Hot on the heels of the popularity of our IPL Bible, we present to you a strategic analysis of what each of the final four teams needs to do in order to win IPL 6.
Listen along to the latest edition of Radio Cricket for heightened pleasure:
Chennai Super Kings
Led by MS Dhoni, backed by Srinivasan: make no bones, these are the first two men you’d want on any IPL team sheet.
As time goes on and conspiracy theories about the inner workings of Chennai Super Kings and India Cements are further scrutinized, one wonders as to whether Dhoni is really just Karl Rove to Srinivasan’s George W. Bush, such is the synergy and terrifying combined power of these two.
I digress, but the combined forces of Dhonivasan have resulted in Chennai being the most consistent IPL team, having assembled the strongest possible unit of domestic players, complemented by a swathe of seasoned internationals.
This year, the results have been similarly predictable: Chennai have been the most consistent team, and their place in the top four has never been in doubt.
“IPL is what happens when dozens of men run around in their pyjamas for eight weeks, and in the end Chennai wins.” – @lemayol
— Alternative Cricket (@AltCricket) May 20, 2012
Chennai boast all-rounders in Ravi Jadeja and Dwayne Bravo – as well as Chris Morris, who has faced just 15 balls all tournament – which enables them to use a floating batting line-up. In theory, this should mean that they are able to bring in their best batsmen at the time to best suit their individual needs: in Dhoni’s case, for example, at the death, when a 17-year old medium-pacer from the outskirts of Jaipur is bowling.
This contrasts with the case of S Badrinath, who often finds himself at the crease with the score 0/1 and Dale Steyn bowling double-swinging yorkers (Badrinath has played in all of Chennai’s 16 matches, but batted in just 7 innings).
Dhoni’s magic touch. He’s been there, done that, got the T-shirt, and sold the T-shirt for a profit.
The man was made for IPL.
Or rather, was the IPL made for Dhoni?
Chennai’s bowling has looked surprisingly vulnerable at times, with no clear leader of the pack. I have long suspected that a trio of Dwayne Bravo, Chris Morris and Jason Holder (2 wickets @ 84 in 6 games) is likely to go the distance at some point this season. The talented Mohit Sharma (*cough*) has been launched into the IPL limelight this year, and has performed exceptionally well, with 17 wickets and an economy rate of just 6.23, and could turn out to be Dhoni’s new Joginder Sharma.
Ravi Ashwin has been steady but unspectacular, and harsher critics may note that just like in last year’s Test series against England, he has been easy to milk and batsmen have rarely been out-foxed by him, unlike in previous editions.
With only the strongest teams left, you’d expect them to have noted that if Ashwin is target, the rest of the attack will fall apart. If you destroy his first over, his confidence often becomes shot to pieces, and he becomes erratic while over-complicating his gameplan. Overcoming Ashwin is the key to breaking into Chennai’s Fort Knox.
Dwayne Bravo and Chris Morris have picked up an improbable 38 wickets between them, but I’m happy to be a contrarian here and excuse myself from the circlejerk over this pair – look closer at their calibre of wickets, and many are what I would call ‘junk wickets’. With wide balls nicked behind and slower balls hoicked up in the air, I would contend that this hot streak of hari-kiri wickets will soon come to a natural end.
Against bottom-half sides, such deliveries were adequate, but in the final four, under pressure, this is undoubtedly where Chennai are most vulnerable.
Mumbai Indians started their campaign with the howler to end all howlers at the IPL auction.
— Alternative Cricket (@AltCricket) February 3, 2013
Choosing Ricky Ponting – a man who had opted out of the IPL since the inaugural edition – for his ‘experience’ was so illogical that if Ramiz Raja had come up with the idea, he’d have been laughed out of the commentary box.
It was a decision that spawned the ill-fated but hugely popular Pondulkar.
Strategically, Mumbai have been awful. You’d have assumed that an ‘experienced think-tank’ with Anil Kumble, John Wright, Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Jonty Rhodes et al would have known better.
You’d be wrong.
Lucky for them, despite the repeated attempts to take a sharp pencil to their eye, Mumbai’s previous acquisitions over the years have stood them in excellent stead.
Marginally ahead of Sunrisers’ attack, Mumbai’s bowlers have been a delight this IPL, with Mitchell Johnson and Lasith Malinga leading the line. Though Malinga hasn’t taken wickets at will (as in previous editions), Johnson has more than made up for the deficit, having snaffled 22 wickets.
Johnson’s wickets have come as little surprise, considering his Hall of Fame credentials as a white-ball bowler in Asia, but his consistency has been refreshing. Along with James Faulkner, Johnson has been the most threatening bowler this IPL.
