IPL 2021: The highs and lows

As always, numerous Indian and foreign players made a name for themselves for their contributions with bat and ball. CSK stood out in the end, but all four playoff teams were in form in the home stretch and the title could have been anybody’s:

Glenn Maxwell of Royal Challengers Bangalore plays a switch shot during the IPL against Delhi Capitals at the Dubai International Stadium in Dubai. His strike-rate of 144.10 is the best among the top six run-getters. All six of his half-centuries resulted in wins for his team.   -  Sportzpics / IPL

The 2021 season of the Indian Premier League had countless little thrills as it meandered its way to a close with a gripping IPL final on Friday, October 15. Chennai Super Kings stood out in the end, but all four playoff teams were in form in the home stretch and the title could have been anybody’s: Delhi Capitals did all the hard work to take the top spot in the points table heading into the playoffs, and then lost two close contests decided in the final over, and RCB, too, found itself at the wrong end of a nail-biter to fail to gift Virat Kohli the nice farewell gift of an IPL title as he bid adieu to captaincy.

There were several surprises in store: among them were the spectacular unraveling of Rajasthan Royals despite the red-hot form of Sanju Samson and the stagnation of Mumbai Indians in the second leg of the tournament after a bright start in India earlier this year.

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As always, numerous Indian and foreign players made a name for themselves for their contributions with bat and ball. The spotlight fell on, among others, non-superstars such as KKR’s Venkatesh Iyer, who had never played in the IPL before, and Avesh Khan. And hardly a few would have heard of Umran Malik, who bowled the fastest ball of the tournament and was included as a net bowler in the Indian contingent for the T20 World Cup. The fact that two less-known Indian fast bowlers – Harshal Patel and Avesh – should top the bowling charts augurs well for Indian cricket.

The following are some highs and lows of IPL 2021:

The highs:

1. Glenn Maxwell

The swashbuckling middle-order batter found his best form in the IPL since 2014, and went a long way towards securing his side a third-place finish. His tally of 513 runs is the fifth-highest this season, and his strike-rate of 144.10 is the best among the top six run-getters. All six of his half-centuries resulted in wins for his team.

Maxwell usually attracts a hot price during IPL auction due to his perceived value as an attacking batter, but in the last few years, he struggled with the bat even as he hopped from one team to another. RCB obtained his services for INR 14.25 crore in the auction this year, despite his poor form in 2020 for Kings XI Punjab – he scored 108 runs at an average of 15.42 and a strike-rate of 101.88 – and he finally justified the attention showered on him.

Maxwell feasted on the spinners and used his switch-hits and ramp shots to good effect to produce the runs. He attributed his success to the level of comfort he felt employing his batting technique, and the role he was given at No. 4. Invariably, he would inject some momentum into the innings during the middle overs and a flourish towards the end. His fortunes were more or less tied up with the fortunes of the team: when he fell in the Eliminator for 15 – his lowest score in six matches – his team promptly bowed out.

2. Chennai Super Kings’ resurrection

Chennai Super Kings became the first team to qualify for the knockouts and eventually clinched its fourth title.   -  SPORTZPICS / IPL


IPL 2020 marked the first season when CSK finished outside the top four. Its seventh-place finish must have stung it. M. S. Dhoni promised his team would return stronger next season, and he kept his promise. CSK became the first team to qualify for the knockouts and eventually clinched its fourth title.

CSK’s turnaround was aided by the form of its opening pair – Ruturaj Gaikwad and Faf du Plessis scored more than 1100 runs between them – and the wicket-taking consistency of seamer Shardul Thakur. Moreover, the seasoned Ravindra Jadeja turned in useful performances with bat and ball to tilt the scales in his team’s favour: he remained unbeaten nine times for a batting average of 75.66, and registered an economy rate of 6.86 with his left-arm spin. Moeen Ali, the other spinner, was also frugal, going at 6.35 per over. Dwayne Bravo was slightly more expensive in comparison but maintained an excellent strike-rate of 13.06.

Yet, the success cannot solely be attributed to the form of numerous players and the mastery of a formula. It seems CSK recognises the big occasion: after three defeats in a row and at the doorstep of another – against Delhi Capitals in Qualifier 1 – its captain M. S. Dhoni got his team over the line with an inspired finishing touch. Head coach Stephen Fleming said Dhoni’s decision to come out to bat at the death and the team’s subsequent victory made it “emotionally great” for his side.

