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IPL 2015 Week Four: The Think Tank: Bottom Four

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5th) Mumbai Indians

This Week: Played 3, Won 3, Lost 0.
Overall: Played 10, Won 5, Lost 5.

MI have now won four consecutive matches and although they have some tough fixtures ahead, they have the form and momentum to launch an assault on the Play-Off places. They’ve settled on a stable team and formula having made just one change to their XI this week. Perhaps most importantly this week saw the return to form of Ambati Rayudu whose struggles were inhibiting MI’s middle and lower-order enormously.

MI’s first match of the week was against RR, and was a tense affair. MI, batting first, scored 187-5 before restricting RR to just 179-7 in response to win by 8 runs. Arguably the most encouraging aspect of the win was the runs provided by Rayudu, who had been struggling for form, but his 27-ball 53 was the highest score of MI’s innings and his contribution was perhaps the difference between victory and defeat. Mitchell McClenaghan yet again bowled well, taking 3-31 from his four overs, reasserting the benefits of selecting two overseas bowlers. MI were fortunate that RR opted to leave out James Faulkner - in the closing overs their absence of a finisher was conspicuous.

Against the struggling KXIP, MI exhibited more strength in depth. This time the innings of Parthiv Patel, who scored a superb 36-ball 59 provided MI’s innings with an electric start. Patel has been a solid, if unspectacular opener for MI, but his innings against KXIP was a genuinely excellent and match-defining innings. He and Lendl Simmons put on 111 for the first wicket. However, MI will certainly be disappointed with the second half of their innings. After scoring 96-0 from their first ten overs they failed to initiate a successful assault in the second half, managing just 76-3 from their second ten. KXIP did admittedly bowl well but Simmons slowed down enormously, scoring 45 runs from his first 29 balls but just 26 from his last 27. Anyhow, the poorer second half didn’t matter greatly as a combination of good MI bowling and poor KXIP batting saw them fall well short of the target.

MI’s final match of the week saw them make one change to their starting XI, leaving out Unmukt Chand who after scoring a fifty against RCB had managed just 32 runs in three innings. All-rounder Hardik Pandya replaced Chand in the team. Given the state of the league table the MIvDD match was one carrying huge importance and MI produced a performance suggestive of a team with the guts to push hard for a top-four finish. After limiting DD to just 152-6, MI recovered from 40-4 to win the match with three balls to spare. Rohit Sharma and Rayudu combined nicely to haul MI from the mire to get them within a Kieron Pollard-innings of victory, and Pollard duly came to the crease and finished the job. Pandya replaced Chand at number three in the order which was a move that lent stability to the rest of the order but flattered Pandya’s batting abilities. The promotion of Harbhajan Singh to number four was strange but given that the stronger lower-order later bailed MI out, it was one that in retrospect kind of worked, but is no less weird as a result.

It will be very interesting to see if MI persist with Pandya at number three. But other than that MI are a team in form, with stable selection and, as a result, familiarity of roles in the team. The return to form of Rayudu adds a layer of support to an otherwise flimsy lower-order.

The week ahead poses MI with a match they would love to win and a match they simply must win. They won’t be expected to beat CSK away from home—especially without Lasith Malinga who is banned from playing in Chennai—but given the state of the table, their match against RCB at home is surely must-win if they are to keep their Play-Off hopes alive.

The Week Ahead: CSK (Away), RCB (Home).

6th) Delhi Daredevils

This Week: Played 3, Won 1, Lost 2.

Overall: Played 10, Won 4, Lost 6.

This was a bad week for DD. Their only victory was against bottom-of-the-table KXIP before they lost two important matches against RR and MI.

Encouragingly, the match against KXIP saw the return to the team of Zaheer Khan for his first professional match in 363 days since the last IPL. There were few signs of a lack of match-practice however as he took a wicket in his first over, instigating a collapse that saw KXIP reeling at 45-6. KXIP were never going to win the match from there and they didn’t. Despite a useful lower-order recovery that dragged them to 118-8, DD chased the runs with positive intent, losing just one wicket and reaching the target in 13.5 overs. It was good to see Saurabh Tiwary, who replaced Shabhaz Nadeem in the team, an opportunity at number three, even if it was only for a handful of balls.

Things went downhill for the rest of the week for DD. Against RR they made the bizarre decision to leave out Imran Tahir, this season’s leading wicket-taker, for Gurinder Sandhu, largely it seems, because they didn't expect the pitch to turn, but even then, given Tahir’s success the decision makes little sense. RR batted first and lost just two wickets in their innings, scoring 189-2. That was a tough target but by no means an impossible one. This column has suggested that DD’s opening partnership is a weak-link and they were playing catch-up in the chase when they lost both openers before the Powerplay was over. JP Duminy played well at number three for fifty but in an innings that kind of represents DD’s struggles no one could stay with him and despite some poor death bowling they couldn't get to the target.

