Assessing Each IPL Team's Strengths and Weaknesses Before IPL Returns to India
With the UAE leg of this year's Indian Premier League concluded we are about a third of the way through the season.
Every team has played five matches. Mumbai Indians have lost them all and they are rooted to the foot of the table; Kings XI Punjab have won them all and they are top; Chennai Super Kings have lost just one and are second. The remaining five teams are jammed together separated by just two points.
At this natural break in the season, Bleacher Report's Freddie Wilde has gone through the table team by team, assessing their strengths, weaknesses and strategies evaluating what lies in store as the show rolls into India.
8) Mumbai Indians
Played 5, Won 0, Lost 5
There has been much talk during this, Mumbai Indians' worst-ever losing streak, of the players the franchise has let go in the past, and indeed the players they let go at this year’s auction; Dwayne Smith, Glenn Maxwell and Yuzvendra Chahal are just three of a number of individuals who have kicked on to bigger and better things since their release from the Ambani-owned franchise. However, to focus on Mumbai’s terrible auction methods and retention faux pas would be missing the point.
Mumbai still retained five very competent players at this year’s auction—Rohit Sharma, Ambati Rayudu, Kieron Pollard, Harbhajan Singh and Lasith Malinga—players who make up the spine of the side and players around whom they should at least be able to build some kind of strategy and formulate a team who could compete.
Heck, they won the IPL with those five players at the core last year!
Yet despite the preservation of their side they are a team totally lacking in any kind of cohesive strategy, and yet again, as always seems to be the case with Mumbai, they have no idea what their best batting order is.
Admittedly, the signing of Mike Hussey as a replacement for the grossly undervalued Dwayne Smith has backfired catastrophically, while big-money signing Corey Anderson is yet to rediscover his form from earlier this year that saw him become so sought after. But Mumbai should really at the very least be competing, and in only one of their five matches have they even had an outside chance of winning.
The struggles of the opening pair can be traced back as the root of Mumbai’s woes. With Rohit (who has historically batted at four), Pollard and now Anderson, Mumbai are very much a team reliant on a platform from which to launch. This year, without Sachin Tendulkar and Smith, the opening pair simply haven’t been delivering the starts the lower-order require.
For Mumbai to even stand a chance of qualifying for the play-off stage they are going to have to win at the very, very least seven of their remaining nine matches and more likely eight or perhaps even nine.
The move to pick Ben Dunk against the Sunrisers was a good one. Dunk had an awesome Big Bash and can’t do any worse than Mike Hussey at the top of the order.
Rohit has historically batted at four for MI, but the additional (potential) firepower of Anderson in the middle-order and the woes of the openers demand Rohit now opens too. Pollard’s superb 78 against SRH showed the folly of holding him back too late; he must come in at four. While Rayudu’s versatility is valuable—he can float around the middle-order depending on the situation—I’d be keen to keep Pollard and Anderson apart until at least the final five overs of the innings.
Bowling-wise those four pick themselves, but a word of warning for the form of Ojha, who looks well below his best, and a word of sympathy too for Krishmar Santokie, who is a superb bowler missing out on selection. But bowling is the least of Mumbai’s problems right now.
1) Rohit Sharma 2) Ben Dunk 3) Aditya Tare 4) Kieron Pollard 5) Ambati Rayudu 6) Corey Anderson 7) CM Gautam 8) Harbhajan Singh 9) Zaheer Khan 10) Pragyan Ojha 11) Lasith Malinga
Their retentions preserved the spine of their team and they possess some of the world’s best T20 players.
Simply awful—there is almost no sense of method or cohesion to anything they’ve done.
Not one of their batsmen look in form; but at least Harbhajan and the ever-reliable Malinga do.
7) Delhi Daredevils
Played 5, Won 2, Lost 3
After a concerning start, the Daredevils are moving in the right direction. Before opening with Quinton de Kock their top three of Mayank Agarwal, Murali Vijay and Dinesh Karthik didn’t have a single overseas player or current international T20 player, and it showed.
However, Kevin Pietersen’s return to fitness, allowing them to leave out Ross Taylor, JP Duminy finding form and de Kock moving to open have all coincided nicely and Delhi already look a better team.
