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With 2 wins and 2 losses, Kolkata Knight Riders haven’t really had a poor start to the season. Except for Delhi Capitals and Mumbai Indians, most of the teams have been in the similar bracket. The biggest problem for KKR though has been their lack of clarity with the batting order. The last game against DC which they lost by 18 runs showed how far they were off in terms of their batting order.

For KKR right now the in form batters are Shubman Gill, Eoin Morgan and Nitish Rana. The fact that Eoin Morgan comes so late in the order after an awfully out of form captain Dinesh Karthik is way beyond comprehension. The experiment with Sunil Narine isn’t working either. KKR used Narine as an opener in India where he provided them with some good starts but again he isn’t doing much in this season for them. There needs to be a point when they need to go for more conventional batting order. Shubman Gill has been in good form but has been losing his partner way too early in every game.

Dinesh Karthik who has been in poor form can open and so could Rahul Tripati who batted at number 8 last game. Eoin Morgan needs to bat at number 4 or 5 for KKR. Him batting at 6 and coming in once the game is already beyond their reach does not make sense. Andre Russell has always been a floater in KKR order and he can continue to do so. The team management and the captain need to make sure they come up with a working batting order which will consistently give them runs. Probably opening the batting is what Dinesh Karthik needs as he hasn’t done anything down the order so far. Him opening means Nitish Rana can bat at number 3 followed by Eoin Morgan, Andre Russell and Rahul Tripati.

The above order actually makes more sense in terms of achieving more consistency in the run scoring. Rahul Tripati and Eoin Morgan scored 80 runs of just 34 balls in the game against DC, so using them so low down the order is criminal. KKR have a good team, but it does seems like they are rigid in their way of thinking and do not want to make changes which will help them to be more consistent in the tournament. Sunil Narine has done brilliantly for them at the start of the innings in the past but again this does not seem to be the season for him. It will be interesting to see if the team management will ring in the right changes in this all important game against a rejuvenated Chennai Super Kings.

My batting order:

Shubman Gill, Rahul Tripati, Nitish Rana, Eoin Morgan, Dinesh Karthik (WK & Capt), Andre Russell, Sunil Narine, Pat Cummins, Shivam Mavi, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Varun Chakravarthy

Delhi have been part of IPL since it’s inception in 2008. While they started off with a good first season reaching the play-offs, Delhi Daredevils as they were called then weren’t able to crack the code. They had a very good squad but again for some reason they never gelled as a team to put together one cohesive performance to win the title. Their performances went from bad to worse as the seasons went on and it seemed like DD would never rise from the mediocrity they had pushed themselves into.

In 2018 though everything changed for the team from Delhi. The first thing that happened is that the team rebranded themselves as Delhi Capitals. Obviously the name change alone cannot change the fortunes of a struggling side, they also needed to change their thinking and attitude. Making young Shreyas Iyer the captain of the franchise was the next step which the franchise took that year. Iyer who after being mysteriously dropped from the national side needed something to prove his credentials as one of the bright young players in the country. DC also signed up Australian Ricky Ponting as the head coach of the team in the same year.

The franchise went with young players from India and also signed up some good international players. They did not invest on stars but invested on players who would provide the team with good balance. While DC showed glimpses of good performances over the past couple of seasons they seemed to have finally matured into a good side this season. The best thing about Delhi Capitals this year has been the balance they have in the squad. The addition of Marcus Stoinis this season has been a master stroke as the Australian has been in tremendous form.

Kagiso Rabada is once again having a fantastic season ably supported by his fellow country man Anrich Nortje. They also snapped up Ravichandran Ashwin in a trade off with KXIP and that has added an additional spin option with loads of experience internationally and in this league. They are also one of the few franchises who have a settled and solid opening pair. Even though Shikhar Dhawan hasn’t lit up the tournament yet, Prithvi Shaw has been phenomenal. Shreyas Iyer as usual has been brilliant and Rishabh Pant has done well in the limited chances he has got. This solid top 4 is followed by Stoinis and Shimron Hetmyer. They also have Alex Carey and Ajinkya Rahane sitting in the bench in case they need to change things up. They also have Daniel Sams, Ishant Sharma and Kemo Paul as the pace bowling options if they decide to rest any of the main bowlers later in the season. Young Sandeep Lamichhane is available for DC as well if they would like to experiment.