More disappointing than the defeat against RR, who are consistently strong team, was the loss to MI who are more likely to be one of DD’s rivals for the fourth Play-Off spot. Not only was it an important match but DD had a golden opportunity to win when they had MI 40-4 chasing 152-6 to win. DD did recall Tahir for the match, leaving out Gurinder Sandhu. Yuvraj Singh, speaking after the match said “when we had them 40-4 we should’ve won the game from there. We didn’t pick up wickets.” However, although they missed an opportunity with the ball it shouldn’t be overlooked that DD probably didn’t score enough runs. Despite Yuvraj striking his second half century of the season as DD kicked on in the second half of the innings it would be a fair assessment to say they were ten or fifteen runs short. Yuvraj fell with six balls remaining to a superb catch and that moment could well have been the difference between victory and defeat. DD’s batting which has been overly reliant on Duminy all season is not being helped by Angelo Matthews whose highest score this season is just 28. Indeed, looking forward DD should consider selecting Albie Morkel who hasn't played since the first match of the season.

DD will play RCB in their last match of the league-stage after this coming week and if they want to keep their hopes alive going into that fixture against an RCB team likely to be also pushing for fourth place they are going to have to win at least two of their matches this week. Given that they are playing the two strongest teams in the league, away from home, DD’s chances of a Play-Off place are not looking good. They may well look back on the defeat to MI as the defeat that ended their season.

The Week Ahead: KKR (Away), SRH (Home), CSK (Away).

7th) Sunrisers Hyderabad

This Week: Played 2, Won 1, Lost 1.

Overall: Played 9, Won 4, Lost 5.

SRH still have a chance of grabbing a top four finish after a week in which they took one win from two really tough fixtures. SRH have arguably been the most confused team strategy-wise this season, but this week they have at least appeared to settle on a stable balance with David Warner, Moises Henriques, one of Ravi Bopara or Eoin Morgan and then one of Trent Boult or Dale Steyn as their overseas quartet. For their first match of the week, against CSK, they opted for Morgan and Boult, but for their second match against KKR they dropped Boult, picked Steyn and also brought in spin bowler Bipul Sharma in place of all-rounder Ashish Reddy.

SRH largely have David Warner’s superb 28-ball 61 to thank for their victory against CSK. His brutal fifty laid the platform for four other double-figure scores in the top five with two strike-rates of above 165. Wickets at regular intervals in CSK’s chase ensured the SRH victory.

In SRH’s second match of the week it can be said that KKR won the match as much as SRH lost it. KKR are well practiced on turning pitches and in favourable conditions they scored an impressive 167-7 before surgically taking apart SRH’s response with canny, cunning spin bowling. Admittedly, the tame nature of their chase when both Warner and Shikhar Dhawan failed further illustrated their reliance on the pair as the middle-order, Henriques aside, wilted under the pressure. Eoin Morgan’s 11-ball 5 lends further weight to the idea that Kane Williamson, a player of real class, should be given a go in the middle-order. Although now SRH have persisted with Morgan diligently when they could’ve reverted to Williamson, you could argue they should stick with him.

Looking ahead SRH’s match against RR is massively important. If they lose that then they’ll probably have to win all four of their remaining fixtures. However RR have been struggling for momentum and what is normally a lively Brabourne Stadium pitch will aid the SRH cause. After the clash against RR, SRH face arguably the two most out-of-form teams in the league, DD and KXIP. It is so hard to read and gauge what SRH are going to do and how they are going to play because they are so reliant on a small number of players, but they’ve got a set of fixtures in the next week that could set up their last two matches, against MI and RCB, wonderfully.

The Week Ahead: RR (Away), DD (Away), KXIP (Home).

8th) Kings XI Punjab

This Week: Played 3, Won 0, Lost 3.

Overall: Played 10, Won 2, Lost 8.

KXIP are the first team who cannot qualify for the Play-Off stage after three defeats in the past week extended their losing streak to five matches. KXIP have continued to shuffle their team, making eight changes this week in the search for a winning combination. Last season their strength was their stability and the familiarity of roles it established, this season they’ve had none of that. It’s hard to add much more to the analysis of last week with regards to KXIP. They are a team out of form and with no alternative options. If anything KXIP should use their remaining fixtures to give responsibility to otherwise untested talent.

The Week Ahead: KKR (Away), SRH (Away), RCB (Home).

Read about the Top Four HERE.



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