Now that they’re getting their starting 11 more secure, they need to establish a strategy. Delhi have the seemingly ever-present issue of how to disperse their batting whilst still making sure their best players face most balls, and that is something they need to get right on return to India.
Their bowling is certainly the biggest concern. But again it is moving in the right direction, with the faith shown in Shahbaz Nadeem, for example, being rewarded. However, it’s hard to shake the feeling that there is a glass ceiling to Delhi’s potential. An attack led by Wayne Parnell is not one that immediately impresses and both Mohammad Shami and Jaydev Unadkat are going to have to exceed themselves if Delhi’s bowling is to become a force. Until then they will be relying on brilliance from their improving batting.
Cramming the five best batsmen into the top five leaves Delhi vulnerable in the case of a top-order collapse but if any of Pietersen, Duminy or Karthik are batting outside the top five their full potential is being wasted. Teams like Delhi have got to give responsibility to their Indian players and they could do worse than investing in either Manoj or Saurabh Tiwary as a finisher at six. While Laxmi Ratan Shukla has to play at seven to offer balance with bat and ball.
1) Quinton de Kock 2) Murali Vijay 3) Kevin Pietersen 4) JP Duminy 5) Dinesh Karthik 6) Saurabh Tiwary 7) Laxmi Ratan Shukla 8) Wayne Parnell 9) Shahbaz Nadeem 10) Mohammad Shami 11) Jaydev Unadkat
The batting is strong but Delhi’s bowling is perhaps the weakest in the IPL.
Their strategy with the bat is coming together but it may be harder to do the same with a bowler lacking in depth.
The team reshuffle after Pietersen’s return to fitness means a couple of players are still finding their feet in the side.
6) Sunrisers Hyderabad
Played 5, Won 2, Lost 3
The UAE leg of the IPL ended with the Sunrisers defeating the Mumbai Indians in a match which all but killed off Mumbai’s hopes and breathed new life into the Sunrisers. Not only was it their second consecutive win, but a rejigged batting order offers far more promise for the remainder of the season.
David Warner dropping to No. 4 in the order was the pivotal move. For it dispersed the top-three of Shikhar Dhawan, Aaron Finch and Warner himself, lending far more balance to the team.
A telling statistic is that before that fixture against Mumbai, despite having Dhawan, Finch and Warner in the top-three, the Sunrisers’ average powerplay score was the lowest in the league, suggesting the chasm of batting below them had restrained the powerful trio.
Warner at four not only offers insurance if the top-order are to fail but will no doubt give confidence and security to the players immediately around him in the order. Someone like Lokesh Rahul for example, who batted beautifully against Mumbai, can now bat without fear of being the last man carrying his side’s hopes.
Another point worth making is that it is important moving forward that Darren Sammy, one of the most in-form hitters in world cricket, is given time to make an impact. He should ideally be coming to the crease with four or five overs remaining. He’s not going to rebuild from a collapse, but he could propel an average score to a great one.
Bowling-wise, a little like Mumbai, the four bowlers pick themselves. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been superb thus far, as has Dale Steyn. The form of Amit Mishra, one of the most successful bowlers in IPL history, is a growing concern but the Sunrisers will hope a return to the more familiar surroundings and pitches in India can give his season a fillip.
Dhawan’s captaincy remains a work in progress. He’s made some encouraging decisions in amongst some awful ones. The Sunrisers do lack a canny tactician.
Their team looks so much better with Warner at four, but they still remain massively reliant on their powerful trio with Sammy, Naman Ojha and Irfan Pathan probably the weakest lower-order in the IPL.
The side and batting order used against Mumbai is the best the Sunriser can do. Although if either Warner or Finch finds himself short of form, then Brendan Taylor is an overseas batsman who could come in and lend quality and experience to the middle-order.
1) Shikhar Dhawan 2) Aaron Finch 3) Lokesh Rahul 4) David Warner 5) Darren Sammy 6) Naman Ojha 7) Irfan Pathan 8) Karn Sharma 9) Amit Mishra 10) Dale Steyn 11) Bhuvneshwar Kumar
Three awesome batsmen at the top, and three awesome bowlers at the bottom—the Sunrisers aren’t bad but lack substance in the middle.
After getting it wrong for a while the Sunrisers have settled on the best strategy that their unbalanced personnel allows them.
Dhawan is in awful form, but Finch, Warner and Rahul are finding some, and while Mishra lacks it in the bowling department, Bhuvneshwar and Steyn have been solid so far.
5) Royal Challengers Bangalore
Played 5, Won 2, Lost 3
After RCB’s first two fixtures, both of which they won comfortably, and both of which were won largely by their bowlers, there was reason to be really optimistic about their chances this season. Their awesome batting order was finally being matched by some superb bowling, led by the in-form Varun Aaron, bolstered by Mitchell Starc and enhanced by the surprise success of the young leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal.
However, they narrowly lost to KKR in the "Lynnsanity" thriller and have since proceeded to lose twice more scoring 70 and 124/8. Their bowling continues to impress, but their batting has imploded dramatically with all of their batsmen collectively losing form.
Parthiv Patel and Yogesh Takawale have been two fringe players who have shown glimpses of the ability that would’ve nicely rounded RCB’s batting had their stars—Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Yuvraj Singh—been scoring as they have in the past.
Chris Gayle’s return to the side from injury just in time for the Indian leg of the season, where he’ll be playing at his beloved Chinnaswamy Stadium, is an obvious boost, but RCB have one of the best squads in the league and they really should not be languishing in the middle of the table.
It’s difficult to make too many changes to this side, for you have to believe Kohli and de Villiers’ class will shine through.
Yuvraj could well become the scapegoat for a collective failure, for although he’s played a couple of decent innings, when under pressure he’s looked hopeless. Whether RCB will drop the man they paid a record sum for at the auction is another question. Albie Morkel, too, is under pressure, but he is a player who offers invaluable balance.
I wouldn’t drop Yuvraj quite yet simply because there is no obvious replacement. Vijay Zol is a young Indian batsman who should eventually be given the chance, but with RCB desperate for a win, and Yuvraj desperate to prove a point, there’s sense in sticking with him for a little while longer. But his time is running out.
1) Chris Gayle 2) Parthiv Patel 3) Virat Kohli 4) AB de Villiers 5) Yuvraj Singh 6) Yogesh Takawale 7) Albie Morkel 8) Mitchell Starc 9) Ashok Dinda 10) Varun Aaron 11) Yuzvendra Chahal
In terms of star quality and international experience the batting is obviously awesome, and this year it is being complemented by some superb bowling.
Quite frankly we haven’t seen enough of RCB’s batting to know their strategy; they’ve either won too easily or collapsed in a heap.
Kohli, de Villiers and Yuvraj have all fallen out of form collectively; at least their bowling is holding things together.
4) Kolkata Knight Riders
Played 5, Won 2, Lost 3
The well-documented struggles of Gautam Gambhir at the top of the order have really set KKR back early on this season. However, despite his woes they remain in the mix thanks largely to a single moment of brilliance from Chris Lynn and a season in which many of the teams seem to be very evenly matched.
Lynn’s catch and RCB’s choke certainly helped them win a match they really should’ve lost, but KKR do seem to be beginning to formulate a coherent team and strategy.
Their bowling looks really strong with Morne Morkel’s good form and more recently Vinay Kumar complementing the world’s best T20 bowler, Sunil Narine, excellently. Piyush Chawla, too, bowled wonderfully against Kings XI Punjab taking 3/19. They need Morkel, Vinay and Chawla to continue improving to erode their over-reliance on Narine.
The batting, meanwhile, has been more suspect with the order being pretty unstable. Dropping Yusuf Pathan was well overdue, and his axing has allowed Mavinder Bisla, an underrated T20 player, to come back into the fold. Bisla must be treated with caution, however, having only played three innings in professional cricket since the end of last season’s IPL.
