Gujarat Lions

Critical analysis of the debutants

At the start of this year’s IPL, Gujarat Lions,led by the young and ambitious Suresh Raina, was one of the most promising teams on paper and due to this, a lot was expected of them and they almost delivered. But there was one thing they lacked and that was finishing. They faltered in games they could have won easily and that led to them getting eliminated in Qualifier 2.

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Boasting of a T20 specialist Brad Hodge as coach and a batting lineup tailor-made for T20s and an enviable bowling attack, Gujarat started the tournament with 6 wins out of their first 7 matches. But, then everything just fell apart. What could have been an easy qualification for the playoffs went down to the wire. Even though, they finished on top of the points table but they lacked the quality and intent they showed in the beginning with just 3 wins of their remaining 7 matches.

New team, new venue to play. Learnt a lot from Hodgey, gave me a lot of freedom to execute as captain.” – Suresh Raina

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One of the main reasons behind Gujarat’s inconsistency was sending Aaron Finch at No.5 which was simply wasting a batsman of his calibre. Finch started the IPL with a bang with three consecutive fifties while opening. But when he was pushed down the order, his form dropped. In addition to that, Baz’s mediocre and mellow form aggravated their problems.

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Coming to the bowling department, Gujarat relied heavily on their new ball bowlers Dhawal Kulkarni and Praveen Kumar and they delivered the goods when required. Kulkarni’s spell of 4/14 in Qualifier 1 against RCB is rated as one of the best in this IPL. Dwayne Bravo was their go-to death bowler but he was not as consistent as he was with CSK in the previous seasons with just 17 wickets in 15 games at an economy rate of 8.82. Although, it was the poor form of Finisher Faulkner and ‘Sir’ Jadeja that hurt them the most. Spinners Shivil Kaushik and Shadab Jakati were impressive in patches.

As I mentioned before, demoting Finch to No.5 by Raina was a shocker, but this was not all. Leaving Dale Steyn on the bench for the entire season was another one. But, apart from these decisions, Raina’s captaincy was quite impressive although his form wasn’t. Raina was one of those captains who failed to lead their team from the front when it was needed the most. The most capped IPL player managed just 399 runs from 15 matches.

Their fielding was immaculate with Raina bagging the award for the best catch in this IPL, a one handed stunner at first slip off Smith to dismiss Suryakumar Yadav. Their side was filled to the brim with excellent fielders like Smith, Baz and Finch to name a few.

To sum up, Gujarat, in their debut season, performed very well, exceeding all expectations. They had a very well balanced team and they could do even better next season if their players contribute consistently. Although, they should try and include an international new ball bowler like Steyn into the XI to increase their penetrative abilities early into the innings.

As always, here is my pick of the best players in their respective departments:

Best Batsman – Dwayne Smith

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Best Bowler – Dhawal Kulkarni

Best Fielder –  Suresh Raina

Royal Challengers Bangalore

A breakdown of RCB’s performance this year

If you had to pick a side to bat for your life, it would have to be Royal Challengers Bangalore. A perfect blend of textbook shots and power hitting, everyone touted RCB as a potential champion provided, their bowlers turned up. Easily, the best fielding side in this IPL, they were perfectly placed to go all the way this time.

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A star studded batting lineup comprising of Christopher Henry Gayle, Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, Shane Watson and KL Rahul was a nightmare for bowlers of any team. But, on the other hand, their bowling resources were severely depleted due to the absence of the imperious Starc and Badree, the No.1 T20 bowler in the world.

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The weakness was highlighted in the initial stages of IPL 2016, when RCB lost matches even after posting 200+ totals on the board. Their bowling lacked the bite required at the start of an innings and consistent accuracy in the death overs which cost them dearly. They won just 4 out of their first 10 matches and were placed 7th in the points table with a condition of winning every match in order to qualify.

What followed was akin to a phoenix rising from the ashes. RCB thrashed newbies Gujarat Lions by 144 runs in a dominating and mesmerizing display of batsmanship from skipper Virat Kohli and the Superman, AB de Villiers. This big victory not only erased their negative NRR but also gave their campaign, the much needed momentum. They went on to defeat KKR, KXIP and DD to complete a fairytale resurgence to second place in the points table.

Luck was on their side in the first Qualifier as they successfully chased down a target of 159 with the help of ABD and Abdulla which in itself was astonishing as they were tottering at 29/5 at one stage.

