It’s early days, but observing the teams closely over their first few games, it’s almost clear which ones have the firepower and legs to make it to the next round. The group stages are long and interminable, but by the end, the top four out of eight teams will go through – with the top two playing a direct qualifier for the finals, and the loser facing the winner of the eliminator between the third and fourth teams. Some of the teams have already found a balance early, which always helps them relax during the business end and not get caught in the mid-table traffic.
Here’s my prediction for each of the eight teams, based on early form, signings, potential and upcoming fixtures:
Winning two out of their first five matches means that they’ve typically gotten off to a slow start. Last season, they lost their first five in a row, and had to win seven of their last nine games to make it through. They did, and went on to win the entire tournament. This year, they have a “head start” of two wins, both coming off captain Rohit Sharma’s bat, with Jos Buttler chipping in with cameos and the bowlers doing a fair job. Signing Martin Guptill on seems to have messed up their balance, but they played Parthiv Patel as the keeper in the game against the Royal Challengers, and opened with Rohit – the move worked. With Kieron Pollard back in form, things are looking up for them. But you never know. They know how to finish off the job, but how often is too often?
Prediction: 4th place
Kolkata Knight Riders
The strongest team in the tournament by far, the Knight Riders have the best opening pair and the best bowlers around. The return of Sunil Narine, the exclusion of Colin Munro, the inclusion of Shakib Al Hasan and the calming presence of Morne Morkel has further raised their stakes. CaptainGautam Gambhir’s superb form, Robin Uthappa’s stroke-play and Manish Pandey’s aggression makes them the ultimate optimum Indian batting line-up, and the good form of Piyush Chawla, Umesh Yadav (finally) and Andre Russell (blows hot and cold) means that their 3 wins out of 4 is more of a trend than an exception.
Prediction: 1st place
Royal Challengers Bangalore
Not for the first time, the T20 league’s “Galacticos” look vulnerable at the back. Having a stunning top order doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve won games on reputation – they now don’t have a single consistent bowler, and are already suffering, having lost two of their first three matches despite Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers. When Kane Richardson is your only bowling hope with or without Varun Aaron, it’s time to panic a bit. They’ve lost two games while setting a target (and 15 out of 16 matches have ended this way), and they have lost their two top bowling overseas signings in Mitchell Starc and Samuel Badree. The likes of Chahal and Aravind haven’t stepped up either, so they have some thinking to do.
Prediction: 6th place
The perpetual wooden spooners have enjoyed a more encouraging start to this season than any other in recent memory. The scintillating form of Quinton de Kock has made people forget that last year’s hero Shreyas Iyer has scored a total of 2 runs in their first 3 games. Zaheer Khan has been marshaling his fields and troops quite resourcefully though, and has the support of JP Duminy, de Kock, Carlos Brathwaite and now the in-form Mohammed Shami. Amit Mishra has done what Amit Mishra usually does in this league, and Khan himself has shown some wily variations with the ball. All in all, they will be happy, but they will want to not rely entirely on de Kock’s bat.
Prediction: 5th place
Rising Pune Supergiants
Losing two out of their first three under MS Dhoni isn’t the best start, but the form of Francois du Plessis, Kevin Pietersen, Steven Smith and Ajinkya Rahane will mean that they’re “horses for the long race.” They have plenty of T20 experience between them, and rarely does a Dhoni-led team not make the knockouts. They will have to choose the right team for the right pitches though – one needs to stick with Mitchell Marsh a bit more, and bowling R. Ashwin sparingly isn’t helping his confidence. Murugan Ashwin, though, has been a find for them.
Prediction: 3rd place
The two out of four matches they’ve won, much like the Mumbai Indians, have come off their captain David Warner’s bat. But what will gladden them is the return to bowling form for Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the accuracy and guile of Mustafizur Rahman and the long-lost return to runs for Shikhar Dhawan – who scored a fifty against the Lions on Thursday night. Things are moving in the right direction for them – and this time, they may not have to wait till the final few games, or look back at a single catch or six as the difference in the campaign. Warner thrives on being the sole hope, and his orange-cap form is crucial to their run.
Prediction: 2nd place
The debutants got off to a strong start with 3 wins in 3 before being slaughtered by the in-form Sunrisers, losing by 10 wickets and damaging their run-rate. It was reality check for Suresh Raina, the captain, though Raina the batsman finally enjoyed a return to form with a quick 75. They’ve clearly relied a lot on Aaron Finch’s opening form, and his duck meant that they barely set the Sunrisers a target of 140. Brendon McCullum hasn’t made a big contribution yet, so it may be time to look at Dwayne Smith – who looks a different player in the T20 league. Dwayne Bravo hasn’t contributed with the bat either, and the newly married Ravindra Jadeja has been inconsistent with the ball. Yet, they’ve won three, which says a lot about how this format can depend on individual brilliance. Playing Dale Steyn ahead of James Faulkner though isn’t such a good idea.
Prediction: 7th place
Kings XI Punjab
Only a miracle can arrest their slide this season again. David Miller is perhaps the most inexperienced and clueless captain out there, but who can blame him – given his own batting form, Glenn Maxwell’s misfires, Axar Patel’s sudden loss of ability and Murali Vijay’s never-ending promise? Except for Manan Vohra and Sandeep Sharma’s form, the team has nothing to fall back on anymore. Perhaps they should throw caution to the wind and rely on untested blood – teenager Armaan Jaffer would be a brave pick, as would the all-round moderation of Gurkeerat Singh Mann. But maybe it’s just about the biggies showing some form – Maxwell, Miller, Johnson, Abbott, Axar and Shaun Marsh.