The Indian Premier League’s stay in the Middle East is now coming to a close, but it’s been an unforgettable fortnight of cricket.
The location may have changed, but the IPL’s usual serving of big-hitting, dramatic action remained with all eight sides showing grit and determination on their respective quests to land the IPL 2014 crown.
With just two matches left to be played before the IPL returns home, let's look at the current league standings and assess the big team news as the season begins to heat up.
|Kings XI Punjab||5||5||0||0||+1.334||10|
|Chennai Super Kings||5||4||1||0||+1.050||8|
|Kolkata Knight Riders||4||2||2||0||+0.193||4|
|Royal Challengers Bangalore||5||2||3||0||-0.207||4|
Gautum Gambhir Under Pressure
Kolkata Knight Riders have endured a stuttering start to their 2014 IPL campaign, claiming two victories from four matches without posting any meaningful totals with the bat.
At the heart of that poor form at the crease is captain Gautum Gambhir, who has failed to make his mark this season.
Per ESPN Cricinfo, the Indian has recorded just one run in four visits to the crease so far with three ducks in his opening three innings.
0, 0, 0, 1 Who wants to be in Gautam Gambhir's shoes at the moment? pic.twitter.com/cfChqb1K32— ESPNcricinfo (@ESPNcricinfo) April 26, 2014
The skipper’s form has been detrimental to Knight Riders’ IPL cause, and there has been talk of him stepping down from the XI for the sake of the franchise.
However, KKR’s assistant coach Vijay Dahiya gave Gambhir his backing after his disappointing innings against Kings XI Punjab on Saturday, per Shirin Sadikot of IPLT20.com:
If you ask me, Gautam is our best batsman and there are no two ways about it that if your best batsman is not in form, it is a problem for the team. But we know him and we know that he will come back to his best. It will be a different team when he starts scoring runs at the top. There is not single talk about his place in the side. Let’s not forget that he is not only one of our batsmen but also our leader. He has led the team very well and we need him in the mix.
Gambhir has an average of 29.59 runs in Twenty20 cricket but is struggling for confidence with the bat this season.
He’ll have a chance for redemption against Rajasthan Royals on Tuesday but will need luck on his side against a Royals side that have found wickets easy to come by this season.
Paddy Upton’s team bowled Royal Challengers Bangalore out for 70 on Saturday with Pravin Tambe taking a 4-for-20 haul.
Tambe will undoubtedly target the out-of-sorts Gambhir, who may have the backing of the KKR hierarchy but could well lose some of his fans if his poor form continues.
The Return of Mitchell Johnson
It’s strange to think that IPL 2014’s early pacesetters Kings XI Punjab have hit top gear without their star bowler Mitchell Johnson finding form.
The fast bowler's recovery from a toe infection took its toll in the United Arab Emirates. The Australian failed to find the kind of deliveries that were a regular occurrence against England in the 2014 Ashes over the first few matches, but he has now come into his own with the ball.
Per ESPN Cricinfo, Johnson has put together hauls of 2-for-26, 2-for-22 and 2-for-19 in his last three matches in Punjab colours and once again has the kind of fire in his belly that forged him into such a star.
The figures rather speak for themselves, but Johnson revealed that he feels as if he’s back to “cricket mode” during an interview with IPLT20.com on Saturday, saying:
I’ve started the tournament quite slowly, coming back from my toe infection and it has taken me a few games to get into it. Probably the best I felt with my bowling was during the training yesterday; I felt like I am in my cricket mode again. Today I felt I was back to bowling like I had been bowling for the past few months. That’s where I wanted to get to—bowling as aggressively as I was a few days ago.
With Johnson back to form, it looks like there’s no stopping Kings XI Punjab at the top of the IPL table. Five wins out of five means that Sanjay Bangar’s side will head to India in a fabulous position for the business end of the campaign with top performances with both bat and ball showing no signs of letting up.
Punjab’s best IPL finish was coming third in the inaugural tournament back in 2008, but with Johnson back to his best and the rest of the team firing on all cylinders, they could be destined for the crown come June.
Opening Fixtures in India
Back in its rightful home, the first three days of IPL action in India will see all eight teams in action. Let’s take a look at the fixtures:
|Friday, May 2||Chennai Super Kings vs. Kolkata Knight Riders||JSCA International Cricket Stadium, Ranchi|
|Saturday, May 3||Mumbai Indians vs. Kings XI Punjab||Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai|
|Saturday, May 3||Delhi Daredevils vs. Rajasthan Royals||Ferozeshah Kotla, Delhi|
|Sunday, May 4||Royal Challengers Bangalore vs. Sunrisers Hyderabad||M. Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bengaluru|
In just over a month, the IPL 2014 champion will be crowned. While Kings XI Punjab are looking good at the top of the table, anything can happen in T20 cricket—so sit back and enjoy the thrilling ride.