The IPL has been in the news for all the wrong reasons over the past few days. Amidst so many off the field controversies, it has been forgotten that cricket-wise, it has been the best of all the IPL’s so far. It took 71 games out of the possible 72, to determine who will make it through to the playoffs. All the teams have been fiercely competitive and most of the games have been nail-biting edge-of-the-seat finishes. All the franchisees and the players must be given due credit for the show that they have put up cricket-wise. It has been absolute fun to watch.
The league stage is done and dusted and we are now down to the playoffs. It is the four original ‘Metropolitan Cities’ or Metros of India – Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai – that have made it through; hence, the title – The Mêlée (battle) of the Metros. So a day after the league games ended and a day before the playoffs commence, here is a Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat (in short SWOT) analysis of the 4 teams in contention:
Explosive Top Order: Sehwag, Warner, Jayawardene, Ross Taylor. It simply can’t get better than this; a superb combination of destructive fire power and class. If even one of them gets going on any given day, the Delhi juggernaut will be very hard to stop.
Purple Cap: It sits pretty on the head of Morne Morkel. He has been a major factor in Delhi’s success. Fast, deadly and accurate; this IPL has seen Menacing Morne at his absolute best.
The Pace Battery: They are the only team in this competition with three genuinely threatening quick bowlers in Morkel, Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron. All three have done quite well and have looked dangerous at various stages.
Spin Department: This is one area that concerns them. They lack a quality spinner. Although Nadeem started the tournament very well and Negi chipped in a few games, none of them has been consistent enough to automatically merit a place in the playing 11.
Lower Middle Order: There is no doubt that DD are top heavy. Although Naman Ojha has done quite well and Irfan has played a few good shots, they have not been tested quite often. A few early wickets and the possibly fragile lower middle order could be exposed.
Taylor or Russell: This will be a key selection issue. After an extended lean patch, the innings that Taylor played against RCB might just tilt the scales in his favor but Russell also showed in that same match that he can hit the ball long and hard and can be useful with the ball as well. This will be a selection dilemma for the management and it could be a decisive factor.
The Daredevils clearly made the best buys at the auction and in the transfer window. It was nothing short of a coup to get Viru, Warner, KP, Ross and Jayawardene to play for the same team. They have been the most consistent team in the league and the points table will tell you as much. With probably the best batting line up and 3 of the quickest bowlers in the tournament, if they don’t win it now, I doubt they will win it ever.
They have to play at least one, if not two, games at Chepauk. On that track, in those conditions, a team must have probably two good spinners. They do not even have one. Their pace battery will not be as effective on the relatively slower and lower track at Chennai. The lower order is also a weak link. The onus will therefore be on the top-order batsmen to cover up and make sure that they put a few extra runs on the board for the bowlers to defend. A few early wickets and it could mean serious trouble for the table toppers.
KOLKATA KNIGHT RIDERS
Gauti’s Grit: The skipper is in top form. He has played some outstanding knocks and led from the front. His captaincy has been right up there too. He has shown on many occasions for India that he is a big match player. All that KKR now need from their skipper is two more of these match-winning efforts.
The Man with the Mohawk: Sunil Narine’s hairstyle has caught everyone’s eye. The Mohawk looks cool. What has been cooler though has been his bowling. He has been the bowler of the tournament so far. In terms of wickets, he may be behind Morne, but in terms of delivering crucial blows and on the basis of pure impact; he wins he title hands down.
Strike Bowlers Upfront and at the Death: The fact that Kallis, McCullum and Narine have played all games and will in all probability will continue to do so; combined with Shakib justifying his “best all rounder in the world” tag and ranking in the last couple of games means that Lee and/or De Lange might not make it into the 11; which implies that their fast bowling is a bit suspect. Although Balaji has done the job on a few occasions, if he has a bad day, KKR might suffer. After all Sunil Narine can bowl only four overs!
Form Woes: Kallis has not had a good tournament at all by his standards, McCullum also exactly has not lit up the tournament and Yusuf Pathan has been the biggest disappointment. It is very likely that all three will feature in the playoffs and if their lean patch continues, it might just mean asking too much out of Gambhir alone.
They have the opportunity to bring joy to the ‘City of Joy’ – Kolkata. It would be a sight to behold if this team can parade the IPL trophy around Kolkata in an open-roof bus. They could instantly become the heartthrobs and darlings of the passionate and wonderful people of PaschimBanga. And of course, it would also mean that next year’s IPL final would be played at the Eden Gardens. Now what a sight that would be! What a grand setting for the IPL finale! At the biggest stage of them all! Isn’t this motivation enough?
And also, it would be a great sight to see SRK dance and celebrate the victory with his boys. He has been a charismatic and supportive owner and it would be great if his team can deliver on his promise of winning the IPL to the people of Kolkata. So far KKR have done the korbo, they have done a lot of lorbo. Now they finally have the opportunity to do the jeetbo! Can they do it? Time will tell.
With Kallis, McCullum and Yusuf out of form, Gambhir’s will be the prized scalp. If these three don’t find their form, it would put too much pressure on the likes of Tiwary and Das. Will they be able to stand up to it? If the teams plan and execute well enough to see off Narine and also probably Shakib without losing too many wickets, they could really go after the remaining 12 overs. A couple of players really need to put their hand up and support the guys in form. Otherwise, it might again be a case of so close, yet so far for the Knight Riders.
For the second part of this article, click here.