DC have shown great awareness and planning over the last few years to build a very strong squad. They are probably the only team who have great options for every position who are equally good. The signing of Ajinkya Rahane and Ravi Ashwin over the past couple of seasons shows us that. They like to have solid back ups and that provides them immense confidence to pick any XI they want without compromising the quality of their XI. For example when Ashwin got injured, Amit Mishra seamlessly stepped in and now when the latter is not available Ashwin has come in an delivered.

While they do have an excellent team and have started the season brilliantly, they would want to guard against complacency. It is important to keep performing at a high level through a gruelling tournament to reach the play-offs first and then to actually win the title. Delhi Capitals would know that well begun is half done but they did the same last year as well. Ricky Ponting and Shreyas Iyer will know that they cannot drop the intensity at anytime in this tournament. They do have a great team this season and it will be a shame if they cannot go all the way this time.

CSK’s start to this season of the IPL has been erratic so far. A fantastic win against Mumbai Indians were followed by two insipid performances against Delhi Capitals and Rajasthan Royals. The biggest issue for the men in yellow has been their batting order. The openers have struggled to provide good starts and Ambati Rayudu missing out after a brilliant 70 odd hasn’t helped the combination either.

CSK will be playing SRH tonight who themselves have been struggling with their team combination at the start of the tournament. The only difference between the two sides is that SRH are coming off a morale boosting win while CSK have been beaten in their last couple of games. CSK management would have to make some tough calls with team selection to arrest the slide and to get back on track.

The first step towards the same would be to drop Murali Vijay from the XI. Vijay has done exceedingly well for CSK in the past but he is currently looking listless and isn’t contributing with the bat or in the field. Ruturaj Gaikwad who has been wasted down the order can open with Shane Watson pushing Ambati Rayudu and Faf Du Plessis to number 3 and 4 in the order. Kedar Jadhav and MS Dhoni forming the top 6 forming a more solid batting order.

If fit Dwayne Bravo can come in at number 7 following by Jadeja at 8 and Sam Curran at 9. Sam Curran can be a floater as he has been at the start of the tournament for CSK. Deepak Chahar and Piyush Chawla would be taking up the remaining spots. This would give CSK great balance with three all-rounders and two genuine bowlers in the line up. Dwayne Bravo’s selection though might not be straight forward though. There is very good chance that Josh Hazlewood or Imran Tahir might make the XI. Based on who is selected one of Piyush Chawla and Shardul Thakur also might make the XI

There are a few selection headaches for the CSK management when they sit down to select the playing XI for tonight. With losses in the last couple of games CSK need a quick turnaround and another loss would set their campaign way back. There are lots of issues with the CSK squad this season and they do not have too many options to replace the injured players. They would need to be creative with their options would need to make most of the players they have.

My CSK XI:

Shane Watson, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Ambati Rayudu, Faf Du Plessis, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni (Capt & WK), Dwayne Bravo/Josh Hazlewood, Sam Curran, Ravindra Jadeja, Piyush Chawla, Deepak Chahar

Just about a year or so ago, Jasprit Bumrah was bowling like a dream in all formats of the game. The thing which has always been unique about Bumrah is his control in all formats and the way he adapts to different formats easily unlike few other bowlers around the world. He had a brilliant tour to South Africa followed by another brilliant one in England and Australia. All this culminated into that dream series against West Indies where he absolutely demolished the hosts in the 2 Tests he played. He was swinging the ball both ways and caught the host batters napping in both the Tests.

Right after the series the stress fracture happened. The fracture was minor and luckily did not involve surgery. He had a break for few months and was back for the series against Australia in January of 2020. Bumrah struggled in that series for rhythm. He not only was expensive but was also unable to take wickets. While that series may be attributed to him being rusty for missing in action for few months the following series in New Zealand followed similar pattern.

