It's Kohli, by a long way! - Five Talking Points from IPL Season 9

As another edition of the Indian Premier League is consigned to history, Derek Abraham lists out five takeaways from Season 9.

Virat Kohli ended as the tournament's highest run scorer.   -  PTI

As another edition of the Indian Premier League is consigned to history, Derek Abraham lists out five takeaways from Season 9.

1) Kohli, otherworldly

First batsman to amass more than 4,000 runs in the League’s history. Most runs in a season. Most centuries in a season. Most 50-plus scores in a Twenty20 tournament anywhere in the world. A Bradmanesque average in the format this year. Outshining Chris Gayle. Going one better than AB de Villiers and, of course, a runner-up medal in the IPL. And lots more…

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These facts lend credence to Virat Kohli’s superhuman efforts. What they don’t, however, tell us is how he’s managed to do all of this. Even as he goes about redefining the very essence of batsmanship, Kohli leaves us bedazzled in the process. He leaves us with no choice but to coin verbs and adjectives to describe his efforts. Truth be told, writers have run out of superlatives. Come to think of it, what more can you say of someone after conceding that he’s better than even Sachin Tendulkar?

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Simply put, he has defied everything, from logic to the law of averages. Among the fittest athletes on the planet, Kohli has combined ambition with focus. You could say he is to cricket what Novak Djokovic is to tennis. His insatiable appetite for success, nay perfection, means only one thing: he is getting better by the day. In other words, picture abhi baaki hai!

2) Openers have a ball

More on Virat Kohli. He also leads the pack that called the shots this season: openers. Eleven of the 13 top run-getters were those walking out to bat upfront. Kohli and K. L. Rahul, David Warner and Shikhar Dhawan, Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, M. Vijay, Quinton de Kock and Aaron Finch were all consistent. AB de Villiers and Suresh Raina, the ‘odd’ ones out, batted at No. 3.

The dynamics of Twenty20 cricket have prompted teams to focus their energies on a solid foundation. The idea is to set the base by employing a sensible approach. That brand of risk-free attacking meant that at least one opener stayed on for a fair bit of time. Kohli faced a whopping 605 deliveries, Warner consumed 522, with three others accounting for more than 400 each. Batting around a settled senior pro obviously empowers the guys coming in. They know they have the licence to go for it.

3) Pacers upstage spinners

This is India. This is the IPL. This is supposed to be a spinner’s paradise. How, then, do we have pacers occupying nine out of 10 spots in the list of top wicket-takers? Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shane Watson, Dhawal Kulkarni, Mitchell McClenaghan, Mustafizur Rahman, Andre Russell, Sandeep Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Dwayne Bravo have picked up more than 15 wickets each. Leg-spinner Yuzvendra Singh Chahal occupies the No. 2 slot and Amit Mishra comes in at No. 12, but pacers have quite literally ruled the roost.

A pertinent explanation could be that they have evolved and adjusted to the demands of Twenty20. Yorkers, off-cutters, leg-cutters, slow bouncers and away-swingers are part of everyone’s repertoire. Skippers have used their pace bowlers smartly. Some have been in operation in the first 10 overs; some others have been employed in one-over bursts. The likes of Bravo have kept a tight leash on the batsmen in the death overs. To be fair, the wickets haven’t been all that spinner-friendly, but that doesn’t mean the pacers have had it easy. It’s just that they have been shrewder at overcoming multiple hurdles like flat pitches, small grounds and batsmen with big bats.

4) Captain Raina can hold his own

All these years, he was the ‘chinna thala’ of Chennai Super Kings. But as Gurunath Meiyappan’s escapades earned the League’s most successful franchise a two-year suspension, the famed jodi of M. S. Dhoni and Raina was broken. While Dhoni happened to don the ugly-looking jersey of Rising Pune Supergiants, Raina found himself at the helm of the other new team, Gujarat Lions. With Aaron Finch, Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Bravo and local boy Ravindra Jadeja for company, Raina thrived as a leader. To reach the business end of a tournament like the IPL is an achievement in itself; to do so with a newly-formed unit owned by a young, dashing and demanding entrepreneur is even more laudable.

In the midst of this frenzy, Raina made it a point to fly to Amsterdam for the birth of his first child. That his amazing streak — 143 consecutive appearances since the inception of the League in 2008 — came to an end was just academic.He has played the most number of games. No wonder the sobriquet ‘Mr. IPL’ suits him fine.

5) The fun is in chasing

Forty-one — that’s the number of matches won by teams chasing in this edition of the IPL. Only twice before has the League witnessed ‘chasers’ notching up 41 wins, but even that is understandable because more than 70 matches were played in those editions. This time, the number of victories for teams batting first is a paltry 19. Gujarat Lions has won an impressive eight games while batting second. That was one of the reasons why the newcomer occupied the top spot in the points table in the first half of the tournament. The corresponding number for Kolkata Knight Riders is six. Kings XI Punjab is at the bottom of the pile, with just two. At the halfway stage this year, 22 of the 30 matches were won by the team batting second. It’s obvious that teams are comfortable when they know what needs to be done to get those two points. When you bat first, it’s a case of stepping into the unknown.

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