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The Think Tank: Week 1, Top 4

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IPL_Indian_Premier_League1) Sunrisers Hyderabad

Played 2, Won 2, Lost 0

Season Results: WW

SRH could not have hoped for a much better start to the defence of their IPL title. In Match 1 they convincingly beat RCB, making their second highest score ever (207) and in Match 6 they thrashed GL by nine wickets and with 27 balls remaining - their third biggest win in terms of balls remaining.

SRH have picked the same team for both their matches, opting for David Warner, Moises Henriques, Ben Cutting and Rashid Khan as their four overseas players. The seven Indian players are predictable picks: Shikhar Dhawan, Yuvraj Singh, Deepak Hooda, Naman Ojha, Bipul Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ashish Nehra.

The major positives for SRH have been the return to form for David Warner against GL after a torrid Test series against India and the success of new overseas signing Rashid Khan, who has taken five wickets in SRH’s first two matches. Rashid has shown excellent control of his length and his variations have appeared hard to pick. 

With Bipul and Hooda both taking one wicket each, SRH have already taken more spin wickets this season (7) than they did in the entirety of last season (6) adding a new dimension to their already excellent attack, which boasted the lowest average of all teams last season.

The only area of of concern for SRH will be the bowling form of Moises Henriques and Ben Cutting, who have taken no wickets and conceded 96 runs in 9.4 overs at an economy rate of 10.28 runs per over. They, along with Hooda and Bipul, must bowl eight of SRH’s 20 overs with Nehra, Bhuveneshwar and Rashid bowling the other 12. Hooda and Bipul have bowled six overs between them so far, taking 2 for 35.

Henriques’ form with the bat—he has scored 104 runs off 76 balls without being dismissed—means his place is under no threat. Cutting however, who has batted once, scoring 16* (6), could well be dropped for either Mohammad Nabi or the returning Mustafizur Rahman, who joined the squad on Tuesday (April 11th). 

Having won both their matches convincingly SRH should not feel compelled to make any changes and Cutting arguably deserves at least another match. But with tough away fixtures facing MI and KKR coming up, Nabi and Mustafizur may prove hard to ignore.

Week Two Fixtures: MI (A), KKR (A), KXIP (H)

2) Kings XI Punjab

Played 2, Won 2, Lost 0

Season Results: WW

KXIP have won as many matches in week one of the 2017 season as they did in their first seven matches last season. After finishing bottom of the table for two seasons in a row, KXIP’s strong start to this season has been as surprising as it has been impressive. While they have arguably played two of the weaker teams in the league (RPS and RCB) and have been lucky to win the toss and chase in one match and been asked to chase in another, they have still had to capitalise on such advantages and they have done so clinically. 

KXIP have selected their team as expected, picking three overseas batsmen: Hashim Amla, Glenn Maxwell and David Miller and one overseas all rounder in Marcus Stoinis. They made one change to their team after their first match with Varun Aaron coming in for Swapnil Singh. Their other six Indian players have been Manan Vohra, Wriddhiman Saha, Axar Patel, Mohit Sharma, Sandeep Sharma and T Natarajan. 

KXIP’s bowling is well-suited to bowling in the first two thirds of an innings with Sandeep, Mohit and Axar all being bowlers who like to bowl full and attack. In both matches, v RPS and v RCB, KXIP have taken wickets and restricted the scoring in the first half of the innings. In both instances, the damage done in those early overs has been sufficient to cover for some very costly death bowling that has seen them concede 195 runs across the second half of their bowling innings including 79 off the last seven v RPS and 77 off the last five v RCB.

It will be interesting to see KXIP’s batting put under a little more pressure than in these opening two matches where, aside from a middle overs stutter v RPS, they have easily chased down their two targets. The form of Maxwell—who has scored 87 runs from 42 balls without being dismissed—is the major positive for KXIP’s batting which is heavily dependent on their overseas players. Amla’s innings against RCB, in which his classical style expertly picked gaps and rotated the strike, was also encouraging after a slow innings v RPS. 

It will have been a relief for the management to see Vohra play with fluency (season run rate 9.60) after some turgid innings in the Inter State T20 competition earlier this year. Axar’s promotion up the order to number four v RPS and three v RCB is an intriguing move: in the first match he only scored at just 6.54 RPO for 22 balls—if he’s batting above Maxwell, Miller and Stoinis he has to score faster than that. 

The main area of concern for KXIP so far has been their death bowling. It would be good to see Natarajan given more responsibility in the phase, as his bowling style and angle is well suited to bowling at the death but he only bowled one over v RCB. 

Overall this has been a really good start from KXIP—they have been brilliant in the first half of their bowling innings and mature with the bat. It has only been a start, though, and tougher challenges lie ahead.

Week Two Fixtures: v KKR (H), v DD (A), v SRH (A)

3) Delhi Daredevils 

Played 2, Won 1, Lost 1

Season Results: LW

After losing Quinton de Kock and JP Duminy in the build up to the season, DD will be pleased with their performances in week one. They dominated their first match v RCB and should have won, were it not for some poor batting by Amit Mishra; and they thrashed RPS by 97 runs: their biggest ever IPL victory in terms of runs. 

