The first leg of the double league is almost over, and the top two teams are Mumbai Indians and Delhi Capitals, with 10 points each. Royal Challengers Bangalore is in third place with 10 points too, after defeating Kolkata Knight Riders yesterday with a massive victory. RCB's ship that struggled last year is sailing well this time.
The second stage will hopefully see keen fights as there are still seven more matches to be played by each team. The points table will see many ups and downs too. The reason is, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has made a rule this time, which will make it possible to transfer players from one team to another.
The players, who have not played at all, or have played in less than two matches in the first half of the double leg league (after 7 matches), will be allowed to change teams if another team wants them. This move will allow big names like Ajinkya Rahane & Ishant Sharma (DC), Gail & Jordan (KXIIP), Saurabh Tiwari (MI), Umesh Yadav & Dale Steyn (RCB), Riddhiman Saha (SRH), and many small-timers to play in the tournament. It should also make the second leg more interesting because given a chance, these players will be keen to prove their worth.
Last year, this provision was for the local players only, but with permission to international players, the fate of some teams can change. We will have to wait to see which teams pick which players in an attempt to change the luck of their team. Initially, batsmen dominated the game, but in the later stages, spinners had their say and helped their teams to win.
K. Rahul (KXIP) is leading amongst the batsmen with 387 runs, and Rabada (DC) among the bowlers with 17 wickets. Will they maintain their form in the second half? Will Stokes fire (though he could not do much in his first match)? Will Dhoni regain his form? Can Virat help his team win a trophy this year? Or will Shreyas Ayyar give DC their first Championship? Many more questions like these have arisen, and we shall have to wait for the answers.
The clash between two top teams, MI and DC, resulted in MI's win. Though both teams have 10 points each now, MI is leading the tale because of a better net run rate. DC gave a good fight, but MI was never in real trouble while chasing a total of 162. MI equaled the scores with three balls remaining, and Krunal Pandya gave them a win with a boundary on the fourth ball of Stoinis’ over. With the help of Shikhar Dhavan (69*) and Shreyas Ayyer (42), DC's batting looked stronger. At last, DC's Rahane was given a chance, but it proved futile. Rahane scored only 15 runs off 15 balls. After MI skipper Rohit Sharma’s early departure, Quinton de Kock and Suryakumar Yadav scored 53 each. And Krunal Pandya finished the match to give MI a victory with five wickets remaining, and two balls to spare. De Kock was declared Man of the Match.
In the first match on Sunday, RR lost to SRH meekly. Their scoring rate was not up to the mark, and they could put on only 158 runs. Stokes was asked to open the innings for RR, but the move failed as he scored only 5 runs. While they were 78-5 at one stage, thanks to Riyan Parag and Rahul Tewatia, who remained unbeaten till the end. Rahul Tewatia was declared Man of the Match. Warner (48) and Manish Pandey (54) were the top scorers for SRH, and together they took their team to a victory.
Delhi Capitals started the week with a big victory over Royal Challengers Bangalore. On the large Dubai International Stadium ground, where the average score is around 160, they scored 196, losing only 4 wickets. Thanks to Stoinis (53), Shaw (42), and Pant (37), they were sitting pretty. DC bowlers made it difficult for RCB to score freely by taking early wickets. Ashwin, who just recovered from an injury, celebrated his return with Paddikkal’s wicket, post which RCB lost wickets at regular intervals. Kohli scored 43, but no other batsman scored even 20 runs. Rabada took 4 wickets, including that of Kohli, for only 24 runs, while Nortje and Axar Patel took two each. But surprisingly, Axar was declared Man of the Match.
Mumbai Indians easily defeated Rajasthan Royals in Abu Dhabi and won their third match in a row. Previously, MI came into their own in the second of the league, but this time they are looking more serious. Batting first, they scored 193 runs and then bowled out RR for just 136 runs to register a massive victory - just like DC had done the previous day. For MI, Suryakumar Yadav’s display must have given them much satisfaction as he scored 79*. For RR, Buttler made 70 but got no support from the other end. While Archer scored 24, seven of their batsmen failed to reach the double-figure. At last, Jasprit Bumrah bowled like he is known for and took 4 wickets for just 20 runs, thus ending the worries of his captain and the Indian selectors too.
