Seven of the eight teams in the fray still have a chance to make it to the semi finals after 40 matches have been played in the IPL Season II T-20 extravaganza. Of these, the Bangalore Royal Challengers and the Mumbai Indians need to win almost all their remaining matches to do so, while the top five teams have to guard against complacency and win some tough games ahead.
Sanath Jayasuriya has rightly stated in his column that this competition is even more intense (though obviously not as prestigious) than the ICC T-20 World Cup. While top teams get some easy games in the World Cup, with Bangladesh and Zimbabwe around, the IPL teams are all top drawer.
What has separated the men from the boys is the team-work on display as also the management skills on offer. Clearly, teams like the Rajasthan Royals have benefitted from a highly professional approach under the tutelage of the wily old fox Shane Warne, while some comical gaffes by John Buchanan, the Kolkata Knight Riders coach, have left them hopelessly at the bottom of the pit. Kolkata must be wishing that Sourav Ganguly had been given charge of the team and not ‘Mr’ Buchanan, who seems to have done inexorable damage to his erstwhile reputation as the brilliant coach of an all conquering Australian team.
The plusses and minuses of the teams look like this at the moment-
- Chennai Super Kings: Brilliant batting led by Matthew Hayden who is looks to be miles ahead of everyone else in the competition. Suresh Raina has been magnificent too, and a certain Mr Dhoni is coming into his own now. Their spin bowling is looking good too- Muralidharan and Jakati make a formidable pair. The pace bowling looks shaky though, despite the presence of Albie Morkel and Jacob Oram. Their fielding is atrocious!
- Delhi Daredevils: The best team on view thus far. Excellent batting by AB De Villiers and Tillakeratne Dilshan has not let the team feel the absence of Virender Sehwag and the iffy form of Gautam Gambhir. David Warner has been explosive. Tight bowling by Dirk Nannes (who’s keeping Glenn McGrath out!), Pradeep Sangwan and the resurgent Ashish Nehra has kept them on top. Amit Mishra has been so good that Daniel Vettori is on the bench!
- Rajasthan Royals: They have not quite reproduced the magic of last year, and are missing Shane Watson badly. However Mr Warne has been sensational as skipper once again, and not bad with his leg spinners either! Yusuf Pathan continues to be their match winner. Graeme Smith and Naman Ojha will have to show consistency as will the all rounder Ravinder Jadeja if they are to make the last four. Munaf Patel looks a bit too ineffective this time.
- Deccan Chargers: Last year’s wooden spoon finishers topped the table after the first four matches and despite some losses, are a formidable force. They could go all the way! Adam Gilchrist, Herschelle Gibbs and Rohit Sharma have been powerful and prolific, but need to keep going till the very end of the event. They are missing the fiery Fidel Edwards now, and should play Chaminda Vaas, who is warming the bench. Rohit Sharma has been the surprise package with his bowling, while RP Singh and Pragyan Ojha have been outstanding.
- Punjab Kings XI: Yuvraj Singh is having an excellent tournament, both with bat and ball, but his team has underachieved till now. With Brett Lee back now, they have added some potency to their thin bowling resources, but the batting looks very classy, with Kumar Sangakarra and Mahela Jayewardena looking sublime when on song. Simon Katich needs to get going and Irfan Pathan needs to do more with both bat and ball. Piyush Chawla and Romesh Powar have not enjoyed the kind of success that spinners from other teams have.
- Mumbai Indians: Any team with Sachin Tendulkar and Sanath Jayasuriya in the ranks should have been near the top of the table. In one match they were outstanding together, but both stars have sparkled only intermittently overall. Captaincy seems to have bogged Tendulkar down a bit, but with JP Duminy and now Ajinkya Rahane in superb touch, they still have a chance! Harbhajan Singh seems to have rediscovered his rhythm too, but they need Lasith Malinga to keep on slinging with telling effect and they need more contribution from Dwayne Bravo and their Indian talent like Abhishek Nayar and Chaitanya Nanda.
- Bangalore Royal Challengers: Vijay Mallya’s team has shone in patches but is still second last on the table, like last year! Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble have put in some fine performances for them, but Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher need to do more. Their pace bowling looks week, with Kallis and Vinay Kumar being military-medium only. Mark Boucher is batting too low down the order, as is Rahul Dravid. They need to keep playing with the same fire that they showed in the first two matches after Kumble took over as skipper.
- Kolkata Knight Riders: A pitiable performance by a very talented team. They have won only one match out of ten, and should now look only to redeem their pride. Ganguly needs to be given a bigger say on the field instead of cooling his heels at sweeper-cover! Brendan McCullum has let captaincy clog his mind so much that he looks only a fraction of the batsman he actually is. Ishant Sharma has been inconsistent, as has Ajit Agarkar. Murali Kartik has looked a bit dazed at times. With Chris Gayle gone, and Brad Hodge having slowed down, they are looking even weaker now than when they started off.
All in all, the teams with consistent performances and contributions from the lesser known players are more likely to go through to the last four. At this stage, Chennai and Delhi look sure to make it while Punjab, Deccan, Rajasthan and Mumbai will battle it out for the remaining two slots. Let’s look forward to some more last-over finales and a photo finish race for the semis!