20 days into the Indian Premier League, we have seen enough of each team’s strengths and weaknesses to be able to gain a clear perspective on things to come. It has been a stern test between bat and ball for most matches (not involving Deccan Chargers), and there have been the maximum amount of last-ball wins already- and there’s still half the season left. Some bowling-friendly pitches have made teams really earn their points- let us take a look at contenders and the backmarkers of IPL 2012:
Back From Hell
The Wooden Spooners of 2011 are now clear favorites for the 2012 season. Every joke made on them throughout the 2011 season seems to have gotten to their heads- thankfully. Virender Sehwag has found the balance he was looking for, even without his big-hitting partner David Warner.
Morne Morkel has been the ultimate form-man this season. On careful observation, at any point of time in any IPL, the team with the bowlers that are wearing the purple cap are ALWAYS leading the table- it was the same with Mumbai Indians until Malinga left, with Deccan Chargers in 2009 (Ojha and RP Singh), and now with the Daredevils. The tall South-African seems to have the formula on these sub-continental pitches, and seems to be leading his team into a zone where no Delhiite has gone before.
Kevin Peiterson– The England switchhitter has found his form at the right time, thanks to a handy Sri Lankan tour. He looks more destructive than Gayle at times, which is saying a lot.
Shahbaz Nadeem, the young left-arm spinner, is the Indian find of the IPL so far. Sehwag has figured out a way to utilize him in the most destructive way possible, and the youngster is savoring his opportunity.
Mahela Jayawardena, the best Sri Lankan batsman of his generation, has suddenly found the going tough just a few hundred kms North of his home- where he looks unbeatable against England.
One didn’t expect them to start strong, but with captain Dravid providing consistently good starts at the top with young star Rahane, the Royals look like the real deal this season. They make the most out of the limited resources they have, and have some unlikely star-performers that have put them at the top.
Ajinkya Rahane, the Mumbai-reject and current Orange-cap wearer, is the best batsman of the tournament so far. If he continues to display that hunger for big scores, Rajasthan could just pull off a 2008 again.
Kevon Cooper, the young Trinidadian all-rounder, along with Pollard- figures amongst the top 5 wicket-takers this season. With their lanky frame betraying the pace they eventually generate, most batsman are deceived by appearances- and are finding him difficult to get away.
Rahul Dravid, leader of the ship, should be proud of his T20 form- and should look to settle down one of these innings in order to anchor his team through till the 14th over. His consistent scores are a bonus, though.
Johan Botha, the man without a country to play for, has been dropped due to his ineffective bowling form. Without Shane Warne, even his batting ability isn’t being appreciated enough, and he might sit out the rest of the season.
Kolkata Knight Riders-
Shahrukh’s Riders, the team that consistently flatters to deceive in moderate chases, is finding its way up with a good streak of 4 wins in 5 games now. Gambhir’s form, aided by some superb fielding, is the reason behind this turn-around.
Gautam Gambhir, the man for all formats, has made a timely return to form, especially when most of his partners in this team are woefully out of form. He is yet to figure out a batting order, though, and will be hoping that Kallis begins to look more productive.
Manvinder Bisla, the wicketkeeper with a madmax reputation, has learned to pace his innings a bit more- and not try to hit every single ball into the skies. That is a start, and is serving his team well.
Sunil Narine, the new Mendes of the bowling world, is difficult to pick- and has taken Shakib’s place in a team that thrives on cutting off the runs.
Manoj Tiwari, a batsman struggling to make yet another mark, is proving to be the finisher they need- at crucial situations.
Yusuf Pathan has been the story of the IPL so far. With literally nothing to his name so far, 7 games into the season, the man is close to being dropped. What a full circle that would be.
Jacques Kallis hasn’t been able to repeat his heroics once again, and is struggling to find his bowling groove too. He has even been demoted to number 4, in an effort to find the right balance.
Brendon McCullum, who has played only 4 games this season, has failed in all of them at the top of the order. To add to that, he is not even a wicketkeeper in this team.
Chuck it, we’re winning!
The newbies have found their Dada, and seem to be going strongly only because of sheer doggedness. An impressive giant-killing team that have beaten Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai, have to find a level of consistency to finish in the top 4.
Sourav Ganguly, purely on strength of his leadership (and his ability to make a winner out of Samuels), deserves better resources at his disposal.
Jesse Ryder, the man who can’t run to save his life, is relying solely on his big-hitting abilities to steer Pune out of their batting woes. He is succeeding, and how.
