IPL reaches its final stages

The IPL (Indian Premier League) has entered its closing and pivotal stage, with four teams through, and of course only one winner to emerge.

It has been 72 games of scintillating T20 action, and with the group stage complete, the top two sides play each other in a Qualifier, before the third and fourth sides play each other in an eliminator. One side from the qualifier goes to the final, and the other finalist is determined by a second qualifier, between the loser of the first qualifier and the winner of the eliminator.

The first qualifier will be Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and The Mumbai Indians (MI). The  eliminator will be between the third and fourth places from the group stage; the Rajasthan Royals (RR) and new side Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH).

The first qualifier: CSK Vs. MI (21/05)

Firstly looking at Chennai Super Kings, they have arguably the worlds first super team. They are led by MS Dhoni with the bat, in the field and also due to image and personality in India, often from the support in the stands too.  Their batting order only gets better as it goes, with T20 giants such as Michael Hussey (their leading run scorer with 646 runs so far), Suresh Raina, Ravi Jadeja and Murali Vijay.

Undoubtedly CSK’s most valuable attribute is Dhoni’s seemingly superhuman ability to come into matches and win games from absolutely nowhere. No matter how long the chase is, he has time and time again defied belief.

Chennai also have an impressive bowling unit. This is led very well by Dwayne Bravo (25 wickets), Mohit Sharma (17 wickets) and India’s national side’s off spinner Ravi Ashwin.

Moving on to Mumbai Indians,  whose campaign has meandered, they in all honesty are rather lucky to have done so well. The Ricky Ponting – Sachin Tendulkar (Pondulkar) experiment was an abject failure, with Ponting playing just six games despite being named captain, and Sachin scoring just one fifty all tournament, yet of course being undroppable.

Mumbai are second in spite of these two, as they have been expertly pulled through by Rohit Sharma, Kieron Pollard and Dinesh Khartik, and their bowlers.

Their bowlers have really been the standout of their side, in particular their International class bowlers; Mitchell Johnson who has had a welcome return to form, Pragyan Ojha, Harbhajan Singh and of course the slinger Lasith Malinga. Collectively these four have taken 73 wickets. Nobody else has surpassed 8 wickets for them.

It would certainly be likely that Chennai would win this qualifier and book their place in the final. Of course this would mean that Mumbai would play the winner of the eliminator. Due to the scandal over Sri Lankan players being banned from playing in Chennai, the game is being played in Delhi to avoid an unfair advantage.

The eliminator is between Sunrisers Hyderabad and the Rajasthan Royals, and it will also be played in Delhi on the 22/05.

Rajasthan Royals have been rocked by a hugely damaging spot fixing scandal, in which three of their players have been arrested. Nevertheless, they find themselves in the position of potentially winning IPL 6. Rahul Dravid has been simply heroic in his leadership and batsmenship, and just about every cricket fan would love to see him triumphant.

Shane Watson, Ajinkya Rahane and Rahul himself have really shone RR. Since winning the tournament in the first year, they have been utterly uninspiring, but this year they have really found some form and momentum. Brad Hodge has been particularly dissapointing, with no fifties at all. They look strong because they are well led, but certainly lack substance.

Their bowling on the other hand is arguably a strength, but really they would require a lot more to win. Their overseas stars have been the mainstay of their success with Australian James Faulkner so far having taken 26 wickets, and West Indian Kevin Cooper 17. Beyond this there is very limited depth.

Their opposition are the Sunrisers Hyderabad. A side with the best bowler in the world, Dale Steyn and Kumar Sangakarra, amongst others have been very poor with the bat, and very good with the ball. Parthiv Patel and Shikhar Dhawan have been the outstanding players with the bat (which is very loosely used). They are without doubt a side with more bowling than batting strength.

Their entire batting has been a major dissapointment infact, with the top run scorer from the Sunrisers being ranked nearly 25th in the overall run scorers list this IPL. They are clearly a side that rely more on bowling. Sangakarra is unlikely to feature, as Cameron White will take over captaincy for the remainder. After mustering a high score of just 28, Sangakarra has been abysmal.