Much like Chennai, Mumbai have so many different types of batsmen that they can afford a floating line-up, although they rarely use it. Dynamic batsmen such as Dinesh Karthik and Rohit Sharma are experts at shifting gears, and Kieron Pollard has been a dormant beast who, in the IPL, now commands respect on a similar plane to Dhoni.
Mumbai’s opening partnership has been a weakness for longer than they’ll care to remember.
From James Franklin and Sachin Tendulkar, to Pondulkar, to MaxDulkar, things just haven’t worked out too well. The issue that Mumbai have failed to realise is that a quick wicket up top will rarely do a huge amount to dent such a strong middle order – the dot ball percentage of Mumbai’s openers is a serious problem: Ponting’s was 56%, and Dwayne Smith’s is 51%.
In the first six overs, batting with a relatively orthodox player like Tendulkar, it’s imperative that Mumbai have someone who bats with a license. Aditya Tare looks like the man to whom they’ll give a chance, but it’s hardly an ideal situation to have a greenhorn opening in the crunch matches.
If only Mumbai had a huge-hitter who they paid $1m at auction for. Granted, Maxwell doesn’t always look a million dollars, but try and pick the logic out of refusing him a run in the side: Maxwell has played just three games compared to Dwayne Smith’s ten!
The choke factor. Mumbai have previous form for poorly planned chases, largely due to the pedestrian nature of their openers and their consistent failure to Break The Back of any chase, no matter how small. They tend to panic under pressure, more so than other sides – although this year, both Rohit Sharma and Kieron Pollard have looked far calmer and composed.
The romantic’s choice. Regardless of affiliation, you’d be a cold-hearted man to resent Rahul Dravid lifting the IPL trophy. Dravid is the man who could add dignity and class to a jelly-wrestling contest (such contests were banned at IPL afterparties after Alternative Cricket broke this story).
After a slow start, Rajasthan have been by far the most organized team in the IPL, with each player knowing his role and being given a license. In spite of their salary cap restrictions, Rajasthan’s flexibility and nous has meant that they have been able to anticipate problems in advance, pioneering what I call ‘Total Cricket’.
Dravid and Ajinkya Rahane have built innings on solidity, the former with the selflessness that we’ve become accustomed to – once Rajasthan have seen off the threat of an early collapse, Dravid has been unafraid to commit hari-kiri for a good cause (take note, Jacques). They have also been willing to experiment, promoting 19-year old wicket-keeper Sanju Samson to no. 3, who has had a break-out debut season, often coming under pressure but playing with a refreshing naivety.
‘Total Cricket’ is the perfect term to describe Rajasthan’s strategy, because similar to the Netherlands’ own brand of Total Football in the 1970s, all batsmen have a fluid role in the order, and are able to take up positions according to the match situation. The only fixed positions have been those of Dravid and Rahane at the top of the order, and the rest pop up as and when they can do the most damage to the opposition.
Total Cricket has meant that Rajasthan have enjoyed a stunning home record at Jaipur, as well as mastering seven consecutive winning chases this season, a miraculous feat that seems to have slipped under the radar.
Rajasthan are certainly leading an avant garde strategy in T20, meaning that eyebrows were most certainly scrunched when Shane Watson came in to bat at no. 5 against Chennai. Although Watson came in at an unseemly 19/3, wickets in hand have far less influence on the outcome of the game than balls remaining: the burly Aussie still had 15 overs to face, and he and Binny timed it to perfection.
STATGASM!Rahul Dravid batted with Roger Binny in a Ranji Trophy game in 1991. He’s now batting with his son Stuart, 22 years later! #IPL
— Alternative Cricket (@AltCricket) April 20, 2013
Paddy Upton as coach has been unsurprisingly revolutionary, with his life mantras seemingly applied directly to his team strategy. Upton and Dravid have both had a calming influence, and the team ethos has been exemplary.
Well, if we forget the, erm, you know, the trio accused of spot-fixing.
A team environment is like the soil in a flowerbed, the healthier it is the more the flowers are able to flourish to their fullest potential
— Paddy Upton (@PaddyUpton1) April 30, 2013
One of our five 5* IPL Auction picks was James Faulkner, who went for a relatively paltry $400,000. Despite having the most punchable face in cricket, Faulkner has given the Royals plenty of bang for their buck, leading the charts with 26 wickets.
His combination of sheer pace, back-of-the-hand slower balls, and pinpoint yorkers have made him a force to be reckoned with, and back up my long-held assertions that James Faulkner & Mitchell Starc could well turn out to be Australia’s answer to Wasim & Waqar.
