From the perspective of individual players, the second phase of the Indian Premier League (IPL), commencing on September 19, assumes a lot of significance. For a lot of cricketers, this is a dry run before the T20 World Cup starting next month and given that both tournaments are to be staged in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), adjusting to the conditions and generating positive momentum would be crucial.
As far as the franchises are concerned, they will have to start all over again. Twenty-nine matches were played in the first phase before IPL 2021 went into a Covid-forced postponement. Some teams had the early momentum, a few were playing catch-up. Now, every side would like to hit the ground running.
To become the first team to win the IPL three times on the spin, MI have to up the ante, which they usually do on the home stretch. In the first phase, their three losses were sandwiched between four wins, bringing them eight points. If 14 points are the bare minimum to make the Playoffs, the five-time champions need to win at least three more games.
The Bumrah (workload) factor
Jasprit Bumrah bowled 151 overs in four Tests in England. Central to India’s success in the T20 World Cup, the fast bowler needs to be at his peak during the ICC event. And therein lies the conundrum – how to manage Bumrah’s workload, for he is indispensable for his franchise too. Maybe, the BCCI has a role to play here to ensure that a repeat of the Rohit Sharma incident (read, injury) last year doesn’t happen.
After the IPL last year, a BCCI functionary told this paper that Rohit had to push the envelope that resulted in him missing the bulk of India’s assignments in Australia. India can’t afford to have Bumrah running out of gas at the T20 World Cup.
Chennai Super Kings
The current league standings attest to a strong start for CSK this year – 10 points from seven matches and sniffing the Playoffs. But there’s a catch. On the fresh pitches in UAE, fast bowlers are expected to get some purchase initially.
This is a weak area for the three-time champions which affected them last year. It would be interesting to see MS Dhoni’s game plan this term.
The Jadeja-Dhoni combo
After establishing himself as India’s first-choice spin-allrounder across formats, Ravindra Jadeja is expected to use the second half of the IPL to get into the T20 World Cup groove. By mid-October, pitches in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah should start assisting spinners. A good show in the IPL will hold the left-arm spinner in good stead. Watch out for a few tricks that could be in store; Dhoni and Jadeja working in tandem. A gentle reminder, Dhoni would be India’s team mentor at the ICC event.
Royal Challengers Bangalore
They will resume their campaign with 10 points from seven matches and going by their performance in the first phase, RCB looks good enough to go the distance. Losing leg-spinner Adam Zampa could be a problem, but RCB have brought in a like-for-like replacement in Wanindu Hasaranga, on the heels of his impressive showing in the home limited-overs series against a second-string Indian side.
Nine years into his RCB reign, Virat Kohli is under pressure to win the title. Given his poor record as a captain in the IPL and ICC events, and BCCI’s decision to rope in Dhoni as team mentor, not taking RCB over the line might see Kohli’s critics sharpen their knives again. To be fair though, his captaincy in the Test series against England was first-class.
Top of the table with 12 points from eight matches, DC have been upwardly mobile under head coach Ricky Ponting. Shreyas Iyer’s return adds to the positives, but DC’s challenge could be picking the right combination. They have an overload of middle-order and spin-bowling options.
Focus on Ashwin
Washington Sundar’s injury paved the way for Ravichandran Ashwin to return to India’s T20 fold for the World Cup. A couple of factors could be important here: How DC captain Rishabh Pant uses the senior off-spinner, for Ashwin would love to bowl in the Powerplays.
Also, after a bench-warming England tour, this is Ashwin’s opportunity, albeit in a different format, to get into the groove. It needs to be seen if any new variation is forthcoming.
Kolkata Knight Riders
Seventh at the moment with just two wins from seven matches, the two-time IPL champions are playing serious catch-up. Pat Cummins’ absence could be costly.
Varun Chakravarthy was impressive enough in the first phase of the IPL for the national selectors to include him in the T20 World Cup squad. At the ICC event, he will have to fight with Ashwin, Axar Patel and Rahul Chahar for a place in the playing eleven. Varun’s challenge at the IPL would be to strengthen his case.
Six points from seven matches, and without Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer and Jos Buttler, they have a mighty task at hand to climb up the ladder.
For the Royals to secure a Playoff berth, Sanju Samson will have to lead from the front. Samson lost out to Ishan Kishan for the second wicketkeeper’s slot in India’s T20 World Cup squad. His franchise would benefit from a strong response to the disappointment.
Six points from eight matches, Punjab Kings need KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal to fire. Leg-spinner Adil Rashid for medium-pacer Jhye Richardson appears a smart replacement.
Handle with care
Mohammed Shami needs to be handled with care, workload-wise. Once again, a conversation between BCCI and the franchise (in this case, Punjab Kings) management would help.
Only one win from seven matches, Sunrisers need a golden run in the second phase. The first phase saw a mid-tournament change in captaincy with David Warner removed and Kane Williamson taking over leadership duties. Sunrisers need to get their act together.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s fitness record of late has been dismal. The medium-pacer cannot afford another injury ahead of the T20 World Cup.