In the Indian Premier League (IPL), at the end of each edition, there is an award for the Most Valuable Player (MVP) – this considers the performances of players across the entire season. There is, of course, also a Player of the Match named at the final which is the case across all competitive cricket matches.
An IPL season can be divided into two parts: the league stage and the playoffs – both consisting of drastically different number of matches. While there were 56 scheduled league matches in nine out of the 12 seasons, there were as many as 70 such games in 2011 and 72 in 2012 and 2013.
The playoffs, on the other hand, followed a semi-finals and final system in the first three seasons – albeit in 2010, there was also a third-place playoff which served as a qualification match for the Champions League T20. From 2011, there has been a consistent system in place with two qualifiers, an eliminator and a final – this arrangement rewards performances during the league stage of the competition as teams finishing among the top two get two shots at reaching the final.
As the playoffs consist of so few matches compared to the league stage, the IPL MVP almost always tends to be the best player from the league stage. Here, we conceptualise an MVP for only the playoff stage of each season. This is, in a way, inspired by the National Basketball Association (NBA) having a finals’ MVP. You might say that is equivalent to the Player of the Match award in an IPL final, but it must be considered that the NBA finals is a best-of-seven series and doesn’t consist of only one match. Hence, this exercise to find out the best player during the crunch stage of each IPL season so far.
In Part 1, we have a look at the first six seasons of the IPL.
2008 – Yusuf Pathan
Despite entering the first edition of the IPL as underdogs, the Rajasthan Royals were sensational – losing just three matches across the season before being crowned champions. One of the key reasons behind this extraordinary success story was Australian allrounder Shane Watson who was deservingly named the first-ever IPL MVP at the end of the tournament.
Watson put up some exceptional performances during the knockout stages too. In the semi-final, having scored a 29-ball 52 and following that up with three wickets with the ball, he was the Player of the Match in Rajasthan’s 105-run thrashing of Delhi Daredevils. In the final too, he was impressive – taking one wicket and scoring 28 with the bat.
Despite Watson’s heroics, the playoffs MVP from the first season should surely be Yusuf Pathan. Pathan played a brilliant knock in the semi-finals, scoring 45 from just 21 balls. The final, well you could just call it the ‘Yusuf Pathan final’. Against the Chennai Super Kings, he was the Royals’ most successful bowler, with bowling figures of 3/22 from his four overs.
Later, he walked into bat with Rajasthan – chasing a target of 164 – in a spot of bother at 42/3. Alongside Watson, the older Pathan brother steadied the ship and scored a half-century which played a massive part in Shane Warne’s team becoming the first-ever IPL champions.
Batting: Innings – 2, Runs – 101, Strike Rate – 168.3
Bowling: Innings – 1, Wickets – 3, Economy Rate – 5.5
2009 – Andrew Symonds
Adam Gilchrist and Ryan Harris put in exceptional performances in the semi-finals but not in the final – the former was even named the tournament’s MVP for his batting as well as captaincy. On the other hand, Anil Kumble was named the Player of the Final despite his team Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) losing the match, but he went wicketless during the semi-finals.
That brings us to Andrew Symonds. He wasn’t named the Player of the Match in Deccan Chargers’ victory over Delhi in the semi-finals nor in their win against RCB in the final. However, he produced moments which turned out to be key turning points in both matches.
In the semi-final, after Harris had reduced Delhi to 0/2 in the first over, Virender Sehwag and Tillakaratne Dilshan were building a fine partnership. The partnership was worth over 80 runs in less than 10 overs and Delhi had gained the upper hand despite that incredible first over. That’s when Symonds made a telling impact, by taking the big wicket of Sehwag which helped Deccan in containing the run rate. During the run-chase, the Australian allrounder made a 15-ball 24 when the match was more or less already sealed in his team’s favour.
In the final, Deccan were struggling when Symonds walked out to bat. The score read 18/2 and it was already the fourth over. It was a precarious situation to walk into, but Symonds had decided that he would take the attack to the RCB bowling. In a low-scoring encounter, his 21-ball 33 was worth its weight in gold. Later in the match, RCB looked to be in the driver’s seat – 99/4 in the 15th over while chasing 144 and it was Symonds, once again, who’d turn the match on its head by dismissing Ross Taylor and Virat Kohli off consecutive deliveries. Deccan eventually won the match by six runs.
Batting: Innings – 2, Runs – 57, Strike Rate – 158.3
Bowling: Innings – 2, Wickets – 3, Economy Rate – 6.3
2010 – Muttiah Muralitharan
This was a tough one. There was Doug Bollinger who was the Player of the Semi-Final for Chennai Super Kings with outrageous bowling figures of 4/13 in the match. He followed that up with the crucial wicket of Shikhar Dhawan in the final. Despite that, he is pipped to the finishing line here by legendary spin bowler Muttiah Muralitharan.
