IPL 2018 mid-season review: Dhoni’s golden touch, Daredevils’ late surge

As the tournament progresses into its second leg, Sportstar correspondents assess the performances of franchises and players in the first-half.

Chris Gayle displayed his typical hitting prowess with some spectacular knocks for Kings XI Punjab this season.   -  K. R. Deepak

Hundreds from senior players Shane Watson and Chris Gayle, the return of M. S. Dhoni, a glimpse of the uncapped Twenty20 maverick Jofra Archer, the use of Decision Review System, mid-season transfer — the first phase of the Indian Premier League had many protagonists and events.

Our correspondents break down the hits and misses.

SHAYAN ACHARYA

Key moment: Chris Gayle scoring the first century of the season raised many eyebrows. It was good to see the big-hitting West Indies batsman come good despite not finding many takers at the auctions. One would want Gayle to fire in the remaining matches as well.

What to look forward to: This has been a season to remember for M. S. Dhoni and one expects the Chennai Super Kings skipper to keep the momentum going in the second phase. It would be interesting to see how Dhoni performs in the next few games and whether he can guide the Chennai outfit to its third title win.

Players who have impressed/let down: Kane Williamson, the captain of Sunrisers Hyderabad, impressed with his excellent leadership qualities. Stepping up as the captain, in absence of David Warner, Williamson has been able to get the best out of the boys.

Sarfaraz Khan, the youngster from Mumbai, who was retained by Royal Challengers Bangalore, has been the biggest disappointment. Despite given enough chances, he has failed miserably.

Prediction for knockouts: In a tournament like the IPL, it is tough to predict which teams would make it to the playoffs, but as of now, the list looks like this: Chennai Super Kings, Kolkata Knight Riders, Sunrisers Hyderabad and Kings XI Punjab.

HARI KISHORE M.

Key moment: There has been no dearth of adrenaline rush in the league so far. Dwayne Bravo's blitzkrieg for Chennai against Mumbai Indians in the league opener set the tone for high-octane finishes. The innings was a sort of motivation for other teams to go after bowlers in pursuit of astronomical run-rates.

Kane Williamson has impressed with the bat and with his captaincy for Sunrisers Hyderabad. Photo: Vivek Bendre

 

What to look forward to: Having crossed the halfway stage, the teams in the bottom half of the points table would look to come out all guns blazing to register some important wins. With the likes of Bangalore, Delhi Daredevils and defending champion Mumbai fighting to stay alive, we can expect some mouth-watering clashes.

Players who have impressed/let down: Kane Williamson has been tactically at his best, ringing in the bowling changes at the right time and defend below-par totals in style as the skipper of Sunrisers. He has also been in excellent form with the bat, notching up 322 runs from eight games.

India wrist spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, who ruled the roost in recent times, have had bad days in the office. Chahal has scalped just seven wickets with a best of 2 for 22, while Kuldeep is just tad ahead with best bowling figures of 3 for 32 and he has, like Chahal, just seven wickets against his name.

Prediction for knockouts: Going by the form, Chennai, Sunrisers and Kings XI Punjab could make the cut easily while the last spot would be grabbed by either Kolkata or Rajasthan Royals.

WRIDDHAAYAN BHATTACHARYYA

Key moment: Though Chennai fell short by four runs in the away-leg against Kings XI, the game announced the second coming of M. S. Dhoni. The skipper — in prime form this season with three half-centuries — started turning back the clock from this game. He remained unbeaten on 79 off 44 balls. The innings included six fours and five sixes — the fifth one came off the last ball; signature Dhoni style.

M. S. Dhoni's exhilarating run-making is one of the talking points of the season so far. Photo: PTI

 

What to look forward to: Daredevils’ late surge, after Shreyas Iyer took over as captain, could change its fortunes. With the new skipper, Delhi has won two out of three games. Prithvi Shaw, who had a late entry into the tournament, looked adventurous with scores of 62 (off 44 balls) and 47 (off 25 balls).

Players who have impressed/let down: A fitter and faster Umesh Yadav for Bangalore has been a rocket this season. He is slowly catching up with Trent Boult in the Purple Cap race with 11 wickets in eight games. He has been on a hat-trick twice and has also bowled the most number of dot balls (78). Strangely, Yadav also tops the list of ‘most runs conceded in an innings’. He leaked 59 off four overs against Royals.

Royals’ expensive customers — Ben Stokes (Rs 12.5 crore) and Jaydev Unadkat (Rs 11.5 crore) — are yet to assure value for money.

Prediction for knockouts: These are tricky pickings, but going by form, Chennai looks set to maintain top spot. Kings XI and Sunrisers are likely to remain in top three. The fourth spot could belong to any side, but Kolkata — currently fourth — will be one of the favourites for the playoffs.

AYAN ACHARYA

The key moment: Against Bangalore at the Chinnaswamy stadium, Dhoni bent his back knee, reached out for a wide ball and sliced it over point for six. The talismanic captain later sealed the match with a trademark maximum over long-on.

Ambati Rayudu is Chennai Super Kings' leading run-getter. Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam

 

Dhoni's revival with the bat has been one of the talking points this IPL. It's not the runs but the pace at which he scored them that got the naysayers talking about a second wind. He's striking the ball at 169.58 and is currently the highest six-hitter this year with 24 maximums from nine games (as of May 3).

What to look forward to: Chahal and Yadav were widely touted as the spinners to watch out for. However, the duo has had a mediocre start to the season, snapping up just seven wickets apiece at an economy-rate of under eight. But the nature of the pitches — during the latter half of the summer with the wear and tear — could jolt the spinners into action. So, don't be surprised if the two leg-spinners play a bigger role as the teams enter the business end of the IPL.

Players who have impressed/let down: Chennai’s Ambati Rayudu has been instrumental in Super Kings’ winning juggernaut on its return to the IPL. The right-hander has 391 runs from nine games at a strike-rate of 153.93.

Kings XI batsman Mayank Agarwal arrived in the IPL on the back of a fabulous domestic season which saw him amass over 2,000 runs in all competitions. The Karnataka batsman, though, is yet to light up the T20 league; modest returns of 105 runs from seven games has conjured up a picture of strife.

Prediction for knockouts: Chennai (12 points) and Sunrisers (12 points) are riding on their winning momentum and are most likely to seal their place in the playoffs.

However, I believe it will be a scramble for the remaining two spots with as many as five teams still in contention. While it seems like a tight race between Kings XI and Kolkata at the moment, Delhi and Bangalore could crawl back into the fray with a string of favourable results.