He struggled in the first couple of T20Is but did pull it back with some good spells later in the series. The following ODI series was disastrous for India and Bumrah as the latter struggled for control and wickets once again. Even in the Test series which followed Bumrah’s lack of wickets was one of the reasons India struggled against New Zealand batting. Bumrah finished with 6 wickets at an average of 31 which was below par for his standards. Even though there hasn’t been much cricket played this year due to COVID19, it has been probably the worst year for Bumrah in terms of returns.

In 6 ODIs he played this year he averaged 287 with just 1 wicket. In T20Is he did well with 8 wickets at 20 but in Tests he took 6 wickets in 4 inning for 32. While IPL isn’t the standard we normally would want to measure a player, Bumrah has been a stalwart in this tournament and his start to the season further proves that he is still struggling for rhythm. He has gone for runs in all games he has played and has struggled to bowl yorkers like he used to do before the injury.

His lengths has been all over the place and the way he fed short deliveries to AB De Villiers to be hit for sixes is something you don’t see with Bumrah ever. India tour Australia later this year and Bumrah is a crucial bowler for for the former if they want to repeat their 2018 success. The only reason India won in 2018 was because of the sustained pressure created by the pace bowlers. Bumrah was brilliant in that series bowling at high pace and accuracy. This year Australia will be stronger with the return of Steven Smith and David Warner and the Indian pace attack will have their task cut out.

Ishant Sharma has just returned from an injury and Jasprit Bumrah is still searching for his rhythm. Mohammad Shami has been the only Indian pacer who has looked in fine form in this IPL. Jasprit Bumrah is once in a generation talent and is a bowler who will be winning India lots of games in the future but again the team management should make sure he is in the right headspace. He is being captained by Rohit Sharma and I hope he and MI camp are doing everything to get his confidence back. As an Indian fan I will be watching all the games MI play just to see Bumrah’s bowling as I know that his form is crucial for India in the Test championship and also for the T20 WC next year.

Two matches and two losses is what Sun Risers Hyderabad’s resume reads in this season of IPL. In a tournament where teams are breaching 200 for fun SRH have scores of 153 and 142/4 in the two games they have batted so far. SRH have never been a batting team, far from it. They rely a lot on their bowling attack to bail them from shoddy batting displays. Their batting heavily relies on David Warner to score runs. The Australian has seldom disappointed as he has basically carried a weak batting lineup to a title win in 2016.

Jonny Bairstow since joining the franchise has been another great addition to the top order and has done exceedingly well in the games he has played. But after that the SRH batting barring Manish Pandey lacks any sort of punch. Multiple times last season we saw how their batting crumbled after Jonny Bairstow got out. Kane Williamson who does not find a place in the XI probably needs to get a look in to bolster a struggling top order.

SRH bowlers have always been their strength and they do operate in a certain way. The IPL mainly takes place during the summer in India and the slow/rough wickets back home is perfect for the SRH bowlers. Their bowling attack relies a lot on Rashid Khan and the seamers. Bowlers like Sid Kaul who rely a lot on cutters and slower ones are difficult to get away on wickets in India during the summer time. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Sandeep Sharma give them the breakthrough with the new ball and the spinners led by Rashid Khan choke the opposition in the middle overs.

This has always been their plan in the IPL and they have been fairly successful in their strategy over the years. The big problem for SRH is the pitches in UAE at least at the start of the season. The wickets have been flat with true bounce and batters who can it big have ruled the roost. The fact that captain David Warner hasn’t hit the straps yet has caused SRH to struggle with the run rate. Bairstow has had one good innings but again once he got out like in the 2019 season the SRH batting crumbled.

SRH bowlers need to get back into the groove and quickly assess the conditions and length which will work on them for SRH to come back into the season. They also need to get Kane Williamson in to the XI at number 3. Manish Pandey will bat at number 4 followed by Mohammad Nabi or Vijay Shankar. Wriddhiman Saha in the middle order does not provide any value to SRH and they would benefit from someone who can go after the bowling in that position.

Losing Mitchell Marsh in the first game of the tournament is not the kind of start SRH would have hoped for but again they need to look past that. They have an okay squad and they need to make the most of it. Their bowling attack needs to adjust to the UAE wickets and provide their batter the backing they so wonderfully do back in India. Today’s game isn’t going to be easy as Delhi Capitals are one of the best teams of the tournament but again SRH will be hoping for the openers to get going to help the bowlers with a target they can defend.