Dale Steyn and Amit Mishra have dominated for the Sunrisers with nearly 40 wickets combined. Thishara Perera and Ishant Sharma have also been key contributants. The Sunrisers do not have the strength of CSK in any department, but they are not as weak as Rajasthan. They have however surprised just about everyone that doubted them.

Few gave them a chance, and they have emphatically reached the top four through being one of the top bowling sides. If this predictions is correct, Chennai will make the final, and the Sunrisers will face Mumbai in the second qualifier. It wouldn’t surprise many people should Sunrisers carry momentum and defeat Mumbai in a potential second qualifier. From the start the Sunrisers have been real dark horses. Don’t write them off making it to the final and winning it.

Politics of Pietersen

An England side with KP is undeniably a better side than one without him. However, it is important to look at how and why the events that have unfolded have placed him in his current ridiculous and almost entirely self made predicament. I will look at the timeline of events in the ‘Pietersen VS ECB’ fiasco to appreciate the lunacy of the situation and explain why after reading lots of articles and watching lots of interviews. It’s the only possible outcome to see him unfortunately dropped.

The debacle began on the 31st May when Pietersen out of the blue decided to announce he has retired from ODI cricket, citing the “intensity of the schedule”. Shortly after this KP says he will carry on playing T20, which was not an option as the ECB reject this due their  policy on selection. A player must be available for both ODI and T20I in order to play either. It is totally irrelevant that this is an arbitrary and pointless policy,the fact is, that is the policy and Pietersen  thought he could take the ECB on and failed .

The second installment in this soap opera came between the 13th -18th July  when Pietersen hit a brilliant double hundred in a rare appearance for Surrey. He used this as a platform to show his talent that could be missed, but after not being named in the ECB’s provisional 30-man squad for the Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka he is devastated. He back-peddles and tries to get his foot back in the door but states he ‘would only play on the condition that scheduling issues are addressed.” He reasserts his desire to play “in all formats” and simultaneously says he wants scheduling changes which one can only assume are loaded with more retirement threats if not met. Utterly confusing and unstable for the team

Not only is this a not consistent with the ECB central contract regarding availability for all forms but is also completely incompatible. Either he wants to have a break from the schedule or he doesn’t. He can’t ask for a break and go to play more. What else could the ECB do other than say stop trying to dictate to us and assert their authority ?

Pietersen’s magnificent 200 for Surrey

Part three came between the 4th -6th August  with Pietersen’s most dynamic stunning and match saving knock of 149 on day three of the second Test match against South Africa at Headingley. Clearly still seen as stable enough to pick and comfortable enough to perform. Despite this, It was a very obvious nudge in the stomach to the selectors. ‘Pick me or you will will miss this’ kind of knock. The fact is the ECB could have already dropped him but didn’t. They were lenient and although Pietersen’ts antics were unsettling thus far, it’s clear that his talent was still more important than his silly comments and outrageous demands.

Part four  – After opening the batting in a short attempted run chase in the aftermath of his breath taking century, Pietersen gave a inexplicable interview to TMS. He hinted that he could retire from Test cricket  and ‘he could not confirm whether that innings would be his ‘last test innings’’. He voiced his anger that details of his meetings with the ECB have been leaked to the media and said issues within the dressing room need resolving. KP being abrasive and aggressive selfish and egotistical were completely centered around his own interest. He is clearly now harming the balance of the side by personalizing the fiasco, talking about the dressing room outside of the game. His hundred is one thing but his comments are another

Between the 8th-16th  August, after his ton and comments he had a rant about a parody Twitter account – @kevpietersen24. This humorous mocking incident was overshadowed by the subsequent revelation.  Texts   to members of the South African team during the Leeds Test by Pietersen had purportedly spoken ill of captain Strauss and coach Flower. Despite his talent with the bat and form he was in, it would be inexcusable to keep him in the side until the exact details of the messages were revealed and there was clarity over his England future.

KP clawed back dignity when he published a video on YouTube on the 11th of August  in which he reiterates commitment to the England team. He once more changes his mind and claims that he is now available to play for England in all three forms of the game. He also apologized for his behavior and says he must reign himself in.

