Mumbai Indians supporters. To everybody’s amazement, the team decided not to retain their previous edition’s hero Mitchell Johnson and the dynamic batsman Glenn Maxwell. A chance went begging when Mumbai Indians refused to use their right to match cards for the two Australian gentlemen. And the other team grabbed the opportunity with both hands and got the two Aussies, Kings XI Punjab were the beneficiary. They also felt it was time that Dwayne Smith should be moving to some other team now. Young leggie Yuzvendra Chahal was left out and so was veteran wicket keeper Dinesh Karthik. Talking about their “buys” this season, the Mumbai Indians spent big time to rope in the fastest ODI centurion, Corey Anderson. They also cashed in to get the services of Mr.Cricket, Mike Hussey. It was a mix bag for the management this season and they looked happy with the squad until the tournament began. Both Maxwell and Smith top the highest run getters chart this season and the Mumbai Indians management is certainly scratching their head. However, the team retained their core group of players: Malinga, Pollard, Harbhajan, Rayudu and the captain Rohit Sharma.

The team retained their “all time” stars.

The cricket carnival moved to UAE for its first leg of matches this season, and the Mumbai Indians stepped in the arena as the defending champions. Playing the opening encounter of IPL 2014 against Kolkata Knight Riders, the Mumbai franchisee disappointed their fans as they bundled out for a score less than 120. In the game that followed, they yet again failed to register a score of 120 against Royal Challengers Bangalore. From UAE, the team moved to Dubai searching for some sort of luck. But it again turned out to be a disheartening encounter for the men in blue as they lost to Chennai Superkings. CSK bowler Mohit Sharma ripped apart the Mumbai batting order. Mumbai Indians looked for answers, but just could not find the right combination. They started their campaign with openers Tare-Hussey. They tried every combination possible. In their fourth game against Delhi Daredevils, Skipper Rohit Sharma opened the innings but in vain. The team lost their fourth game. Playing their last game in UAE, they succumbed to pressure again and lost to Sunrisers Hyderabad, being the only team who failed to get a win in the UAE league. Fifth defeat in a row for the defending champions!

The tournament moved to India and the lady luck gave the Mumbai fans something to cheer about. Playing against the unbeaten side of KXIP, all odds were against the Mumbai Indians. But the sea of blue at Wankhede stadium erupted again. CM Gautam, the record holder for most dismissals (45) as a wicket keeper in Ranji trophy, came out good for Mumbai and looked an emerging star! In the next game, Rohit Sharma’s nonchalant batting and Pollard’s brutal force propelled their score to 187 against RCB. The heated argument between Starc and Pollard was the highlight of the game but more importantly it was Mumbai’s second win at their fortress.

Skipper Sharma returns in form

Despite a rather forgettable start, the Mumbai Indians are looking back in form. A team which boasts of a support staff with Jonty Rhodes, Tendulkar, Ponting, Kumble and John Wright, is bound a make a mark especially when they know that the skipper in back in ominous touch. Slowly climbing up the ladder in the points table, the defending champions Mumbai Indians, although a little inconsistent, are surely a team a team to watch out for!

A jubilant Mumbai Team hoping for a twist of fate!

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Brendon McCullum: Power Personified!

The biggest modern day cricket extravaganza, IPL has reached its metaphase and returned back to India. The initial bit of the renowned sporting festival was played in the UAE and the matches stood up to the expectations. Journey in UAE was a bag full of emotions; for some like the Kings XI Punjab (KXIP), it was a dream run; while for some like the Mumbai Indians, it was a forgettable journey!

Among the teams to beat, KXIP lead the charge but a notable mention is the team of Chennai Superkings (CSK) who are placed at the second position in the points table. CSK did not have the best of the starts but the men in yellow have excelled after the initial defeat by registering 5 consecutive victories! Everyone is talking about their success mantra. Some say it’s the immaculate pace attack, some say it’s the economical spin attack and others say it’s the leadership. But the real major contributing factor has been their batting, their opening. It has been the story of the CSK opening duo Dwayne Smith and Brendon McCullum in the CSK winning saga.

Dwayne Smith, for some unfathomable reason, has overshadowed his equally capable partner and has become the centre of discussion. But one must not undermine the role played by the “unsung hero” of team Brendon McCullum. No one can keep this man away from IPL after all years ago, it was Brendon McCullum who lit up the inaugural IPL campaign with 158 in 73 balls for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in 2008. But this year, coming into the tournament with just 85 runs in four innings in the recently concluded t20 world cup, McCullum had a point to prove. It was never going to be an easy task as he was in a totally new atmosphere, a new team.