SRH XI for tonight’s game:

Jonny Bairstow (Wk), David Warner (C), Kane Williamson, Manish Pandey, Mohammad Nabi, Vijay Shankar, Priyam Garg, Rashid Khan, Abhishek Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Sandeep Sharma/Basil Thampi

Five years and four T20I games is all Sanju Samson has to show for in his international career. A talented Wicket Keeping batter from Kerala, Sanju first got his chance as a 20 year old in Zimbabwe. He did not cover himself with glory there but again it was understandable due it being his first series as an Indian national. He then went on to give some stellar performances in IPL for Rajasthan Royals which forced the selectors to give him another chance in the New Zealand tour earlier this year.

Samson got just 2 games in the series and he wasn’t successful in the two outings against New Zealand. The biggest problem though is that though is four chances over 5 years isn’t much for a young player. Sanju Samson is a gifted hitter and an amazing talent who also gives you an added advantage of being a wicket-keeper as well. He has been amazing in the IPL for multiple seasons and has once again begun the 2020 season in stellar fashion.

The Indian selectors and team management haven’t shown any patience with young players in the XI over the past few years. Different players have different yardsticks and the selection has been unfair on certain domestic talents. Karun Nair’s name comes into mind immediately. Only in India we would see a player whose last innings was a 300 and does not play in a Test XI for 4 years. Manish Pandey is another player whose career has been mismanaged. People talking about his slow batting in ODIs etc need to understand that he is a brilliant player and a fielder and should be part of Indian plans for all formats of the game.

Sanju Samson falls under same category. As an amazingly gifted batter he needs to be given a long rope in limited overs formats. His FC average of 37 isn’t that great but he is just 25 and I am sure he will make amends on that too before he ends his career. While India’s T20 team has been struggling for hitters over the past few years it is strange to see them ignore such talents at the highest level.

India’s current LO wicket keeper is Rishabh Pant. While Pant himself is an incredible talent his performance in LO formats hasn’t been very consistent. He for sure has earned his stripes as a Test player with hundreds on first tours to Australia and England but that hasn’t translated to LO performances. In 39 innings so far in LO format Pant averages 23. He made his debut in 2018 and has already played 44 games. There is nothing wrong in backing a player like Rishabh Pant but again other players need to be extended the same opportunities. The chances and selections need to fair. This is where Sanju Samson hasn’t been backed by the management yet.

Shreyas Iyer went through the same but again the Delhi Capitals captain made a stunning comeback after the world cup and has cemented his place in the LO teams. The Indian fans are already calling for Shubman Gill, Ruturaj Gaikwad and Devdutt Padikkal to be picked for the National team but again we need to make sure we do not ignore an entire generation of talent for the future. Sanju Samson needs to be given a fair go and I hope the selectors/team management take cognizance of that. It is all good to have great talent at the domestic level but if they aren’t utilised it does not mean much.

DC’s first game against KXIP despite their win followed a similar pattern to the 2019 season. Their top order collapsed leaving too much to do for the middle order. DC’s inconsistencies throughout 2019 was due to the fact that their batters did not put in cohesive performances through the season. Shikhar Dhawan at the top had a brilliant season with over 500 runs but his partner Prithvi Shaw had a shocker. Colin Ingram, Sherfane Rutherford and Colin Munro struggled in the chances they received.

The pressure on Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant was enormous and both came out with a decent 400+ runs last season. Even though Iyer and Pant tried their best their batting collapses were too often for them to make a difference. Despite having 3 batters in 400+ list DC failed to make an impact. In the first game of the season Delhi Capitals once again found themselves in the familiar territory. The top order failed leaving again captain Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant to perform the rescue act. Delhi almost faltered but a freak innings from all-rounder Marcus Stoinis rescued them from being bowled out within their allotted 20 overs.