This pattern repeated when on Wednesday, only Rahul Tripathi scored 81 for Kolkata Knight Riders against CSK. Only four other batsmen reached double-figure, and the rest six had single-digit scores. It was their bowling, and the decision to keep spinners for the middle overs by Kartik, that helped them win against Chennai Super Kings. Watson again scored a half-century, but CSK was unable to increase their scoring rate. And though they had five wickets in hand, lost by ten runs.
King’s XI Punjab lost to Sun Risers Hyderabad in another one-sided match and remained at the bottom of the points table, registering their fifth loss in six matches. With Warner (52) and Bairstow (97) full in cry, it was clear from the beginning as they were scoring at almost ten. But they failed after the departure of the two and scored 201 runs losing six wickets. Ravi Bishnoi took three wickets, but by then it was too late.
Chasing the big score, KXIP was under pressure, and only Nicholas Pooran played as if he was bent on giving victory to his team by scoring 77 with 7 sixes. Only K. Rahul and Simran Singh reached 11. When Maxwell fell at 7, they were bundled out for 132. Rashid Khan was the most effective in taking three wickets for just 13 runs. Khaleel and Natarajan took two each to give SRH a big win.
Delhi Capitals again showed their fighting spirit in the match against RR. DC was restricted to the score of 184, due to superb bowling by Archer, who took three wickets on the small Sharjah ground. However, in the second innings, DC bowled out Rajasthan Royals for just 134 runs. DC, with 10 points, was again at the top of the table after winning 5 of their 6 matches. Stoinis and Hetmyer helped them reach a somewhat good score, which looked difficult to defend. But then, Rabada (3-35) and Ravichandran Ashwin (2-22), contributed to the team's victory. Ashwin was declared the Man of the Match.
KXIP, as usual, could not keep up the scoring rate after a reliable beginning against KKR. Chasing 164, they were 115-1 in 14.2 overs and required just 50 runs to register a second win. But they were not up to the challenge and lost quick wickets. Moreover, after Rahul (74) and Agarwal (56), no one scored much. They needed seven runs to win on the last ball, which was out of the question, but they could have tied the scores if Maxwell’s hit of Narine could have fetched them six runs. His hit was big, but could not clear the boundary. It was a four, and thus KXIP lost by two runs to remain at the bottom. KKR skipper Dinesh Kartik saw to it that they put up a reasonable total, and his bowling changes and field settings after Agarwal was out were commendable. KKR's strategy never gave KXIP batsmen a chance to speed up the scoring. Prasiddha Krishna took three wickets, while Narine took two. Dinesh Kartik (58), who was declared Man of the Match, again proved his ability as a finisher.
The RCB and CSK match was almost a replica of the earlier one, and RCB won just as KKR had done. CSK was never in the run as it kept losing the wickets, without increasing the scoring rate. Only Rayudu and Jagadeeshan put up some fight, alas, in vain! Virat Kohli (90*) scored more than half of the RCB total of 169. Paddikal (33) and Shubhman gill (22*) gave him able support.
In yesterday's match, RCB displayed their consistent form after registering a massive win against KKR. RCB put up a total of 194 for two wickets after winning the toss and electing to bat first. While Finch (47), Padikkal(32), and Kohli (33) tried to score well, it was AB de Villiers who shone with his magnificent knock of 73 off 33 balls. As a reply, KKR could only score 112 runs in 20 overs with the help of Shuham Gill's 34 runs off 25. The other batsmen failed to make an impact, thus leading their team to a defeat.
The good news for Indian sports fans is that Para-Badminton player Manasi Joshi appeared on the latest cover of Time magazine, which speaks for her efforts and determination, and resolves to take life as it is, and find one’s way to the top! Congratulations Manasi, and all the best for the future.
- A. S. Ketkar
(The writer is a renowned sports journalist who previously worked with Maharashtra Times.)