3. Delhi Capitals’ consistency

Shikhar Dhawan once again topped the batting charts for Delhi Capitals, scoring 587 runs at 39.13.   -  SPORTZPICS / IPL

If the Super Kings bounced back spectacularly, DC ensured it maintained its top form. The Capitals were the team to beat this season: they were the only team to have won more than the Super Kings in the group stage, having lost just four out of 14 matches. They fell short in the playoffs, however, losing two close contests. In a game of fine margins, a slight push would have got the side over the line on both occasions – against the Super Kings in Qualifier 1, and against Kolkata Knight Riders in Qualifier 2.

Shikhar Dhawan once again topped the batting charts for his side, scoring 587 runs at 39.13. His opening partner Prithvi Shaw may not have been as prolific, but he had more half-centuries to his name (4) and scored at a better strike-rate (159.13). The South African fast-bowling pair of Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje continued to sizzle, taking 27 wickets between them, and left-arm spinner Axar Patel, who took 15 wickets, was parsimonious. Rishabh Pant turned out to be a smart captain and maintained consistency with the bat, scoring more than 400 runs.

But the x-factor was Avesh Khan, the fast bowler from Madhya Pradesh. Avesh relies on bowling a tight length (neither too full nor too short) and a tight line (on off-stump) to minimise leverage for batters to hit out, and maintains good speeds (about 140kph). His yorkers are deadly, and his pace makes his slower deliveries a handy weapon too, as batters are too early into their stroke and mistime them. Avesh has been a revelation this season – 24 wickets at 18.75 and an economy rate of 7.37. So what’s led to his spectacular success? Avesh says his run at the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in January, 2021, aided his IPL run: in the domestic T20 tournament, he took 14 wickets in five matches for MP.

4. Prithvi Shaw returns to form:

After a lacklustre 2020 outing, Prithvi Shaw of Delhi Capitals hit the stride this year with four half-centuries, scoring at a strike-rate of 159.13 .   -  SPORTZPICS / IPL


Prithvi failed to set the stage alight in IPL 2020, scoring just 228 runs in 13 matches, but roared back to form this year for DC. Head coach Ricky Ponting had earlier this year admitted Prithvi was reluctant to bat in the nets after his failures with the bat. It isn’t clear whether his training habits have changed, but he sure has runs under his belt now to halt the unwanted scrutiny.

Prithvi was dropped from India’s Test team in 2020-21 after his failures during India’s tour of Australia. In the Vijay Hazare Trophy in February, he amassed 827 runs in eight matches at an average of 165.40, a run that included an unbeaten double century.

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In the IPL, he’s outshone his opening partner Shikhar Dhawan in terms of batting strike-rate, and he remains, of course, a classical batsman, possessing an excellent all-round game. He generates a lot of strength with his bottom hand for the pulls and the cuts, but he can also play gorgeous shots in the ‘V’.

It remains to be seen whether he comes back into the Indian team and cements his spot in the long term. He is sure to get tough competition from the likes of Shubman Gill.

The lows

Virat Kohli ended his stint as the captain of Royal Challengers Bangalore without a trophy to show for his efforts.   -  SPORTZPICS / IPL


1. Virat Kohli bows out as captain

Kohli will no more be the captain at Royal Challengers Bangalore. He made the announcement midway through the tournament, explaining he needed to lighten his workload amidst all the pressures as a batter and as an India captain in two formats. The team rallied under him and made up for an insipid start to embark on an inspiring run, winning four out of five towards the back end of the group stage to make it to the playoffs in the third spot. When K. S. Bharat hit the winning six on the last delivery of the contest against Delhi Capitals on October 8, it seemed the Royal Challengers could well take home the cup. But it wasn’t to be, Sunil Narine hypnotising the batters in Sharjah as Kolkata Knight Riders, in the middle of a similar resurgence of its own, pipped it in a close contest in the Eliminator.

What marred the moment further was Kohli’s confrontation with Virender Sharma, one of the umpires during the game. Kohli was angered by a not-out decision during KKR’s innings that was reversed eventually with the help of the Decision Review System. Umpire Chris Gaffaney had to intervene to ask Kohli to calm down, and later Virender went up to Kohli, it seemed, to explain to him that his dissent went a bit too far.