The personnel have changed but the problem remains. Shikhar Dhawan can have a few failures and he is not the problem, Prithvi Shaw is. The Indian Test opener had a average season last year with an average of only 22. DC will benefit from good starts in few games at the top which was few and far between last season. DC will also want more from Shimron Hetmyer at number 3 and will be hoping that the West Indian will come into some sort of form for them in the rest of the season. Marcus Stoinis looks in tremendous form with the bat but innings like the one he played in the first game does not occur regularly.

Delhi Capitals still have Alex Carey in their squad who was in amazing form in the recently concluded ODI series in England. Ajinkya Rahane is in their squad as well but I am not sure he is the right fit for DC at the moment. I don’t think there is a need to panic for DC just yet after just one game but again they will be keeping an eye out on the batters. Making the right calls at the right time is crucial in the tournament like IPL as a downward spiral can make the tournament feel really long.

Delhi Capitals have a very strong squad and with right personnel in the playing XI, they will be strong contenders for the title.

Kings XI Punjab had a heartbreaking loss in their first game again Delhi Capitals. They were in control of the game for most of their bowling innings before Marcus Stoinis broke loose. While batting as well they started well but the middle order crumbled before Mayank Agarwal played a stellar knock to almost get them to a win.

KXIP went in to the first game without Chris Gayle. Gayle who calls himself the “Universe Boss” is obviously a legend in this format. An opener who could destroy any bowling attack on his day. The problem for KXIP though is that Gayle is always a hit or miss type of player. To be fair to the West Indian, he has had two back to back good seasons in IPL. He was second highest run getter behind KL Rahul in 2019 and his average of 40 was at a very high SR of 153. Gayle though hasn’t played any competitive cricket for a while and isn’t one of the quickest movers on the field either. Gayle is someone who hits big but again he also has a tendency to get stuck if things aren’t going good for him. He isn’t the greatest of fielders and I don’t think he prefers to bowl anymore. This means that KXIP by including him will be taking a huge chance.

Their choice of Nicholas Pooran for the first game did not go according to plan which might make them speculate for sure ahead of their clash against Royal Challengers Bangalore. It would be unfair on Nicholas Pooran though as he is no mug with the bat either in this format. He did have a poor game but again he does deserve another chance. KXIP also will be mulling over the inclusion of Mujeeb ur Rahman after Chris Jordan went for 30 runs in the last over of their game against DC. Sheldon Cottrell had a very good game with the ball thereby retaining his spot in the XI.

Karun Nair is another batter who will be under the scanner. He played a poor shot to the first ball he faced of Ravi Ashwin and kind of caused a mini collapse after KL Rahul had just gotten out. There is an option of Deepak Hooda or Mandeep Singh who are waiting in the wings for that middle order spot. KXIP also have the all-round option of Jimmy Neesham who provides them with a seam bowling option along with his batting ability off course.

While there is a lot for KXIP to ponder the primary discussion will be around the inclusion of Chris Gayle in the XI. The first game wasn’t as terrible as it seems. They could have gotten over the line if few things went their way and if their lower order did not panic. So possibly the franchise might still go ahead with the same XI giving all the players another opportunity to succeed. It makes sense as well as you don’t want to drop players based on one performance considering most of them haven’t played any cricket for months.

It will be interesting though to see if KXIP will avoid the temptation of tinkering with the XI. RCB are a very confident team with a great squad this season and it will not be easy to defeat them. The team from Punjab though boast of a very good bowling attack and they will be hoping for the batters to step up. Today will be a great game and all the eyes will be on the Kings XI team management as to what decision they would take in terms of the final playing XI.

When Suresh Raina decided to leave at the start of this season everyone expected CSK’s gameplan to take a hit. They were carrying two out of form openers and a bunch of rusty middle order bats. Raina who adds a great dimension to the CSK batting order has left a huge hole which I don’t think the team management were prepared for.

For some weird reason in the last years auction CSK went after bowlers but did not invest much on the batting front. The opening combination especially is pretty dicey for CSK. Murali Vijay who was once an explosive and consistent opener for CSK is just a shadow of the batsman he once was. His confidence seems to be non existent and that showed even during his fielding in the first game against Mumbai Indians. Shane Watson who was CSK’s star in their win in 2018 hasn’t been playing competitive cricket for a while now and that has shown in his form over the last couple of seasons.

