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Close-in: As IPL 2020 rounds the final bend, competition heats up
Mumbai, October 23, 2020
The Indian Premier league (IPL) has approached its final bend. This now is the business end of the tournament and so any glitch or hiccup henceforth may have a team licking its wound as an "also ran".
This year's edition has shown that all the teams are evenly matched and several of the games have had very close finishes. The two tied matches last Sunday were just what the doctor ordered. To have one of the matches, which were decided by two Super Overs, with the ever smiling face of Kings XI Punjab's owner, Priety Zinta, was delightful to watch. The three wins in a row have catapulted the Punjab team, to perhaps sneak into a qualifying position.
They seem to be a team buzzing with confidence. With captain KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal in good form, the emergence of the "Universal Boss" Chris Gayle and power hitters in Nicholas Pooran and Glenn Maxwell to support them, Punjab look like a very good batting outfit.
For KXIP and Rajasthan Royals, each match is similar to a knock-out, as one defeat will be sufficient to eliminate them from qualifying for the final leg of the tournament. Their league encounter between each other could become the deciding factor in their way forward.
Rajasthan Royals have suffered because of their inconsistent performance. Their hopes were majorly dependent on their international players, especially on the batting of captain Steve Smith, Jos Buttler, and Ben Stokes. The bowling of Jofra Archer and the superlative performance of their unknown Indian hero, Rahul Tewatia, has still kept them in the game. They will all need to perform consistently and at their best to make it to the final four.
Delhi Capitals and Royal Challengers Bangalore are comfortably placed at the top. Both require just one win to qualify and along with Mumbai Indians they seem to have, at present, reserved the top three slots.
The battle for the fourth place is wide open. With no runaway winner as yet, the points table between the last five teams has a very close jumble at the bottom. Apart from Chennai Super Kings, perhaps, all the others have a chance to reach the magic eight-win target to definitely qualify. However, at present, it seems that there could be a good possibility of even qualifying with seven wins.
This is where the net run-rate will play a deciding factor. Teams will now not only be pressing for a win but will also look to ensure that they do so efficiently to improve their overall run rate. This becomes a tricky situation as both the bowlers and the batsmen will come under immense pressure.
The teams will need to get huge totals and will need their bowlers to either get the opponents out cheaply or win by a good run margin.
Similarly, a side facing a possible defeat will need to ensure that they do so taking every run into account. Each run for them would be like gold dust as the final net run-rate analysis could become the deciding factor.
The IPL has become the selection ground for the Indian players for the Australian tour in November. India, one gathers, will be selecting 32 players, a number that has never been done before for an overseas trip. The young Indian players are looking at the IPL as an opportunity to get recognised.
Unfortunately for some of them, the T20 format is ideally suited for power-hitting batsmen and, therefore, players with technique and good batting prowess are falling prey to playing adventurous shots in trying to impress one and all.
With batsmen in an attacking mode in the T20 format of the game, most wickets are obtained through mishit and cross bat strokes rather than getting one out through a genuinely good delivery.
The bowling skill of fast bowlers in the IPL is based on having a good bouncer and yorker and the ability to have variation in their bowling armoury. It does not recognise the art of bowling on a consistent good length or the ability to swing and cut the ball.
The finger spinners, on the other hand, in the IPL, seem to be bowling their deliveries like a dart, without any flight or turn and hoping to live on the lines of the famous saying "if you miss, you get dismissed".
One hopes that the selectors go beyond the process of players playing in the IPL as the only criterion for selection. Many of the domestic good performers are not playing in the tournament. These players are not at present in the famous UAE bio-bubble. The BCCI should have identified them as prospects and got them for a fitness and training camp in India.
At present, Cheteshwar Pujara and Hanuma Vihari, the two Test match specialists, are the only names that are doing the rounds. The selectors will need to go beyond them, as performance in the Ranji Trophy, T20 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, and Vijay Hazare Trophy also need to be taken seriously.
An Indian cricket side cannot be selected on the basis of just the IPL. If so, then there is a major lacuna in the system.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal)