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IPL 2015 Week Three: The Think Tank: Top Four

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1st) Chennai Super Kings

This Week: Played 2, Won 2, Lost 0.
Overall: Played 7, Won 6, Lost 1.

In a week in which the three teams below them in the table were hampered by rain, CSK managed to move to the top and pull clear of the chasing pack with two victories. Both wins, the first a thrashing of KXIP, the second a hard-fought win against KKR in a tough match further intimated that this is a champion CSK team.

Against KXIP a Brendon McCullum fifty led CSK to an imposing, but by no means unreachable target of 192-3 before they were then helped on their way to victory by an inept batting display by KXIP who closed their inning on 95-9. Admittedly, CSK do deserve credit for the way they bowled, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were particularly impressive, collecting 5-36 in their eight overs. The return to form for Jadeja, who also blasted an unbeaten 18, arguably completes CSK’s jigsaw.

Their encounter with KKR on Tuesday was a very different affair. On a turgid, two-paced pitch CSK could only muster 134-6 against some outstanding KKR bowling. Amazingly, CSK hit just five boundaries after the 5.4th over, two of them coming off the fourth and fifth balls of their final over. It was clearly easier to take on pace bowling and CSK were fortunate, wise, or both to make the most of the early Powerplay overs. Even though the pitch was not typical of the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium KKR were certainly favourites heading into the second half. However, an awesome bowling display and an at-times jaw-dropping fielding display saw CSK choke KKR’s chase. Some late hitting from Ryan ten Doeschate pulled things tight in the final over, but in the end the 2 run margin of victory flatters KKR who chased a mediocre target appallingly. CSK’s spinners bowled well for the second consecutive match, Ashwin, Jadeja and Suresh Raina finishing with 2-28 from eight overs.

That CSK haven’t changed their starting eleven once this season reflects the strength of their cricket and ease of strategy. However, that pleasing streak will have to end for their next match with Ashwin ruled out for at least one match due to a finger injury sustained against KKR. Bringing in leg-spinner Rahul Sharma would be a like-for-like change and ensure minimum disruption to a strong and settled side.

If CSK win all three of their matches this week, the first an immediate replay of their last match against KKR, they’ll have nine wins which should be enough to ensure a top-four finish with four matches still to play.  

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

2nd) Rajasthan Royals

This Week: Played 3, Won 0, Lost 1, NR 2.
Overall: Played 9, Won 5, Lost 2, NR 2.

Having won their first five matches RR’s momentum has been stalled by consecutive defeats before consecutive abandonments due to rain. This week RR followed their Super Over loss against KXIP with a defeat at the hands of a resurgent RCB before they shared points with KKR and RCB due to rain.

Although not playing has hampered RR’s momentum they may be quietly pleased with taking two points from what would’ve been a difficult match away to KKR and a tough run-chase of 200 against RCB.

In their only completed match of the week against RCB on Friday, RR were guilty of misreading the pitch batting first. Aiming too high and ending up too low; RR attacked too hard and too fast scoring just 131-9 from their twenty overs. RCB scored the runs with ease. In the first half of their second abandoned match.

RR conceded 200 against RCB, but that was probably par score on a good batting pitch. Notably Tim Southee, who was recalled in place of Chris Morris bowled well at the top of the innings, taking the key wickets of Chris Gayle and Virat Kohl to finish with 2-32 from his four overs. Dhawal Kulkarni, who was recalled for RR’s first match of the week against RCB in place of Rahul Tewatia, also bowled well at the top of the innings, finishing with figures of 1-36 from his four overs. RR were assisted by some poor running which resulted in two run outs and should’ve perhaps kept RCB to less than 200 and they would’ve done had Sarfaraz Khan not batted so well.

The performances of Pravin Tambe, who didn’t take a wicket in either match this week are a concern but are unlikely to fluster RR. Tambe has been a consistent performer for some time and he should be and likely will be, given more matches before his selection becomes an issue. Similarly Sanju Samson has been struggling with the bat this season, scoring 4, 5*, 26, 17, 11 and 5, but his wicket keeping has improved markedly and a player of his talent should be treated with patience.