Between the 12th -14th August  the apology and confirmation of commitment (which was not cleared by the ECB) still led to him being  dropped from the England squad for the third Test at Lord’s.

I know a lot of people such as Piers Morgan looked past his antics and said pick him anyway but The ECB were clear and justified with their dropping of KP. They say he was ‘unable to clarify that the text messages he sent to South African players were not disparaging about his team-mates or the ECB management’. This is a fair reason both due to upsetting other members of the dressing room and the chemistry of the side. Furthermore when the captain says he feels ‘let down’ and  the ECB say there is a ‘trust issue between Pietersen and other players’ the day before a test there is no way he can play. Regardless of his obvious natural class, Pietersen cannot find a way back.

Pietersen walking off at Headingley unknowing of the drama to unfold

Pietersen called a press conference in whcih he apologizes but essentially he had still put himself in an awful situation. The conference was largely saying how he would reveal more after the 3rd test. Little did he know by that point that  the only real option the ECB have was to drop him. He had done just about everything that a player should be dropped for. He has retired and unretired on the basis of personal gain, Slagged off players and coaches in addition to being dis loyal to England wanting to quit international cricket to play IPL.

He has said he will reign himself in. If he does then fine. Get him back. Until that he needs to cool down. I’m sure sooner or later England will need him again and this could be short lived anyway

W.I. Played well but their problems shine through

The West Indies without Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Pollard, Rampaull,  Taylor or a spinner took England at Lords, in dark cold mid may conditions to a thrilling 5 day test match. Whilst it is fantastic as an achievement baring in mind the state of the game after Strauss’s ton; it dosn’t fail to cover up three fundamental problems.

Firstly They should have a much better side and they are wasting people’s careers by being stubborn. Also They have no idea how to wrap up the game and win it and lastly they are too overly reliant on a few key players.

Firstly their side was pretty average. Top three all largely failed. Bravo is unlucky at four, Chanderpaul is the rock and Samuels is some kind of experienced but very mediocre ‘aid’ to chanderpaul. The keeper averages in the 20’s with the skipper low down in the batting.. last change in the bowling and generally a bit confused why he is even in the team let alone the skipper.

The actual team should have Gayle, SARWAN (ludicrous why he isnt in the squad), Dwayne Bravo, Pollard, Jerome Taylor, and i like the look of Bishoo, Benn or Shillingford. They needed a spinner. The fact is they say players have contractual issues.. well they really need to sort them out obviously because they are heavily suffering and gradually turning their own players off Cricket.

Secondly they are suffering from a severe lack of winning; as silly as that sounds. They have not had a consistent period where they are able to successfully win games and be really ruthless. Of course we see glimpses with Roach’s pace and Chanderpaul’s doggedness.. but i think we all know that if that side had Gayle and Pollard, Taylor and Bravo with a proper top order including Sarwan they would have a good chance of posting a 1st innings score and could actually stand a chance. Their bowlers are their strenght which is not the way to go for test match cricket. If you are going to be heavy in a department it should be in the batting like with India, not with Bowling like my sunday team who pick a team of wobbly mediums to fill in the overs then get bowled out for 70.

They need to impose themselves. Hit BIG hundreds, dominate the other team. You feel when watching them they are constantly behind and always chasing the other team. When you win the toss and bat 1st at Lords you should attack and try to win. Not.. not try to  lose or try not to lose by a big margin.

Thirdly its obvious they cannot negotiate with their last remaining genuine experienced player to move up the order. Chanderpaul is a No.5 that comes in and salvages the innings when they have pathetically slumped to 35-4. Chanderpaul and Samuels did well obviously but without Shiv (who is nearly 38 and won’t always be in form, or play for ever..) what an earth are the W.Indies going to actually do!? Surely they have to get their players back from the IPL like England did with KP.

As an England fan i am obviously happy for them to win, but i would have loved to have seen Chris Gayle and Jerome taylor play like i did a few years ago.

The standard would be raised, the entertainment would be more intense and all cricket would benefit.