This puts enormous pressure on Ambati Rayudu and Faf Du Plessis as the starts haven’t been what they would need for a T20 game. When Rayudu missed the game against RR due to injury CSK’s batting woes came into view for everyone to see. Ruturaj Gaikwad got a chance but we cannot be hard on the youngster after just one game. CSK would need to think about Murali Vijay’s role in the team. He has been poor in the field and has struggled to get going with the bat which means they would have to take a quick call once Rayudu comes back.

The problem for the men in yellow is that they do not have too many options in the squad. This leaves pretty less room for experimentation for the team management. The lack of batting options mean that CSK need to try and promote Ruturaj Gaikwad to open the batting alongside Shane Watson. This would also mean that Rayudu and Faf can play in their respective positions. Kedar Jadhav and MS Dhoni need to improve fast and soon in the middle order and they need to hope that Sam Curran continues to be excellent like he has been so far for the franchise.

The other major change CSK will be looking at is replacing Lungi Ngidi. The big South African made a great comeback in the first game but hasn’t been consistent enough. Josh Hazlewood can be given a chance in the upcoming games or even Shardul Thakur can get a look in which can allow CSK to play Dwayne Bravo or Imran Tahir based on the wicket for the upcoming games. Lots of things for the Stephen Fleming and co to think about ahead of their next game. The lack of batting options is something which might come back to bite them later in the season. For now moving around a few players is all they can do hoping that will be enough to get through this season.

Steven Smith led Rajasthan Royals have been the perennial underdogs of the Indian Premier League. This tag has stuck with them despite their title win in 2008 against all odds with a team which had no superstars besides their inspirational captain Shane Warne. The team which Shane Warne took to victory had Indian cricket’s future and players from around the world who were trying to make a mark or comeback. RR was the home for Shane Watson, Ajinkya Rahane and Ravindra Jadeja, who went to become great international success.

The situation though is different now with RR as they boast of some influential international superstars. Steven Smith, their captain is considered one of the best players in the world. Jos Buttler is one of the most feared bat in the limited overs format and they also boast of arguably the best all-rounder in the world Ben Stokes in their ranks. Jofra Archer who is one of the most exciting talents in the world also lifts their bowling attack. Despite having such international superstars in their mix, the one thing the RR camp lacks is the presence of an Indian superstar.

They do have some excellent Indian players this season though. Sanju Samson has been their main stay but again Robin Uthappa’s inclusion means they don’t have to worry about opening problems. They also have the brilliant Shreyas Gopal who has been brilliant for them over the last couple of seasons. It does seem like the team management had put in lots of thought in assembling a good squad this season. Even though Rajasthan Royals never come in discussions when favourites for winning the title are discussed, they may well be the team to look out for this season.

They did struggle after their internationals disappeared last year but with the possibility of everyone being available for the full tournament they are a team who need to be considered as true contenders. They have a squad this time which for sure can rise above the underdogs tag and can give the more popular teams run for the money. They have good balance of youth and experience in the squad and a good mix of Indian and foreign players

My RR XI for tonight:

Robin Uthappa, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Sanju Samson (WK), Steven Smith (C) (O), Mahipal Lormor, David Miller (O), Manan Vohra, Riyan Parag, Shreyas Gopal, Jofra Archer (O), Varun Aaron, Jaydev Unadkat, Tom Curran

The above XI gives a good balanced look. In the absence of Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler for the first game Rajasthan Royals need to be little creative. David Miller comes into the middle order and they would need to pick between Tom Curran and Oshane Thomas in the pace bowling department. They have some good Indian pacers like Ankit Rajpoot and Kartik Tyagi who can come into the mix as well. Young Yashasvi Jaiswal will be a exciting player to watch this season. He was brilliant in the U19 WC and it will be interesting to see how he copes with the pressures of the IPL. So quite a lot of options for Steven Smith to choose from and it is a happy headache to have for a captain. RR will be looking to start well in a tough tournament. There aren’t any weak teams this time and all squads look well balanced. We have already have 3 close games to start the season and tonight promises to be yet another cracker.


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