McCullum, who has previously been a part of Kolkata Knight Riders and Kochi Tuskers, kicked off his CSK outing with a blitzkrieg 67 against KXIP propelling his side to a score past 200! Although it was for a losing cause, his intentions were loud and clear. McCullum used the pull shot to devastating effect. In the match that followed, he managed just 9 runs against the Delhi Daredevils. Another failure awaited him in the game against Rajasthan Royals where he managed just 6 runs. But the man from Dunedin was back in ominous touch against the Mumbai Indians and scored a scintillating unbeaten innings of 71. In the next game, he cracked 40 of 33 balls as the M.S. Dhoni led Chennai Superkings chased down Sunrisers Hyderabad’s 145 to win by 5 wickets with 3 balls to spare at Sharjah. IPL moved to India, but his form showed no dip. The right handed New Zealander slammed a 40 ball 56 to help CSK register a win against KKR at Ranchi and gave CSK their 5th consecutive win this season!

The ICC t20 International Performance of the year (2010) winner, Brendon McCullum has by and large played in the shadow of his burly West Indian opening partner Dwayne Smith. But by the look of things, it seems the brash and brutal blackcap has taken the baton from last year’s CSK wonder opener Mike Hussey. McCullum, a blend of power and elegance, is power personified and certainly the trump card for the Chennai Superkings this summer. Undoubtedly he is the player to watch out for in IPL 2014.

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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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McCullum, Smith guide CSK to fourth consecutive win!

Brendon McCullum and Dwayne Smith smashed the Sunrisers bowling attack all around the park to ensure a victory for the Chennai Superkings. The victory was Chennai’s fourth on the trot while Sunrisers, with just one victory in their account in the tournament, slumped to their third defeat in the 2014 IPL. What looked like a very comfortable run chase in the first half of CSK innings, turned into a humdinger in the next few overs. But Chennai Super Kings overcame some anxious moments before huffing and puffing to a five-wicket win over a fighting Sunrisers Hyderabad in a nail biting encounter at the Sharjah.

Batting first, the Sunrisers did find it difficult to middle the balls. Skipper Dhawan fell to Hilfenhaus scoring only 9 runs. Warner was unlucky to get out as he was adjudged LBW by the umpire on a delivery that was pitched clearly outside the leg stump. It was Australian batsman Aaron Finch’s fighting 44-run knock and a splendid rearguard action that propelled Hyderabad to a competitive 145 for five. The Australian batsman held the one end when wickets fell consistently from the other before departing in the fag end.

Finch added 52 runs for the third wicket with Lokesh Rahul (25). Finch was dismissed for 44 of 45 deliveries and was castled by Mohit Sharma. Venugopal Rao departed soon after. Darren Sammy (23 not out) and Karan Sharma (17 not out) slogged and slogged well to help their side get to the score of 145. They scored 32 runs in the last two overs. Sharma hammered paceman Ben Hilfenhaus for two sixes in the penultimate over and Sammy also succeeded in hitting a maximum off Mohit Sharma in the final over. For the Superkings, Mohit Sharma and Ben Hilfenhaus picked two wickets each. Ashwin continued to bowl miserly, conceding just 17 runs in his quota of overs, albeit without a wicket.

Chasing 146 for their fourth win in a row, Chennai achieved the target with three balls to spare as openers Dwayne Smith (66) and Brendon McCullum (40) laid a solid foundation with their 85-run partnership in 10.5 overs.

CSK openers started the innings in the most flamboyant manner. Despite losing his partner, Smith went about his business calmly and completed his third half-century of this season with a single off paceman Ishant Sharma. The West Indian clobbered Amit Mishra for a six to raise 100 of the CSK innings. But then a quick flurry of wickets gave CSK a scare and a glimmer of hope for the Sunrisers dugout. Brendon McCullum was dismissed by Karn Sharma on 40. Soon to follow was Suresh Raina who added just 14 runs to the team total. Chennai were cruising at one stage, needing just 22 runs from the last five overs with eight wickets in hand but young Indian paceman Bhuvaneshwar Kumar changed the complexion of the game by dismissing Smith and Faf du Plessis in the same over. Du Plessis got a golden duck as he edged one of Kumar’s bowling. In the 19th over, Ravindra Jadeja followed him by adding just 6 runs.

CSK needed six runs off the last over, bowled by Amit Mishra, and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni finished it off in style, dismissing a full toss to square leg boundary. To everybody’s amazement, skipper Dhawan decide to hand the ball to the leggie. Notably, Darren Sammy didn’t get to bowl a single over in this game.

A smiling Dhoni welcomed the fourth victory for his side and was totally satisfied with his team’s effort. Smith, who anchored the CSK chase with his 46-ball knock that was embedded with five sixes and four shots to the fence and was adjudged the Man of the Match.

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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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