With some twists and turns, at last, the suspense is over and we have some clarity. We have four teams for the Playoff stage of the IPL this year - Mumbai Indians, Delhi Capitals, Sun Risers Hyderabad, and Royal Challengers Bangalore. MI had sealed their position earlier with 18 points and DC won the second spot on the points table by beating RCB. Now, only one place remained to be filled. And SRH, defeating the top placed MI by 10 wickets, pushed Kolkata Knight Riders to fifth place, while RCB had to be satisfied with fourth place.
Interestingly, SRH beat three teams in a row to win the third spot. The playoff will begin on Thursday between MI and DC, and the next day, SRH will take on RCB. The losing team of the first playoff match will take on the winning team of the second playoff match for a chance to stay in the league. The competition seems wide open, with every team having a chance to have a crack at the title.
After losing the first match, MI also lost their last match in the league, whereas CSK, who had won the first match, won in their last outing. During this time, we saw many ups and downs, and the points table that always kept changing. At one point, it seemed as if Kings XI Punjab had lost everything. But then, they won five on the trot in the second leg and increased the expectations, only to disappoint their fans by losing their last two games. They to be satisfied with the 6th place.
KKR too had their good and bad days and ultimately lost the playoff due to a slow Net Run Rate. RR also flattered to deceive and took the 8th place, while poor CSK were humiliated to 7th position, which prompted Watson to announce his retirement from all sorts of formats. Their only respite was that Dhoni said he will still be playing for them in the next edition of IPL.
Ignoring the advice of Saurabh Ganguly, Rohit Sharma played in the last game, perhaps to prove his fitness, but could do nothing. Now it remains to be seen if he will play in the qualifiers. But despite his presence, MI seemed to have lost interest. They rested their star bowlers Bumrah and Boult. But others failed to check the run riot by Warner (85) and Saha (58) which helped SRH reach the target in 17.1 overs. (That meant no need for statisticians to decide the qualifying teams for third and fourth place!)
Only Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan, along with Pollard, tried to save their team, but unfortunately could not reach the 150-mark on the Sharjah ground, which in the first leg saw many teams going past 200. Of course, the pitches were not the same and started to help the bowlers. Yet, for the top placed team, a total of 149 was poor by any standard. This is not to deny the bowling performances of Nadeem and Sandeep, who posed many a problem to batsmen and never allowed to score them at will. On the other hand, MI bowlers never looked deadly and were easy to handle. Well, it will be interesting to watch MI against DC.
DC had beaten RCB on the previous day. DC’s Nortje and Rabada saw to it that the opponents were kept in check taking three and two wickets respectively. Dependable Padikkal (50), Kolhi (29), and de Villers (35) tried, but could not score as they expected, thus setting the target of 152 for DC. With Dhavan (54) and Rahane (60) giving DC a good platform, it was an easy walk for them and they won with an over to spare. That meant if SRH won, RCB will be fourth in the table; and if they lost, they will be third in the points table. But their place in the playoff was never in doubt.
This week was indeed a black Sunday for Kings XI Punjab. The team once again failed to post a big total and lost to Chennai Super Kings by 9 wickets. It was their second defeat. Having won five matches after Gayle’s entry, KXIP stumbled at the last step and disappointed their fans. After a good start of 48/1 by Agarwal (26) and KL Rahul (29), KXIP lost Rahul, Gayle, and Pooran thus getting slumped to 74/4. Only with Hooda scoring 62(3-4s; 4-6s) in just 30 balls, they were able to attain a somewhat respectable total of 156.
But CSK openers Gaikwad (60*) and du Plessis (48) put on a solid 82 to get the ball rolling for their team. Gaikwad later found a stable partner in Rayudu and they carried the team to an easy win by 9 wickets and 7 balls to spare. At one time riding high, KXIP rolled down to 7th place. Though CSK put on a good show, it was too late as they had no chance to enter the playoff stage.
On Sunday, Kolkata Knight Riders kept their hopes alive with a win over Rajasthan Royals and put an end to RR’s chances of making it to the playoffs. It was possible, thanks to Skipper Morgan (68*, 5-4s; 6-6s) and Cummins (4 for 34). Morgan took the team to 191 after they were 99/5 at one stage, with only 7 overs and three balls left. Morgan had good support from Russel (25 with 3 sixes) and Cummins (15 with a six). 191 was a defendable total and KKR managed to defend it. Cummins got rid of Utthapa, Stokes, Smith, and Parag and proved a disaster for RR. Tewatia, again a good show of his all-round ability taking three wickets and scoring 31, could not salvage a win for the team.
