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IPL 2015 Week Two: The Think Tank: Bottom Four


IPL_Indian_Premier_League5th) Delhi Daredevils 

This Week: Played 2, Won 1, Lost 1.

Overall: Played 5, Won 2, Lost 3.

Having ended their eleven match losing streak in the first week of the season, DD appear to have settled upon a selection and strategy in which they have some confidence by the end of week two. DD have established themselves as a strong, if not spectacular team, who certainly have the ability to do better than their eighth place finish last season 

DD narrowly beat SRH in a thrilling match on Saturday, with Mayank Agarwal’s staggering boundary-line save the difference between victory and defeat. Although the match was close, DD put in another strong and stable performance, scoring 167-4 batting first before taking wickets at regular intervals to strangle the SRH chase, who eventually fell 4 runs short after some late lower-order hitting. In their second match, they were kept to a below-par total by an outstanding KKR bowling effort who had no trouble chasing down the runs. 

DD’s performance against SRH was the one that intimated the direction of their bowling strategy. With Imran Tahir, Amit Mishra and JP Duminy, they boast one of the strongest spin attacks in the league and should certainly play to that strength as the season progresses. It shouldn't be forgotten that DD are without two key Indian bowlers, Zaheer Khan and Mohammad Shami, the latter of whom has been ruled out of the remainder of the season. 

After establishing a settled middle-order, DD’s biggest concern in the batting department is their opening pair. Although Shreyas Iyer scored a vibrant fifty against SRH, they are the only team in the league who open with two uncapped players, and such inexperience renders a strong start more difficult. Just as SRH demand a lot of their Indian middle-order, DD demand much of their Indian top-order. 

Quinton de Kock provides them an option to add some international experience to bolster that weak-link, but unless Zaheer returns from injury and allows them to leave out Nathan Coulter-Nile, freeing up an overseas spot, it is unlikely that DD can fit him in. 

Their two fixtures in the coming week, both at home against MI and RCB, two lower placed teams, offer DD an opportunity to secure their place in the mid-table scrap that would reflect the qualify and strategy of their team. 

The Week Ahead: MI (Home), RCB (Home).

6th) Kings XI Punjab

This Week: Played 2, Won 1, Lost 1. 
Overall: Played 5, Won 2, Lost 3.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of KXIP’s win against RR on Tuesday. Their Super Over victory elevated them from a potentially disastrous start into one with some respectability. 

This was a tough week for KXIP, playing last year’s champions KKR before hosting 2014 runners-up RR. They’ll be happy with one win from the two fixtures, especially after their captain George Bailey was ruled out of the second match against RR with a shoulder injury. Much of KXIP’s strategy heading into the third week will depend on the fitness of Bailey. 

Serious questions now need to be asked over the place of Glenn Maxwell in the team—he hasn't passed 43 in 19 innings for KXIP—and if Bailey is fit it’ll be hard to justify dropping any other of their three overseas players; Shaun Marsh, who scored a fifty as a replacement for Bailey, David Miller and Mitchell Johnson. 

Interestingly, KXIP left out Miller for their first match of the week against KKR, giving Thisara Perera his first match of the season, to strengthen their bowling. They backtracked on that decision against RR, rebalancing their team by opting to leave out batsman Gurkeerat Singh for bowler Shivam Sharma. 

Although KXIP scored 191-6 against RR, concerns certainly still remain over their top-order. Both Virender Sehwag and Murali Vijay, have struggled to capitalise on strong starts so far this season. With Manan Vohra, who averaged 40 from eight innings last season, yet to play a game, pressure is increasing on KXIP’s two openers. 

After KXIP batted so well against RR, their batting is less of a concern that it was after their match against KKR. However, if they wish they do have the option of dropping a bowler, Shivam Sharma, for Manan Vohra, and using part-time bowlers to complete their twenty. The addition of Marsh has certainly bolstered their batting. Marsh’s IPL record is phenomenal and he only didn’t make it into the starting XI due to injury; now that he’s back he adds to an already formidable batting order. 

The week ahead poses two starkly different challenges: CSK, second in the table, at home, before playing SRH, who are fourth, away. 

The Week Ahead: CSK (Home), SRH (Away).

7th) Mumbai Indians 

This Week: Played 2, Won 1, Lost 1. 
Overall: Played 5, Won 1, Lost 4.

MI’s victory over RCB on Sunday—their first victory of the season in their fifth match—gives cause for optimism following four consecutive defeats; they can turn their dismal start to the season around. MI do have an extremely talented, albeit ageing squad, so when they get their strategy right they are a force to be reckoned with. 

Against CSK, in their first match of the week, MI made the expected change of bringing Lendl Simmons in for the injured Aaron Finch, but shuffled things in their already unsettled batting order further still by bringing back Ambati Rayudu who had been dropped for their previous match, for Unmukt Chand, who himself had been given just one match to prove his worth. As if that wasn’t enough instability, MI, batting first, promoted Corey Anderson to three and Harbhajan Singh to five. 

As discussed in last week’s Think Tank, MI’s strategy requires a platform to be built with the bat for Pollard and Anderson to utilise, but against CSK they were reduced to just 12-3. However, thanks to Rohit Sharma, Harbhajan, Kieron Pollard and Rayudu, they did elevate themselves a competitive 183-7.