Generally speaking RR are confident in their predominant strategy and shouldn’t look to make drastic changes despite four matches without a win. Last season RR threw away a strong start to the season to end up narrowly missing out on a top-four finish. They are fortunate that their two fixtures in the coming week are against mid-table teams, MI and DD, and provide an opportunity for them to regain some momentum and form.

The Week Ahead: MI (Away), DD (Home)

3rd) Royal Challengers Bangalore

This Week: Played 3, Won 2, Lost 0, NR 1.
Overall: Played 7, Won 3, Lost 3, NR 1.

This was a superb week for RCB, who elevated themselves from the bottom of the table to third with two big wins, first against RR and then against DD. While it may seem that the return of Mitchell Starc is the common denominator to their success, there’s more to RCB’s revival than merely one player. RCB’s bowling coach Allan Donald, speaking pitch-side during their victory over RR spoke of an introspective team meeting following their defeat against MI that he suggested was the catalyst for change. Of course, having Starc playing in the team can only help but there was a steel to Virat Kohli’s batting against RR that ran deeper than the return of one player. RCB look driven at determined.

Strategically RCB appear to have settled upon a relatively stable combination with Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers, an all-rounder (currently David Wiese) and Starc as the four overseas players. It has also been hugely encouraging to see the opening pair of Gayle and Kohli persisted with and de Villiers coming in at three. This of course weakens the middle-order but allows RCB’s best players to face the most balls. The middle-order would be bolstered by a return to form for Dinesh Karthik who has scored just 6, 9, 18, 10 and 27 so far this season. The innings of Sarfaraz Khan against RR will naturally excite many on-lookers and while it would be wrong to expect him to play a similar innings even once again this season if he was to find form it would help assist the middle-order. It was encouraging also to see Mandeep Singh play an excellent innings at number four in the abandoned match against RR.

Against DD Starc’s bowling was also complimented well by Varun Aaron who returned from being dropped after a tough match against MI the week before. Harshal Patel has also proved to be a useful third seamer while Iqbal Abdulla has been in and out of the team. Yuzvendra Chahal missed RCB’s first match of the week against RR with injury but returned for the second.

The true depth and quality of RCB’s revival will be put to the test in this coming week playing last season’s champions, KKR, and the Champions League T20 champions, CSK, consecutively before hosting bottom of the table KXIP.

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

4th) Kolkata Knight Riders

This Week: Played 2, Won 0, Lost 1, NR 1.
Overall: Played 7, Won 3, Lost 3, NR 1.

KKR’s season hasn’t really got going yet; their results so far are WLWWLNRL and with Sunil Narine unlikely to play again this season after being banned from bowling his off-spinner they could be dragged into a scrap for qualification that doesn't reflect the quality of their team.

They’ll probably take the No Result against RR given that it was a match against a top-table opponent but they’ll have been bitterly disappointed with their defeat against CSK later in the week. After bowling brilliantly on a helpful pitch and starting well in the run-chase to bring the required run rate to less than six, overs of 2, 7, 3, 3, 3, 1, 5, 4 and 4 followed to bring it back up to above nine. Admittedly CSK bowled extremely well and KKR did get within just two runs of victory, but ultimately that flatters them. KKR are accustomed to playing on such pitches and from 64-1 should've won that match comfortably.

However, despite the disappointment of defeat it was extremely encouraging to see Brad Hogg, in his first match for KKR bowl so well. His figures of 1-18 will soften the blow of Narine’s absence. While Narine hasn’t been quite the same bowler since remodelling his action losing a player of his quality and experience will hurt KKR and while Hogg bowled well against CSK it is unlikely that a leg-spinner will offer the consistency of Narine.

Interestingly KKR played Pat Cummins ahead of Morne Morkel and if Morkel’s pitch-side interview is to be believed that was largely due to Morkel’s fielding. While Morkel may well be a poor fielder Cummins will have to bowl extremely well to justify the dropping of one of the IPL’s most threatening opening bowlers.

KKR have a very settled side and familiar strategy, it would still be a huge surprise were they not to finish in the top four. If they lose to CSK on Thursday, who are in good form, they’ll have lost more matches than they've won this season and the pressure will be building. The match away to RCB will also be tough but they’ll hope to find some respite against SRH’s weak middle-order next Monday.

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

Read about the Bottom Four HERE.



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

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