MI had already reached an unassailable position on Saturday after beating Delhi Capitals easily. They took their points tally to 18, leaving the nearest rivals 4 points behind, whereas SRH improved their tally and took the fourth spot with 12 points. Royal Challengers Bangalore beat them and took the fourth spot, leaving KXIP, RR, and KKR, who each had 12 points behind. So, the suspense grew and the last four matches became very important to decide the next three spots.
MI blew off the challenge of DC bundling them for just 110, with Bumrah and Boult taking 3 wickets each while scoring 111 to register a 9wicket win. Ishan Kishan scored an unbeaten 72 and also hit the winning six! He was Man of the Match. The other match between SRH and RCB had the same pattern. RCB just managed to score 120 with Philippe (32) as the top scorer. Sandeep Sharma (MOM) and Holder took two wickets each. With Saha (39), Manish Pande(26), and Holder (26*) scoring easily, SRH reached the target in 14.5 overs.
RCB, after a good start of 71 in just 7.5 overs against MI, were restricted to 164. Thanks to Bumrah’s superb efforts, who gave just 14 runs and took 3 wickets in four overs. Padikkal (74) and Philippe (33) looked as if they will go on and on. But Phillipe was fooled by Rahul Chahar and was stumped by de Kock. Virat Kohli followed soon after and was out for just 9 runs in the 12th over when the score was 95. This was Bumrah’s 100th wicket in IPL. Incidentally, his first wicket was also of Kohli! De Villiers tried to put on a fight but was swallowed by Pollard when the score was 131. Dube and Padikkal followed him on 134 and Morris were out with the score at 138. Gurkeerat and Washington Sunder thereafter tried their best and scored 26 of 16 balls. It looked like MI will easily win. But some good bowling by Siraj and Chahal, who took two wickets each, took the match to 20th over. But MI’s win was never in doubt. Suryakumar Yadav was their star batsman and scored 79 with 10 fours and two sixes, while Ishan Kishan contributed 25. Mumbai took the top and RCB was next.
The last phase had started on 27th Oct with a shocking defeat of Delhi Capitals. Sun Risers Hyderabad put on a massive total of 219 and then bulldozed the rivals for just 131 runs. DC was leading the table, before the match. Perhaps their decision to bowl first after winning the toss was a failure to read the wicket. Or was it their complacency? SRH took full advantage of the wicket, which did not help the fast bowlers but was responding to slower stuff. Warner and Vruddhiman Saha took full advantage and scored almost at the rate of 11-12 per over. That was the Warner we know! He was in full cry and attacked everything, sparing no one. Saha was not just complementing but was even more attacking and attractive with his fluency. Playing in his only second match this season he placed his fours all over the ground and put on 107 runs off just 9.4 overs.
With eight 4s and two 6s, Warner made 66 off just 34 balls. Saha carried on good work and was out at 170 in 15th over. His 87 included 12- 4s and two 6s. Manish Pande (44) and Williamson (10) scored 49 runs in 4.3 overs took the team to 219. DC started badly losing Dhavan (0) off 3rd ball of the first over, with just one run on the board. They never came out of that shock and lost wickets like nine pins. Rishabh Pant (36) and Tushar Deshpande (20) put up a semblance of resistance. But DC was bundled out for 131. Rashid took 3 and Sandip Sharma and Natarajan took two wickets each. DC slipped to third place in the points table with this defeat.
Earlier in the week, KXIP was shocked by RR. They could not defend the total of 185, mainly due to Gayle’s 99. It was a good inning with 6 fours and 8 sixes. The Universe Boss has hit 1000 sixes in this form of the game! Some achievement that is! For the first time after his entry this year, his team was at the receiving end. Utthappa (30), Stokes (50), Sanju Samson (48) took them to a total of 145/3 in almost time. After that, it was only a formality for Smith and Butler to register their win with 15 balls to go.
CSK had shocked KKR a day earlier. Chasing their total of 172/5 Ravindra Jadeja hit a six off the last ball to register a welcome victory. Their opener Gaikwad (72) was declared Man of the match.
That’s all as far as the league stage is concerned and all eyes will be on the tussle between MI and DC, and SRH and RCB. The women’s Challenge has also started today and will be watched by as many since it will also feature the star performers of the world cup. They will play three league matches and the Final. So, keep viewing.
(The author is a sports journalist who formerly worked with Maharashtra Times.)