Suryakumar Yadav was the man who provided KKR with the ground upon which to drop the under-performing Yusuf, for Yadav coming in at the death and scoring at nearly two runs a ball is exceeding the role expected of Yusuf. At only 23, Yadav is an awesome prospect and someone who you could see playing T20 for India in the near future.
A point worth bearing in mind is that KKR will not be playing at Eden Gardens, where they produce pitches superbly tailored to their team until they’ve played four matches away. Their season may well hinge upon their damage limitation in those four away fixtures.
KKR’s team and batting order is probably the hardest one to predict. I feel that Robin Uthappa, who has been in scintillating form in the Ranji Trophy and the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, should be given a chance at the top of the order alongside Gambhir. He’s a much better player when he’s given the opportunity to build innings and his explosive power is wasted down the order.
Kallis, Pandey and Bisla form a solid, albeit perhaps sedate, middle-order, but the powerful duo of Shakib Al Hasan (who could be replaced by Lynn on pitches that turn less) and Yadav could float in between that middle-order trio depending on the circumstances.
The bowling is strong and picks itself right now.
1) Gautam Gambhir 2) Robin Uthappa 3) Jacques Kallis 4) Manish Pandey 5) Mavinder Bisla 6) Shakib Ul Hasan 7) Suryakumar Yadav 8) Vinay Kumar 9) Piyush Chawla 10) Morne Morkel 11) Sunil Narine
Conspicuously lacking a current Indian international but reinforced by a hoard of fringe players, they have a team that can succeed on turning Indian pitches.
Gambhir’s captaincy remains very questionable, and their batting order is still confused and unsettled.
They seem to be a team of players bubbling just below their best.
3) Rajasthan Royals
Played 5, Won 3, Lost 2
The Rajasthan Royals’ Super Over victory over the Kolkata Knight Riders epitomised the kind of team they are. It was a difficult chase, to get 11 of six Sunil Narine deliveries, but with careful strategy and presence of mind, Shane Watson and Steve Smith expertly took the chase apart, Smith nudging two off the final delivery to tie and win on a boundary count back.
The Rajasthan Royals this season, as they were last, are more than the sum of their parts. Watson is struggling for form, they lack heavy-hitting star names yet are third in the table, and the early signs are that they will challenge for the play-offs again.
They bowled the league’s most expensive batting order out for 70 with the league’s cheapest bowling line-up; they are a well-run, well-drilled side.
The Royals have shuffled their team well and in doing so appear to have deeper bench strength for allowing fringe players matches.
The opening partnership is one that has been shuffled around a bit with Ajinkya Rahane batting with both Karun Nair and Abhishek Nayar.
Sanju Samson is one to just keep an eye on at three. He is an immense talent and played a super innings against Kings XI Punjab in Sharjah but he is only 19 and has at times appeared a little bogged down. He is a superstar in the making, but admiration at his ability should not cloud judgement with regards to his role in the team.
Watson has really been struggling for form, but he, Smith and Binny at four, five and six lends impressive firepower and allows them to adopt a similar strategy to the Mumbai Indians last year of laying a platform before accelerating.
James Faulkner has been in and out of the team but he showed glimpses of his death bowling ability against KKR and is an awesome striker of a cricket ball. Tim Southee misses out if Faulkner plays.
The bowling has been awesome so far. Kane Richardson, Rajat Bhatia and Pravin Tambe are a varied attack who take pace off the ball excellently. Dhawal Kulkarni just gets the nod ahead of Iqbal Abdulla.
1) Ajinkya Rahane 2) Karun Nair 3) Sanju Samson 4) Shane Watson 5) Steven Smith 6) Stuart Binny 7) James Faulkner 8) Rajat Bhatia 9) Kane Richardson 10) Dhawal Kulkarni 11) Pravin Tambe
They are solid but unspectacular.
One of the franchises most comfortable with their method with both bat and ball.
Individually they appear fragile, but always seem to come together as a team.
2) Chennai Super Kings
Played 5, Won 4, Lost 1
Yet again CSK have got it right. So much of the IPL is decided months before the players take to the field in the auction room, and year after year, CSK add, refine and twist their team with expertise.