RCB’s astounding run ended in the finals where they were heartbreakingly undone by the best bowling attack of IPL 2016, Sunrisers Hyderabad.

Like it or not, RCB reached the finals due to the heroics of their batsmen. Their ability to tee off in the death overs helped them greatly but it was their bowlers who let them down. Apart from Chahal and Watson, no one did well consistently. Even though, Watson was the villain for RCB in the final, one cannot forget his contribution.

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Personally, I believe that RCB would be tough to beat when they will, hopefully, see the return of Starc and Badree as then it would be a complete team. Also, they should try to get a specialist wicketkeeper as Rahul’s occasional mistakes could be fatal to the team’s chances of winning next year. But, if he can improve on his skills, he could increase his value in the team.

In the end, as always, I will pick my best players from this team.

Best Batsman – Undoubtedly, Virat Kohli (973 runs from 16 matches)

Best Bowler – Yuzvendra Chahal (21 wickets from 13 matches)

Best Fielder – AB de Villiers (19 catches from 16 matches)

 

Sunrisers Hyderabad

Total analysis of SRH’s performance this year

I am starting a series of posts in which I will present an analysis of all the teams in this edition of IPL. First up are the new champions.

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If you look back at the ninth edition of the Indian Premier League, there is one thing that you can say with certainty, and that is, this year’s IPL was by far the best. It was a perfect blend of excitement, thrill, and upsets. We had some matches that were hopelessly one sided and some which were decided on the last ball. That is what a true cricket fan wants from a match.

Among the eight teams that featured this season, there were a couple of teams that caught everybody’s attention with their determination, ability to survive and deliver in high pressure situations and most importantly, with their superlative performances. Those teams were Royal Challengers Bangalore and Sunrisers Hyderabad.

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Sunrisers Hyderabad, led by the charismatic David Warner, had by far the most potent bowling attack in this IPL. The pace battery consisting of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mustafizur “ The Fizz” Rahman, Ashish Nehra, Barinder Sran and Henriques(and later on Cutting as well) covered up the dearth of spinners and delivered consistently. They made inroads early into the innings and then choked up the run flow in the death overs with some lovely yorkers and slower deliveries.

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Bhuvneshwar Kumar finished with the Purple Cap (23 wickets) and “The Fizz” collected the Emerging Player of the Tournament award. This is a testament to the quality of bowling this team had. One cannot forget the contribution of the wily old Ashish Nehra who led the attack with his experience but was unfortunate to get injured at the business end of the league.

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Sunrisers’ ability to perform well in this season was widely underrated, mainly due to the lack of quality batsmen who could stabilize the innings in the event of a collapse and/or can accelerate in the death overs. There were numerous occasions where SRH collapsed like a pack of cards after the departure of Warner with no one to hold one end up. This was partly due to the lack of experience in the middle order with batsman like Deepak Hooda, Naman Ojha, Henriques and partly due to the lack of temperament. It is true that Warner carried the team to the final and then over the line. It was because of him that the best bowling attack got a reasonable target to defend, which they did on most occasions.

All problems aside, what impressed everybody was the grit and determination this team showed under pressure and the belief they had in their ability to win their maiden title. The backroom staff comprising of Tom Moody, VVS Laxman and Muttiah Muralitharan did an excellent job in making this not-so-flashy team a champion. Muralitharan summed it up quite nicely:

Nobody rated we will win when we started the tournament. We worked very hard. Every game was tough for us. We regrouped and won.

Sunrisers Hyderabad were a revelation this IPL and with a couple of experienced batsmen shoring up the middle order, this time can win even more titles in the future.

In the end, I would like to ask you to watch Mustafizur’s toe crushing yorker to Andre Russell in the group match against KKR. It was simply amazing!

In my opinion,

Best batsman- David Warner

Best bowler- The Fizz

Zimbabwe Tour of India, 2016

A fan’s opinion on the squad selection for this upcoming tour

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The national selection committee of BCCI recently announced the squads for the tour of Zimbabwe and West Indies. The wise old men sprang some surprises when it came to the squad for the tour of Zimbabwe. With Dhoni at the helm, you can rest assured that nothing will go wrong. But, in my opinion, there were some players who should have made the cut instead of those who did.

