Surprises – The Missing Element In IPL This Season As Team Effort Stays Lacklustre
It’s often one individual’s brilliance that wins the day in Twenty20 cricket. His magical outing with the ball or the bat outshines all other performances of the day. The turnaround of the team’s fortune he scripts on the go is usually dramatic. This format was designed for such heroics. But beyond the individual masterclass it’s still the team that wins championships. Every battle may find its hero, but a long-drawn war like IPL has to be won by the unit as a whole.
This IPL, teams are largely missing in action. Barring a couple of glaring exceptions, what we have is a collection of individuals that form a playing eleven under different names, but doesn’t quite qualify as a team. The latter, it must be remembered, is much more than a sum of its players, howsoever gifted they might be, howsoever formidable their reputation might be. Leave alone Mumbai Indians and Delhi Capitals, all other participants in the event appear just out of a deep slumber and clueless about the proceedings. All of the latter command a reservoir of incredible talent, yet none has converted it into a war-ready combat force. The competence at the auction table has not translated into performance where it finally matters.
How would you explain the performance of Rajasthan Royals? Their unit comprises the Steven Smith, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Joffra Archer, possibly the best overseas talent money can buy. A couple of Indian names such as Sanju Samson and Robin Uthappa carry a proven track record in the format. Yet on the field they look like a bunch of listless amateurs. As they keep disappointing, one wonders whether great teams are about great players only.
Or that of King’s XI Punjab? At the bottom end of the points table now, the franchise can boast of Indian names rated among the best: Lokesh Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Karun Nair, Mohammad Shami and Sarfaraz Khan. The overseas names – Glenn Maxwell, Chris Gayle, Nicholas Puran, Sheldon Cottrell, Chris Jordan — are surely impressive. The consistent stellar performance of Rahul and Agarwal has not made much difference to the team’s overall show so far.
Or that of Chennai Super Kings? Three IPL titles, eight appearances in finals and ten in playoffs — the enviable track record should automatically mark them among favourites. Yet they have been struggling at the lower end of the points table. The MS Dhoni magic, both as captain and finisher, is conspicuous by an inexplicable lack of consistency. The old war horses Shane Watson, Faf du Plessis and Dwayne Bravo are yet to live up to their match-winning reputation. Sam Curran, the young English all-rounder, is the only one in the squad to look special.
Kolkata Knight Riders and Sunrisers Hyderabad are below par despite the resources they possess in the form of talent. Mumbai Indians, meanwhile, play like an efficient machine primed for peak performance. Delhi Capiitals are finally getting a handsome payback after investing in youth. Royal Challengers, for a change, are performing upto expectation. All three appear match-ready while those at the bottom of the heap keep fumbling along.
The beauty of Twenty20 cricket is in surprises, that element of unpredictability. Every match is supposed to be a thriller, where it is not over till the last ball is bowled. Expecting results unexpected is fair game here what with every single individual good enough to deliver it. Missing this time is that important factor. By now, one is clear which team is stronger and is likely to win. When the opponents are Mumbai, Delhi or Bangalore you already know which side is stronger. As the match proceeds, you know no surprise is in store.
To come back to the original point, teams are missing in this IPL, we only have collection of individuals in their place. Bright flashes of individual performance stand apart from group effort, which makes talent purposeless. Joffra Archer or Rashid Khan may complete their quota of four overs with three scalps at the cost of 14 runs, but it hardly means much in the absence of collective effort to complement it. K L Rahul and Mayank Agarwal may outshine all other openers in the tournament but it has to count for something in the end.
Now, a bit of crystal-gazing. Going by current form and level of performance, which teams are best bets for the play-offs? Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore are easily the favorites. The choice of the fourth one is dicey. Hyderabad could be the one as they play better as a team. Are surprises possible in the last four? Hope they are. Twenty20 would be less fun otherwise.