For the previous six seasons CSK used their opening partnership cautiously. With Murali Vijay anchoring, their strategy was to build a platform for their absurdly powerful middle-order of Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni and Ravi Jadeja to capitalise upon. This year, a little like the USA adding a couple of extra nuclear warheads to their arsenal, CSK have thrown new signings Dwayne Smith and Brendon McCullum to the top of the order and the results have been spectacular. CSK are now getting off to flying starts and still have the power of their middle-order below.
The injury to Dwayne Bravo that has ruled him out for the season is a blow, but the middle-order is already strong and it does free up an overseas spot.
If you are being ultra-critical you could argue that that awesome middle-order hasn’t quite fired yet. Suresh Raina does appear a little short of form, as too does Ravi Jadeja. Mithun Manhas is the weak link of the team but he brings experience and sagacity to the lower-order.
The bowling has been a huge positive. Ishwar Pandey and Mohit Sharma have both really impressed, and having two Indian seamers performing well is a rare and valuable attribute to have.
The batting picks itself, as does most of the bowling. The overseas slot left by Bravo, however, has to be filled. CSK have been playing Ben Hilfenhaus who is a worthwhile pick on pitches that don’t turn as much, but on those that do I believe it would be foolish to overlook one of the world’s most underrated spin-bowler, West Indian Samuel Badree.
1) Brendon McCullum 2) Dwayne Smith 3) Suresh Raina 4) Faf Du Plessis 5) MS Dhoni 6) Mithun Manhas 7) Ravi Jadeja 8) Ravi Ashwin 9) Ishwar Pandey 10) Mohit Sharma 11) Samuel Badree
They are about one-and-a-half players short of having every base covered.
Awesome last year, even better this year.
The middle-order need more crease time, but the bowlers and openers are firing.
1) Kings XI Punjab
Played 5, Won 5, Lost 0
Kings XI Punjab are on a roll. They’ve won all five of their matches this year, and eight in a row if you count back to last season.
In the early games they rode the Glenn Maxwell wave. His awesome stroke-play taking them to excellent wins over CSK and the Royals. However, they proved they weren’t a one-trick pony when they beat KKR despite Maxwell failing.
They’ve got one of the most explosive batting orders in IPL history with Maxwell, David Miller and George Bailey.
But the bowling has also impressed—proving to be canny and beguiling. Akshar Patel and Sandeep Sharma, similarly to Ishwar Pandey and Mohit Sharma at CSK, are two Indian bowlers performing consistently. There is also Mitchell Johnson, who initially appeared wayward on his return from injury, but has got better and better as the season has worn on, blasting RCB’s tail away in their most recent match. Lakshmipathy Balaji has also bowled a couple of wonderful spells.
At the top of the order, Virender Sehwag has hinted at recapturing the form of days gone by but hasn’t quite managed it yet. Cheteshwar Pujara opening alongside Sehwag, and with Wriddhiman Saha at three, is probably the weak link for Kings XI.
But with five wins from five, qualification for the play-offs is already within sight.
I understand why Kings XI would want to stick with Pujara; their batting order, although explosive, is volatile and he offers insurance and security. However, so does Saha, and whilst the middle-order is in the form they are in, there’s merit in leaving Pujara out and allowing one of the young openers—either Manan Vohra who was retained or Mandeep Singh who has been successful in the past—a run at the top.
The bowlers are all in great form and you wouldn’t want to change the structure of the attack.
It’s amazing to think Shaun Marsh, Thisara Perera, Beuran Hendricks and Murali Karthik are waiting in the wings. This squad has awesome depth.
1) Virender Sehwag 2) Mandeep Singh 3) Wriddhiman Saha 4) Glenn Maxwell 5) David Miller 6) George Bailey 7) Rishi Dhawan 8) Akshar Patel 9) Mitchell Johnson 10) Lakshmipathy Balaji 11) Sandeep Sharma
Their middle-order is explosive and the top of the order has experience if not recent success; the bowling is slightly fragile.
So far decent starts have been accelerated and capitalised on, while the bowling attack is nicely varied.
The biggest reason for their success is having Maxwell, Miller, Singh, Patel and Balaji in outstanding form.