However, more concerning than their batting was their bowling, which was gutted by CSK, who plundered 90 from the Powerplay, the second highest six-over score in IPL history, before cruising to the target of 183 with 20 balls to spare. It was 16.4 overs of utter carnage that completed MI’s most concerning defeat of the season so far. 

It shouldn't take four matches for a team to get their strategy and selection right but against RCB, when MI made four more changes, they finally recorded a win and did so in encouraging fashion.

After the bowling horror-show against CSK, it was encouraging to see MI, who could be critiqued for being batting-heavy and one-dimensional in selection and strategy, strengthen their bowling attack by dropping Corey Anderson for Mitchell McClenaghan.

It was the batting performance that was most encouraging however. Although they were certainly helped by a notoriously flat M. Chinnaswamy Stadium pitch and small boundaries, perhaps without Anderson and Pollard batting below them, the top order exercised more caution in the early overs. At the end of the Powerplay MI were 48-1 and only lost their second wicket in the fourteenth over with the score at 119. 

The decision to send Rohit in at four ahead of Pollard in this situation was questionable at the time, but six overs later, after Rohit had plundered a 50, it was justified. MI’s score of 209-7 demonstrates just what this batting order can do when they’ve got a platform from which to launch. MI will have been pleased too with the performance of one of their domestic Indian players, Chand, who was recalled after just one match and scored a fluent fifty at number three. The top of the order generally looks a lot healthier after Simmons also scored fifty. 

Defending their total in difficult conditions, MI bowled well, tying down Chris Gayle before taking wickets at regular intervals to puncture RCBs momentum just as they threatened to launch an assault.

MI would be foolish to change this winning team. McClenghan was expensive in his first match but bowled well to Gayle and MI’s bowling certainly needs the extra support. Pandya was expensive with the ball but hit 16 off just 6 balls and should be given more than just one match to prove himself. Most importantly MI will hope Simmons, Parthiv Patel and Chand can lay another platform for Rohit and Pollard. 

The Week Ahead: DD (Away), SRH (Home). 

8th) Royal Challengers Bangalore

This Week: Played 2, Won 0, Lost 2. 
Overall: Played 4, Won 1, Lost 3. 

This was a disastrous week for RCB, who find themselves at the bottom of the table after giving MI their first win of the season on Sunday, before being comprehensively beaten by second-placed CSK on Wednesday. 

After their opening victory against KKR there was optimism that RCB could translate a strong squad into consistent performances. That illusion was shattered this week, and this RCB campaign appears to be taking on an all too familiar guise of them being less than the sum of their parts. 

RCB made four changes for their match against MI, rebalancing their team by dropping overseas bowler Sean Abbott and all rounder Darren Sammy, for one overseas batsman, Rilee Rossouw and an overseas all rounder, David Wiese. Given that Abbott wasn’t justifying his spot as one of the team’s four overseas players, and with Mitchell Starc still out injured, RCB were right to rebalance the team, playing to their strengths by bolstering the batting.

RCB largely have Chris Gayle to blame for their defeat against MI. His 24-ball ten was the slowest score of ten or more in IPL history. That RCB got within 18 runs of victory elevates the innings to a match-losing one. 

Gayle’s go-slow hampered the impact of RCB’s new selection and strategy, and by the time their next match against CSK came around on Wednesday, Mitchell Starc was fit and they revamped once again. 

Against CSK, RCB did the seemingly unthinkable, and dropped Chris Gayle. With Starc returning, one of Gayle, AB de Villiers, David Wiese or Rilee Rossouw would have to make way. Wiese took four wickets and scored an unbeaten forty against MI on Sunday on IPL debut, and it seems the RCB management felt that Rilee Rossouw deserved a go at the top of the order.

The management had made the decision earlier in the week to break up the opening pairing of Kohli and Gayle; shifting Bisla up to open and Kohli down to three. Such a move does not radically reform RCB’s strategy, but it is a step backwards. Gayle and Kohli opening together was an aggressive, bold move and it’s a shame that we are unlikely to see them do so again this season.  

Essentially, RCB have, with Starc now fit and playing, gone back to their original strategy of two overseas batsman, Rossouw and de Villiers, one overseas all rounder, Wiese and an overseas bowler, Starc. 

For their match against CSK, RCB also dropped Abu Nechim and Varun Aaron who were expensive against MI when they conceded 209, and brought in 17 year-old all rounder Sarfraz Khan for his IPL debut and bowler Harshal Patel who played the first two matches of the season.

Although Wiese had a disappointing second match against CSK, RCB would be foolish to change things up again with Rossouw and Starc both finding their feet in the team. Of course, their selection should be malleable according to the conditions, but generally speaking RCB require some stability to familiarise their talented players with their roles. 

This is a big week ahead for RCB, who are bottom of the table and must play top of the table RR twice. You sense they’ll need to take at least one win from this week if they are to stay in contention for a play-off spot. 

The Week Ahead: RR (Away), DD (Away), RR (Home). 

Read about the Top Four HERE.

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Freddie Wilde is a freelance T20 journalist @fwildecricket....

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