  1. Krunal Pandya (MI)

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The big hitting elder Pandya was one of the relatively unknown players in this year’s IPL who became a star overnight due to his impressive performance. Picked by Mumbai Indians for a whopping Rs. 2 crores, he justified his steep price tag by delivering when needed. In a crunch match against RCB, a team with the strongest batting line up this year, he got rid of both Kohli and ABD in the same over, making himself a fan favorite. He made 237 runs this year at a mind boggling strike rate of 191.12 and picked up 6 wickets.

According to me, he should have been picked ahead of Axar Patel in the squad. Axar Patel has flattered the deceive on the international stage and has not lived up to his all rounder tag. A chance at the international level would have done Krunal’s confidence a world of good and helped him in performing better in times to come.

2. Kuldeep Yadav (KKR)

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An exponent of the rare art of chinaman bowling, Kuldeep impressed one and all with his bowling and was instrumental for KKR in the latter stages. He did not back off from his fullish length even when slog swept or lofted over his head for sixes and was rewarded for his persistence. He was the sole reason why KKR won against SRH in the last but one match of the league stage this season and almost won the playoff encounter against the same side. His skill and competence can be judged from the fact that he has caught the eye of Sunil Gavaskar who has specifically asked the selectors to keep an eye on the UP lad. I think he should have been given a chance ahead of another uncapped player, Jayant Yadav. Jayant picked up just 2 wickets in the 5 matches he played for DD this season and was the second most economical bowler for them. Many of you might disagree with me but Kuldeep looked far more threatening than him in this IPL. After all, Kuldeep had the “young” Brad Hogg teaching him the tricks of the trade.

  1. Mohit Sharma(KXIP)

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This was,perhaps, the most surprising decision of all. Mohit Sharma had a more than decent outing this season of the Indian Premier League. He, along with Sandeep Sharma, was one of the very few good performers for Kings XI and terrorized a lot of batting lineups with some deadly death-over bowling. He also showed his prowess in the ODI World Cup last year and has repeatedly proven himself to be the man with the golden arm. Picking a tried, tested but unimpressive Unadkat was not very wise. Unadkat has played just 1 match this IPL where he went wicketless. Mohit Sharma should have been the obvious choice but it seems that the selectors had other ideas.

There were also players like Ashoke Dinda and Robin Uthappa who missed out in spite of having had a decent IPL this year.

A good team always has a strong bench strength as backup in case a regular player can’t play and to fulfill that, you need to give your benched players chances to play and improve from their experiences. If you don’t do that, they miss out on playing time and this affects their form and their confidence. India has always been criticized for not utilizing their bench strength to their maximum potential but times have changed. Giving youngsters a chance to prove their mettle against weaker teams has led to India getting some of the most gifted players the world has ever seen. Previous Zimbabwe tours gave players like Rohit Sharma, Amit Mishra a second lease of life in the limited overs format and gave us young talents like Binny, Jadhav and Rahane.

I hope BCCI continues this policy in the future because this will guarantee a strong Indian lineup which can challenge the best in world cricket.

The wonder that is AB de Villiers

A fan’s take on AB de Villiers

Abraham Benjamin de Villiers or simply ABD is a name always taken regardless of him playing or not. Thanks to his batting and fielding exploits in the past few years, he has become a household name in every cricket playing nation. A wicketkeeper-batsman, ABD holds a plethora of batting records and is expected to add to his tally since he is just 32.

Also known by the moniker ‘Mr.360’, he justifies this title both on the field and off it. He stamps his authority on the 22 yards by playing shots all around the ground, out of which many defy logic and sometimes, gravity.

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When he is off the field, he indulges in a lot of other sports and activities. He has his own music album ‘Maak Jou Drome Waar’. While in school, ABD showed traits of being an allrounder by getting shortlisted for South Africa’s junior national hockey and football teams. He currently holds six South African school swimming records and the record for the 100 m dash in South African junior athletics. He was a member of the South African junior Davis Cup team and was also South Africa’s U-19 badminton champion. He also has a golf handicap of scratch or zero.

One would think that being proficient in sports comes at the cost of your academic performance but as we all know, this doesn’t apply to de Villiers. He is a recipient of a National Science Medal for a science project, awarded to him by none other than the Late Nelson Mandela.

ABD is one of the few sportspersons in the world who have a global fan following irrespective of the team they root for. Even when South Africa plays India in India, you can hear chants of his name all around the ground.

As mentioned, he’s just 32 and given his rich vein of form, bowlers around the world are under the constant threat of a mauling.  ABD is unstoppable at the moment and is truly one of the greatest sportspersons the world has ever seen.