Each of the eight teams has played six games each in the eleventh edition of the Indian Premier League. 24 games in, the table is starting to take permanent shape. To say there have been a few surprises is an understatement. Chennai “Cardiac” Kings, who were initially mocked for picking a retirement-home of a team, are leading the table with glorious nostalgia, losing just one of their matches so far. Kings XI Punjab, forever the IPL underperformers, are in second place with identical statistics. And the strongest teams on paper – Mumbai Indians, Delhi Daredevils and RCB – bring out the rear of the IPL table. That’s the glorious thing about this cricket format. T20 cricket is an unpredictable beast. It changes form and rhythm from week to week.
In the process, so far we’ve seen a few “surprise” stars of the tournament too. The kicker: some of them are old, “fading” players well past the prime of their IPL careers. Let’s take a look at five players who have set the stage alight this year:
AMBATI RAYADU (CSK)
The Mumbai Indians veteran will be missed by Rohit Sharma’s bumbling side. Rayadu, a permanent fixture in the Mumbai middle order for many seasons, has now found a place of importance and responsibility in a side led by MS Dhoni – the same man who once refused to give Rayadu a strike in the last over in an international game. The captain has trusted Rayadu more than ever, letting him open the innings instead of Faf du Plessis. In return, Rayadu is now the Orange Cap holder of a season in which runs are flowing. Nobody expected the scrappy 32-year-old Hyderabad player to step up the way he has. Two fifties, 283 runs at an average of 45 in the top order is phenomenally consistent stuff – a statistic that further proves what a crucial cog in the wheel Rayadu has been over the years for his teams, and how unnoticed he has gone.
SIDDHARTH KAUL (SRH)
This is the fourth IPL team the 27-year-old bowler has played for. He has consistently been near the top of domestic Ranji trophy charts for the last few seasons, and is yet to make his international debut. But the headband-wearing fast bowler has finally found recognition on the biggest cricketing stage in the world – by contributing to the best bowling lineup in the tournament. There are more celebrated bowlers like Rashid Khan, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shakib Al Hasan around him, but Kaul has managed nine wickets in his first six games, and has not just been limited to feeding off their scraps. He is only second in the charts behind Mumbai’s teenage spinning sensation, Mayank Markande, and given his death-bowling aggression and fantastic economy rate (7.16), do expect Kaul to make IPL 2018 the most important two months of his career.
SURYAKUMAR YADAV (MI)
Another Ranji “veteran,” the stylish right-handed batsman (also the captain of Mumbai’s domestic team) has been promoted to the opening slot by Rohit Sharma. He has been a revelation at the top, scoring two fifties and sharing the highest partnership of the tournament with the younger Ishan Kishan. Yadav’s team is struggling, but what KKR failed to do with his talent – he batted in the middle order for them – has become one of the few things the Mumbai Indians have gotten right this season. Unfortunately, neither of his innings has stemmed the middle-order rot for the team. But Yadav can perhaps aim for something bigger now – an IPL century.
SANJU SAMSON (RR)
It really shouldn’t be a surprise anymore, but it’s a testament to Samson’s “lost” talent that he continues to be a surprise whenever he plays a beautiful inning. The talented 23-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman from Kerala should have made his Indian debut a few years ago, but he has struggled to make a name beyond these two IPL months. He has been timing the ball beautifully for Ajinkya Rahane’s Rajasthan Royals this season, with a 90 and a 50 already. Other than Rohit Sharma, there is arguably no sweeter sight in Indian cricket than watching Samson slam sixes as if he were taking a walk in the park.
CHRIS GAYLE (KXIP)
Yes, you read that right. The greatest T20 batsman in the history of the game has played only half of his team’s games, but his century has been a “surprise” – after an indifferent season with RCB last year. He went unpicked in the auction until the Kings XI management picked him up at in the last lot, and they haven’t been sorry. Three huge scores in a row and RCB must wonder why they let him go. Gayle is noticeably playing with more of a price on his wicket now, though his fitness will decide how much of an impact he will be for a team that looks perhaps the most exciting out of the eight.