Ashok Dinda, currently out on injury, is the fast-bowling spark Pune needed this season. He is delivering good results with his pole-vaulting action.
Robin Uthappa looks to be perpetually in-form during IPL season. He needs to converts more starts, though, to get his team through earlier than usual.
Steve Smith, a finisher par excellence, is making up the miles on a team that isn’t a big fan of running between the wickets, or even on the field.
No real underperformers but…
Ashish Nehra, only for that daft over against AB De Villiers, figures on this list.
Rahul Sharma, for that unfortunate over against Chris Gayle, figures on this list.
Two overs away from virtual early elimination against RCB, Albie Morkel has turned the tide for this Champion team, and they are getting back into the groove.
Faff Du Plessis, easily the best overseas player this year, has made a strong case for his selection in the South African limited-overs team. Superb timing and pacing had led Chennai back into winning form.
Dwayne Bravo has proved to be handy with the ball, and provides stable middle-over resistance against strong batting line-ups.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni has gotten back to his finishing ways after a refreshing break of 6 days.
Murali Vijay has been the worst player over two seasons so far, and has completely forgotten the art that had shot him into the limelight three seasons ago.
Suresh Raina, by his high standards, has gotten too many starts- and has failed to convert any of them.
Now you see me, now you don’t…
Mumbai Indians- Tendulkarless for most of the season, the Indians have struggled with their batting- but now that Malinga has gone, they are struggling to compete at all.
Keiron Pollard, the man with a fearsome batting reputations, has put on his bowling boots and figures at the front of the wickets list, along with foul-mouthed Munaf Patel- who is toothless without Malinga.
Ambati Rayadu has lost his shine, and is struggling to deal with the fact that he is no more number 3.
Richard Levi, who started the tournament with a bang, has scored less than 10 runs in 4 games after that. He has been dropped.
Harbhajan Singh, captain aggressive, isn’t backing up his team with bowling performances. They do not look capable of winning games without Lasith Malinga.
Munaf Patel, only for his disgraceful attitude that reeks of frustration and illiteracy on the field, figures on this list.
Kings XI Punjab-
Early contenders for Wooden Spooners, this team has managed to ride on Shaun Marsh’s form to a few wins that keep them above water.
Shaun Marsh, the man woefully out of form on the international scene, has rediscovered his mojo in the IPL. The only decent batsman in the entire team, he is doing his best to keep them in the hunt.
Piyush Chawla has always blown hot and cold, but he is doing well to make up for the complete ineffectiveness of Praveen Kumar.
Paul Valthaty has finally been dropped after being exposed as a one-hit wonder.
David Hussey hasn’t been doing justice to the Hussey name, and is struggling to finish off chases that were his bread and butter.
Praveen Kumar has forgotten how to swing the ball in the right direction. He resembles Munaf in his attitude on the field too.
Royal Challengers Bangalore- Languishing at the bottom of the table despite two wins in their last two games (thanks to Gayle and AB), RCB need to pull up their socks and continue their late form into the second half.
Chris Gayle is always a hit, no matter what.
AB De Villiers has single-handedly kept RCB up during chases, and is a handy innovator.
Muralitharan– their only strength in bowling, who is not playing currently, has been dropped for reasons only Vettori knows about.
Zaheer Khan, with his new haircut, is bowling well at the death- and that could only mean good things for a team looking to turn things around.
Virat Kohli, the best limited overs batsman in the world, is struggling to time to ball and get it past covers in this league. Needless to say, Gayle’s form is only covering for his.
Daniel Vettori, the worst captain in the league, is inexplicably finding ways to lose with a team built in heaven.
Vinay Kumar is a must-have on any flop list lately, just for his annoying tendency to bowl slower balls so often that he is mistaken as an off-spinner now.
Deccan Chargers- Five losses in Five games. The Iceberg hit them during their clueless strategy at the auctions itself, and it is only a matter of time before they sink to the very bottom. Again.
Shikhar Dhawan, though solely responsible for their latest loss against KKR with his 50-ball 50, has been the only consistent batsman in the team.
Amit Mishra, with his formidable reputation, has done enough to let others think that his team is not being mauled- but losing close matches with dignity.
Dale Steyn, with his fiery pace, is still not consistent enough by his standards- but is doing enough to keep his team from losing disgracefully.
The rest of the team- especially Christian, Sangakkara and attractive Gayathri Reddy, their owner, whose dark circles are the reason her players are depressed.