The key reason behind selecting Muralitharan here is his economy rate. He took only one wicket in each of CSK’s knockout contests – semi-final against Deccan and final against Mumbai Indians. In the first of those games, he conceded just 16 runs from his four overs and in the grand finale, 17 runs were taken from the same number of overs.
In both of those matches, CSK were defending a total and Muralitharan played his role to perfection. He didn’t provide much room for the batsmen to attack him. Out of the 48 deliveries he bowled against Deccan and Mumbai, he was hit for only two boundaries (no sixes) and as many as 25 deliveries were dots. There were no wides and no-balls too. Those, certainly, are some impressive numbers!
Bowling: Innings – 2, Wickets – 2, Economy Rate – 4.1
2011 – Ravichandran Ashwin
IPL 2011 was the first time we got to see the now-existing playoff system used and from thereon, there was always going to be one team playing three playoff matches and another playing two such matches and still not making it to the final. Hence, there’s a good case for Munaf Patel who was then part of the Mumbai Indians. In the Eliminator, he put up a Player of the Match performance against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) with bowling figures of 3/27 before taking two wickets for as many runs against RCB in Qualifier 2 which Mumbai would go on to lose.
It’s Ravichandran Ashwin, though, who gets our vote – once again, a member of the winning team. In Qualifier 1 against RCB, Ashwin took just one wicket and conceded 33 runs from his four overs. But that wicket happened to be the one of Chris Gayle who was in stupendous form during the season and had scored 75 against CSK just a couple of days earlier.
However, it was the final – against RCB again – where Ashwin would really make his mark. Chasing a target of 206 was always going to be a tall task for the team from Bengaluru and a lot of their hopes rested on the shoulders of Gayle. After Ashwin’s success against Gayle four days earlier, he was entrusted with opening the bowling. The move worked like a dream for MS Dhoni and his team as Gayle lasted just three deliveries against the Chennai-born spinner before getting dismissed for a duck. CSK were in complete control from thereon in, with Ashwin taking two more wickets and conceding just 16 runs, and CSK won the final by 58 runs to secure their second IPL title in as many years.
Bowling: Innings – 2, Wickets – 4, Economy Rate – 6.1
2012 – Jacques Kallis
Jacques Kallis was sometimes criticised for batting too slowly in T20 cricket and a strike rate of 109.22 in the IPL definitely does indicate that he wasn’t the best at scoring runs quickly. In the 2012 IPL Qualifier 1, he managed 30 off 33 balls which in this format of the game was far from ideal. But runs are runs, and he had ensured KKR had wickets in hand when they went into the death overs where the stage was set for Yusuf Pathan.
Riding on Pathan’s unbeaten 40 from 21 deliveries, KKR managed 162/4. Kallis, perhaps the mightiest player cricket has ever seen statistically, was far from done. As was the case throughout his career, he was a top contributor in multiple aspects of the game. Here, with the ball in hand, he took two crucial Delhi wickets during the death overs to seal the deal for Kolkata.
In the final, where KKR bowled first, he had bowling figures of 1/34 from his four overs. Chasing 193 was not going to be easy and when the wicket of Gautam Gambhir fell in the first over, there was an ominous task that lay in front of Kallis who walked out to bat at three. While Manvinder Bisla was in a destructive mood, the South African great played a perfect second fiddle – scoring 69 at a healthy strike rate of 140.81. It’s fair to say that Bisla’s 48-ball 89 won KKR the final, but it was Kallis who was their best player across the two playoff matches.
Batting: Innings – 2, Runs – 99, Strike Rate – 120.7
Bowling: Innings – 2, Wickets – 3, Economy Rate – 7.3
2013 – Kieron Pollard
There were three West Indian cricketers who had good claims here. First, there was Chennai’s Dwayne Bravo who took seven wickets in two playoff matches, but in the final, he was on the expensive side – conceding 42 runs in a low-scoring match which wasn’t ideal. Then, there was Mumbai’s Dwayne Smith who scored half-centuries in both the qualifiers. Both fall just short of Kieron Pollard who was the Player of the Match in the final and made useful contributions in earlier playoff matches as well.
In Qualifier 1, Pollard took one wicket and then scored a 16-ball 24 in a Mumbai loss. But having finished in the top two in the league stage, they had another opportunity to qualify for the final. In Qualifier 2, where Mumbai would meet Rajasthan, Pollard bowled just one over but that was enough for him to account for the dismissals of Stuart Binny and Kevon Cooper. With the bat, he scored just 11, yet Mumbai won – with just one ball remaining!
While Pollard had made decent contributions in both qualifiers, it was the final in which he would bring his A-game. He came into bat at 52/4 with Mumbai behind the eight ball. In a low-scoring game, his unbeaten 60 off 32 deliveries was a phenomenal effort – take this into account, the other 10 Mumbai batsmen together managed only 83 runs from 88 balls. He took one wicket with the ball as well to cap off one of the great IPL final performances.
Batting: Innings – 3, Runs – 95, Strike Rate – 175.9
Bowling: Innings – 3, Wickets – 4, Economy Rate – 8.5