The IPL has been packed with sizzling performances, unexpected successes and failures, topsy-turvy results, quirky characters. Five players who have caught my attention for what they’ve done so far, and what this means for their future.
In a batting line-up that features Aaron Finch, and IPL’s Jodi No.1 over the years, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers, 20-year-old Devdutt Padikkal has outshone his illustrious team-mates with his sublime touch and steely temperament.
With Kohli starting poorly and Finch not quite making the impact, Padikkal has shown admirable mettle and deep ambition. He heads the runs tally for the side (178), has the most half-centuries (3) and an impressive strike rate of 131.5.
Tall and wiry, Padikkal has a left-hander’s natural grace and style. His drives in front of the wicket are caresses, rather than hits. He also improvises without looking ugly.
Several opening batsmen have made an impact this season – KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill among them – but Padikkal’s batting has, in many ways, the most pleasing, not the least for the rich promise he holds out for Indian cricket.
The big West Indian, who had a very productive outing in the Caribbean Premier League, has been in excellent form in the IPL too. This league, more than any other, has been his calling card as a T20 specialist, and Pollard has shown why he might actually be the world’s best in this format.
His 168 runs in this IPL have come at a mind-boggling strike rate of 208.97. In two matches, the Pollard-Pandya duo put on an incredible 89 runs off the last five overs, regaling fans with towering sixes, leaving opponents with nightmares.
Apart from batting, Pollard has also been excellent in the field. He’s bowled only 9 overs so far, but these have usually come at the `death’, where he’s given his team a wicket or bowled with clever variations to slow down the scoring rate.
Standing in the deep, he’s got six catches already and at least a couple of them were spectacular.
With 281 runs Agarwal is currently third-placed in the runs aggregate, behind team-mate Rahul and CSK’s Faf du Plessis. But for his unfortunate run out on Thursday against Sunrisers, the tally could have been higher, so good has been his form.
In itself, this may not appear remarkable. Till you look at his strike rate. Agrawal ranks second among the top 10 run-getters with a rate of 162.42. Till Thursday’s match, he was no.1, till team-mate Nicholas Pooran toppled him with his blistering half-century.
Agarwal is essentially perceived as batsman best suited for the longest format. He’s excelled there too, including for India in Test cricket. But his penchant for white-ball cricket is no less, so he can’t be typecast.
He’s got a fabulous range of strokes and can change gears with remarkable ease, mixing the big shots with exquisite ones.
So far in this tournament, Agarwal has matched Rahul stroke for stroke, has shown the capacity to play shots too, and run like a hare between wickets. A clear message to the powers that be, that he can’t be easily overlooked for India’s white-ball squads.
The IPL has changed lives and destinies of so many young Indian players. Someone’s the son of a rickshaw driver, another’s father was a milkman. Among several such remarkable background stories, one involved Varun Chakavarthy, KKR’s mystery spin bowler.
His is not a heart-tugging rags-to-riches story, rather of how a cricket obsessed young man found his metier when it appeared that a career in the sport had almost passed him by.
Chakravarthy is a rookie, in only his second season in the IPL. But he is not a youngster. He is 29, and after an early sting in cricket, went on to become and practice as an architect, do a small role in a film, generally try out different things for a living before the love for cricket brought him back to the game.
This season, he’s been KKR’s best spinner, keeping international Kuldeep Yadav in the dugout and upstaging the redoubtable Sunil Narine. His superb control over flight, line and length – more than turn – has made accomplished batsmen look like novices.
Against CSK, Chakavarthy had the wicket of MS Dhoni, who he had watched for several seasons from the stands at Chepauk, to turn the match irrevocably in his team’s favour. He is now regarded as KKR’s trump card.
The history of sport is replete with stories of players coming from nowhere and making it big. If he goes the full distance, Chakravarthy’s will be among the more remarkable.
Against RCB, Ravichandran Ashwin found Aaron Finch backing up too far at the non-striker’s end but did not run him out. This was a dramatic departure from his stated position that such erring batsmen should be punished without warning.
In the previous season, Ashwin, then captaining King’s XI, had created an international furore when, in his delivery stride, he ran out Jos Butler for backing up too far. Conservatives were distraught at Ashwin’s rebuke of the `spirit of cricket’, but the feisty offspinner stood his ground, in fact arguing he would do it again.
Before this season began, it became known that Ashwin, and Ricky Ponting, coach of his new team Delhi Capitals, differed on the issue. Ponting though the batsman deserved a warning, Ashwin was clear that the law said otherwise, and he would stick to that.
So what stopped Ashwin from making Finch his victim in the match against RCB?
It could be that because Finch was his former team-mate at Punjab, Ashwin less stringent, though that runs contrary to his firmly-held conviction and competitive nature.
What is more likely is that in abstaining from effecting the run out, Ashwin highlighted to his coach and the world that batsmen were guilty of such misdemeanor – intended or not – far more than understood.
If the law is clear on the issue, why the endless debate, Ashwin seems to be asking. If reports are to be believed, coach Ponting is seeing merit in this argument too. He wants to propose to the ICC that the batting side to be docked a run (or more) for this offence.
Meanwhile Ashwin, who recovered swiftly from a shoulder injury and is bowling with great craft, has said that that next time he will not spare an erring non-striker.