After the recent spot-fixing shemozzle engulfed three of Rajasthan’s fringe players, one wonders whether they’ll be able to refocus so quickly after the allegations. The way they crumbled uncharacteristically against the Sunrisers in their final group game certainly doesn’t fill one with confidence, and Dravid’s demeanour has been one of a man who has been truly hurt.
However, it would be typical, and fitting of the most outlandish Lagaan-esque fairytale, if Dravid were to bounce back with his steely aggression when it matters most.
Rajasthan’s use of Kevon Cooper with the bat has been baffling, with just four innings in twelve games. This has meant that Cooper, a man who is able to tee off without playing himself in, has been totally wasted with the bat. A curious omission in an otherwise excellent Rajasthan strategy.
Sunrisers were the bookies’ favourites to finish bottom this year, but oh, how the Sunrisers have proved them wrong.
‘Pundit’ in his IPL preview: “The Sunrisers look favourites for bottom.”Today: “The Sunrisers have looked a dangerous side all along.”
— Alternative Cricket (@AltCricket) April 20, 2013
Largely contrived from the ashes of the ill-fated Deccan Chargers, the Sunrisers sneaked into the final four with a stressful chase against Kolkata. With relatively limited resources, most players have performed above expectations.
Sunrisers’ bowling has been the most effective in the tournament, with a runs-per-wicket average of 21.25. Dale Steyn and Ishant Sharma have been a potent attacking force, often being on the money. Incredibly, Sunrisers have managed to restrict the opposition to 130 or lower in 10 of their 16 group games.
The attacking leg-spinning duo of Amit Mishra and Karan Sharma certainly fit our Spin It To Win It mantra, while Darren Sammy and Thisara Perera have generally been decent – if erratic – back-up options with their medium pace. Perera has a Bravo-esque tendency to pick up junk wickets: this year he has 19 wickets to Steyn’s 18.
In an era where defensive, reactive captaincy is the norm, Cameron White is a breath of fresh air. Having plied his trade with the uber-aggressive Shane Warne at Victoria and Melbourne Stars, White is a proactive leader with plenty of experience. Despite his own spotty batting form – a handful of excellent knocks interspersed with plenty of non-starters – White’s captaincy could provide Sunrisers with the X-Factor.
In fact, Sunrisers’ key strength has been in their intangibles: an on-field leadership group of White, a fired-up Dale Steyn and World T20-winning captain Darren Sammy, combined with an off-field team of Tom Moody, Waqar Younis and T20 stalwarts VVS Laxman and Kris Srikkanth has done wonders for a team that is unrecognisable from the Deccan team of last year.
Sunrisers have a team packed with dynamic match-winners, and Moody must be commended on the acquisitions of Sammy and Perera, two of the shrewdest buys at this year’s auction. Both players have won matches this year with both ball and bat, and could be the all-round pairing to spur the Sunrisers to success.
Their batting relies heavily on Shikhar Dhawan, who has once again been outstanding in the IPL. Luckily, Parthiv Patel has enjoyed a renaissance at the top of the order, having scored his first fifty since IPL 2010. His recent scores read: 44, 61, 26, 2 and 47, and Patel has scored them at a strike rate of 130. Considering how Sunrisers have been struggling along with their opening partnership all season long, finally lucking out on any sort of consistent pair has been a massive bonus.
Elsewhere, rookies such as Vihari and Samantray have been adequate without being exceptional. Sunrisers’ line-up seems one geared towards recovery so that Sammy and Perera can go berserk at the death, although it is imperative for Sunrisers’ chances that they are given enough balls to face.
Chennai go in as rightful favourites, but I have a Shastri-esque feeling for the Sunrisers. Both these teams are the best-suited towards the play-off venues: the first two games will be held at Delhi, with the final two held at Eden Gardens.
Towards the end of this IPL both pitches are more and more likely to resemble the pitches at Deccan and Chepauk. This IPL, sixes have been conceded every 36 balls at Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla, and every 26 balls at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens – both are towards the lower end of the six-hitting spectrum.
Low-scoring games should suit both Chennai and Sunrisers, and as we have seen in T20 semi-finals and finals over the past decade, low-scoring pressure games often favour the underdogs.
Another intangible in favour of Sunrisers – ignoring the hundreds of others going against them – is that they are the only side to go into the play-offs having won their last game. Each of Chennai, Mumbai and Rajasthan looked listless at times in their final group game losses, and you wonder whether they might be caught cold by the Sunrisers juggernaut, fresh from the euphoric aftermath of their qualification.
It is a controversial topic, but there is no doubt that when two or three games need to be won in the space of a few days, intangibles such as momentum do play a huge part.
In any case, non-believers only need to remember:
You don’t need to be the best team. You only need to be the best team for a few days!