DD’s team has—aside from the non-selection of Mohammad Shami—been largely what was expected. Sam Billings, Chris Morris and Pat Cummins as three overseas players with Carlos Brathwaite being the fourth for the first match and Corey Anderson for the second. Delhi’s Indian players have been Aditya Tare, Karun Nair, Sanju Samson, Rishabh Pant, Amit Mishra, Zaheer Khan and Shabhaz Nadeem. 

It has been the left arm spinner Nadeem who has taken Shami’s place in the team, with DD understandably believing they need more than just Mishra as the lone spinner. Nadeem, with figures of 1 for 13 and 1 for 23, has justified their faith in him exceptionally well. 

The major positive for DD has been two innings: Pant v RCB: 57 (36) and Samson v RPS: 102 (63). DD’s season, even before de Kock and Duminy’s absence but even more so after, is likely to be defined by the performances of their young Indian batsmen. Pant and Samson have offered reason to be optimistic. 

It is crucial that they, and Tare and Nair as well, realise that DD need more from them than occasional innings of promise. If DD are to challenge for a top four spot, at least one of their young Indian batsmen are going to need to have a season in which they lead the batting order and not just contribute to it. 

Given the inexperience in DD’s batting, their team looked more balanced after they left out Brathwaite for Anderson, who although still not an innings-builder in the mould of Duminy, boasts a superior record to the West Indian. It will be interesting to see how Anderson’s bowling holds up under a more thorough examination than that which he received v RPS. In this DD team where none of the Indian batsmen can bowl, Anderson will be their sixth bowling option.

DD will hope, with such a high quality and varied attack boasting the intelligence of Morris, the experience of Zaheer, the pace of Cummins, the accuracy of Nadeem and the guile of Mishra, that the sixth bowling option won’t be needed much. Indeed, in the first week Brathwaite and Anderson have only bowled three overs between them and the rest of the attack have been superb.

Morris, whose nine-ball blitz v RPS that brought him 38 runs with the fourth highest T20 strike rate in an innings of more than 25 runs, is becoming a player comparable to Andre Russell as one of the most valuable in the world. 

Week Two Fixtures: v KXIP (H), v KKR (H) 

4) Kolkata Knight Riders 

Played 2, Won 1, Lost 1

Season Results: WL

This first week was up and down for KKR. After the euphoric high of their record-breaking 10 wicket victory against GL, they were brought crashing down by their defeat v MI and the injury to their new star player Chris Lynn that could rule him out of the season. 

The only real surprise about KKR’s team for their first match was that Lynn was batting as an opener. Other than that the three other overseas players were expected: Chris Woakes, Sunil Narine and Trent Boult. So too were six of the Indian contingent: Gautam Gambhir, Robin Uthappa, Suryakumar Yadav, Manish Pandey, Yusuf Pathan and Piyush Chawla, with Kuldeep Yadav as a third spinner the only left-field selection. For the second match, Ankit Rajpoot replaced Chawla, suggesting perhaps that Kuldeep will be the frontline Indian spinner. Umesh Yadav is set to return from recuperation shortly and will bolster the bowling attack. 

The injury to Lynn and his possible absence from the rest of the season is considerably more significant because of the innings he played. KKR broke up the most regular and most prolific opening partnership in the history of the IPL (Gambhir and Uthappa) to maximise Lynn’s impact. Their bravery in doing so was rewarded in that first match. Lynn’s 93* (41) was part of a record IPL opening partnership of 184 with Gambhir and contributed to the highest T20 total ever chased down without a wicket being lost. Although GL bowled really poorly to Lynn and he will certainly face tougher challenges, in the space of a single innings Lynn had propelled KKR from title hopefuls to, if not title frontrunners, then certainly title challengers. 

In both matches, KKR’s bowling has been a tale of two halves. Their spinners have been excellent, conceding runs at 7.76 runs per over compared to 10.25 for the seamers. This imbalance materialises most clearly in KKR’s death bowling statistics, where they have conceded runs at 11 runs per over across their two matches. 

KKR’s batting in their second match v MI was far less convincing than v GL, with two wickets in the fifth over being followed by an eight over period in which they scored at just 5.62 runs per over. A gem of an innings from Pandey helped elevate KKR to a defendable but still below-par score of 178 on what was a typically good pitch for batting at the Wankhede. 

KKR’s spin bowlers, particularly Narine, did well to restrict MI in the middle part of their innings but poor death bowling, terrible fielding and some awesome hitting from MI saw KKR concede 61 off their last 23 balls and lose the match. 

Although the bowling of both Woakes and Boult will concern KKR, they have had to bowl on two excellent batting pitches so far and should be given more time in the team. The fitness of Lynn is a major issue for KKR heading into week two. They have Darren Bravo, Shakib Al Hasan, Colin de Grandhomme and Rovman Powell as possible overseas replacements. Although they are good players, they are very different players to Lynn and may force KKR into a significant strategic revamp.

Week Two Fixtures: v KXIP (H), v SRH (H), v DD (A)

 

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Freddie Wilde is a freelance T20 journalist @fwildecricket....

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