Not the best way for Kohli to bow out, but he is known to wear his heart on his sleeve.

2. The spat between R. Ashwin and Eoin Morgan

Delhi Capitals’ Ravichandran Ashwin celebrates the dismissal of Eoin Morgan at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium. KKR captain Eoin Morgan showed his displeasure at Ashwin for attempting to take a run after a throw ricocheted off his batting partner Rishabh Pant during Capitals’ innings.   -  SPORTZPICS / IPL


Delhi Capitals’ R. Ashwin was at the centre of a debate about ethics in cricket in IPL 2019 when he ran out Jos Buttler at the non-strikers’ end before delivering the ball. This season, the issue resurfaced again after he angered Kolkata Knight Riders captain Eoin Morgan for attempting to take a run after a throw ricocheted off his batting partner Rishabh Pant during Capitals’ innings in a contest in Sharjah on September 28.

Dinesh Karthik, who separated the two players when they confronted each other after the incident, clarified that Morgan didn’t think it was in the spirit of the game. Later, Ashwin celebrated theatrically when he got Morgan out for a low score during KKR’s chase.

The matter didn’t end there. Ashwin took to Twitter to explain his stance. He said he wasn’t aware that the ball had deflected off the body of his batting partner, but clarified that even if he had known about it, he would have attempted to take runs. He wrote: “In Morgan or [Tim] Southee’s world they can choose and stick to what they believe is right or wrong but do not have the right to take a moral high ground and use words that are derogatory (Morgan called him a ‘disgrace’). What’s even more surprising is the fact people are discussing this and also trying to talk about who is the good and bad person here!”

What is or isn’t ethical is often a subjective matter, and given the grey areas in cricket, the issue of ethics may not be resolved any time soon.

3. David Warner’s absence

David Warner was removed as captain of Sunrisers Hyderabad before being made to warm the bench during the second phase of IPL 2021 in UAE.   -  SPORTZPICS / IPL


The pugnacious Warner has thrice been the top run-getter in an IPL season, all three times for Sunrisers Hyderabad, and two times as captain. And so his demotion in rank – captaincy was handed over to Kane Williamson – and his eventual relegation to the periphery this season was noticeable.

To be sure, Warner did struggle with the bat, scoring two half-centuries in eight innings, and it did accompany his team’s struggles. Still, it felt the Sunrisers were trying to change too much too soon to get results. Towards the end, Warner was even asked to stay put at the team’s hotel and not accompany the team to the venue of its contest. But if such steps were taken to allow the team to flourish on the field, it didn’t work: Sunrisers finished eighth, with three wins out of 14.

Warner said he was hurt that the club did not explain why he was dropped as captain. The club seems to be strangely quiet on the matter. Will Warner now be discarded by the Sunrisers? Warner says he will be happy to represent Sunrisers next season, and so it seems it is up to the management at the club to decide where he fits in the scheme of things.

4. Mumbai Indians’ slide

Captain Rohit Sharma used the word “inconsistent” to describe his team’s performance, perhaps referring to the sporadic rather than regular shows of excellence from his team members.


The defending champion did not appear impenetrable for the first time in three years. The fifth spot wasn’t its worst-ever performance, but given the standards the side has set in recent years, the fall was a bit surprising.

Jasprit Bumrah continued to be among the wickets – 21 wickets at 19.52 – but it seems the team’s Achilles heel this season was its batting. The highest runs tally was Rohit Sharma’s; his 381 runs included a solitary half-century in 13 matches. Suryakumar Yadav and Quinton de Kock scored four half-centuries between them, and extraordinary cameos from Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya weren’t frequent enough. Ishan Kishan was out of form for a long time before finally coming to the fore against SRH in the final group game, when the team was effectively out.

Pollard showed his prowess during his unbeaten innings of 87 against CSK in the first phase of the competition. Since the resumption, his scores have been: 15, 21, 7, 15 n.o., 6, and 13. There was a lot of interest among the members of the media to know when Hardik would be ready to start bowling; he didn’t bowl at all, but it was his failures with the bat that probably hurt the team more than his lack of bowling.

Captain Rohit used the word “inconsistent” to describe his team’s performance, perhaps referring to the sporadic rather than regular shows of excellence from his team members. He also pointed out that a few injuries unsettled the team combination when the team re-gathered for the second leg.

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