A lot can be learned about the opening stages of an Indian Premier League season from the way an IPL cricket fantasy league lights up. Less than a week into my 2018 Fantain IPL Fantasy league, it’s easy to notice that this season will be a little different from the previous ones. You might want to keep an eye on your own IPL fantasy teams, given that it’s more than just the usual suspects that have kicked off the tournament in style. On basis of the first two rounds, here are some of the lessons we have learned – and predictions ahead:
THE CSK EXPERIENCE
MS Dhoni might not be the best finisher in the game anymore – he tends to finish his own team more than others lately – but his “geriatric” team of T20 veterans seems to be the early formula of success this season. With players like Shane Watson, Suresh Raina, Imran Tahir, Harbhajan Singh and Dwayne Bravo, the Chennai Super Kings aren’t quite expected to emulate the winning ways of their previous performances. But if it was Bravo’s stunning two-over explosion against a shocked Mumbai Indians in the first game, it was Watson and Sam Billings’ stunning assault that helped them smash 17 runs off the last Vinay Kumar over against Kolkata Knight Riders. Both nail-biting games, both CSK victories with one ball to spare. Is experience, then, the way to go? They nullified Andre Russell’s monster innings with a true team performance – one that Dhoni seems to have integrated into the team’s culture over 8 immensely successful seasons.
THE SUN WILL KEEP RISING
The Sunrisers Hyderabad team, weakened by the ban of prolific captain David Warner, was not expected to be much of a force because of their over-dependence on the Australian in previous seasons. But his exit seems to have put the onus on the spunky Indians, as demonstrated by their mauling of another weakened side, Rajasthan Royals, in their first match of IPL 2018. Shikhar Dhawan stepped in with a solid opening innings to chase down a low score with the help of captain Kane Williamson’s calm at the crease. Wriddhiman Saha is now their opener, while Manish Pandey, Deepak Hooda, Yusuf Pathan and Shakib Al Hasan form an all-round Asian middle order. The bowling remains as balanced as ever – with Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shakib and Afghani wunderkind Rashid Khan still in top form. Time will tell if it’s the right decision to let Williamson, who was on the bench for most of last season, lead a team that has changed its focus. But initial signs are that this could well be their “underdog” moment.
THE SUNSET OF T20 CHAMPIONS
Both MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh have had a torrid time at the batting crease in their first appearances this year. Singh struggled to 12 off 22 balls in Kings XI Punjab’s KL-Rahul- inspired win over Delhi Daredevils (which actually looks competitive this season), while Dhoni almost derailed a 200+ chase with a 28-ball 25 before Sam Billings rescued his team. Dhoni managed just 5 against Mumbai before Bravo pulled off the heist. Perhaps it’s safe to say that a 34-year- old Singh, who might never play for India again, will continue to struggle in a team full of young pretenders and hard-hitting all-rounders. Dhoni, arguably IPL’s best captain, will need to rethink his role as a batsman in a lineup that will soon need to rely on more than just one-man bursts down the order.
KOLKATA INTO THE NIGHTS
The Knight Riders remain the most exciting team this year, evident from the way they dismantled the starry top-heaviness of Kohli’s Royal Challengers – who continue their poor form from where they left off last season. KKR has the most unpredictable opening pair in Chris Lynn and Sunil Narine. With Nitish Rana, Andre Russell and Dinesh Karthik in the middle order, they will be a team tough to beat.
THE ROYALS NEED TO RISE
Rajasthan might struggle this time, given that the Royals depend too much on the form of Ben Stokes and Sanju Samson. The Royal Challengers are prone to depending too much on the form of Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers. But in Quinton de Kock and Brendon McCullum, they continue to be the most formidable batting order in IPL cricket – a strength that could just about nullify their bowling on flat pitches. Despite losing the first game to KKR, RCB will go far into the season once their spin-twin pair of Chahal and Sundar find a rhythm, and if Kohli comes anywhere close to his form of 2016. This team continues to be a delight for Fantasy-League loving fans across the globe – with maximum runs and spinners getting points that are sure to win you the league.