We are approaching the halfway point of the Indian Premier League and so far this year's tournament has defied expectations in more ways than one.
Two new franchises, young captains and fresh squads have made for some exhilarating cricket. Some of it great, some of it forgettable.
Young guns shine
Dewald Brevis and Tilak Varma of Mumbai Indians, Ayush Badoni and Ravi Bishnoi of Lucknow Super Giants and Umran Malik of Sunrisers Hyderabad are some of the youngsters who have made a lasting impression.
Brevis, just 18, has already been anointed the next AB de Villiers, while Badoni – who had been discarded by his state Delhi for many years – has surprised everyone with his stroke play despite a diminutive frame. Fast bowler Malik has hit his stride this season after showing glimpses of his potential last year.
One exciting player waiting in the wings is Chennai Super Kings' India U19 World Cup star Rajvardhan Hangargekar. His new-ball bowling and lower-order hitting are sure to be a smash as and when it makes an appearance.
Fast and furious
There is nothing like pace. Jammu and Kashmir pacer Malik has more than enough of it. Consistently touching 95mph, Malik is easily the quickest Indian bowler on display and one of the most exciting prospects in cricket. Talk has already moved to fast-tracking him into the Indian team. When you have pace like that, time is of the essence because it rarely lasts long.
New crop of captains
A total of 10 franchises, and a fresh core of players, meant an opportunity for the next set of leaders to emerge. Hardik Pandya had a lot of pressure on him to prove his bowling fitness and effectiveness with the bat. Not only has he bowled at top speed, his batting and leadership has taken Gujarat Titans to the top of the table.
Rajasthan Royals skipper Sanju Samson, still new to the job, has handled star spinners Ravi Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal expertly. Mayank Agarwal has gone ultra aggressive at Punjab Kings, packing the line-up with power hitters. It has been a refreshing turn of events, away from some of the archaic ideas used by leadership groups in previous editions.
Mumbai emerged as the only viable option to host the league phase of the tournament – after it was decided that IPL would be confined to one location to limit exposure during Covid – as the city has three world-class venues and another in Pune nearby. As a result, matches have been played on the fastest wickets in the country, which has made for great entertainment and provided perfect preparation for the T20 World Cup later this year in Australia.
The form of five-time champions Mumbai Indians and title holders Chennai Super Kings has been shocking, albeit somewhat expected. Mumbai failed to put together even a half-decent bowling line-up during the auction, investing instead on a future partnership of Jasprit Bumrah and Jofra Archer, when he gets fit again.
Chennai have a decent line-up but injury to pace spearhead and all-rounder Deepak Chahar ruined their team balance. They decided to change their captain days before their first match, with Ravindra Jadeja taking over from MS Dhoni. Both teams are on a downward spiral and for Mumbai, especially, there seems no respite after six defeats from six games.
Who is the captain?
Talking about Chennai, who is the captain, really? On paper, it is Jadeja but during the tense moments of a chase, it is Dhoni who is still making all the calls, with Jadeja routinely stationed at the boundary ropes. Jadeja would do well to remember that the results are written next to his name. Having a greater say in the proceedings, and looking like doing it, would be welcome.
Trouble in paradise
The viewing figures for the opening two weeks of IPL 2022 has dipped alarmingly, according to reports in India. TV viewership for the first week was down 33 per cent and overall reach down 14 per cent. One of the reasons given is that this is the second IPL within a span of six months. Since people are not sitting at home following the easing of restrictions, the appetite is apparently not there yet. Whatever the reason, it will give the Indian cricket board cause for concern as the media rights for the next cycle will be up for auction soon.
Hurry up, please
T20 cricket was originally pitched as a bite-sized format that would be over in a little over three hours. Perfect for the next generation of fans. But in the IPL, the 'strategic time-outs' and poor over rates mean matches regularly take more than four hours to finish. And if we get a super over after that, rest assured the game will last for more than four-and-a-half hours. Spare a thought for fans at the venues who have to return home past midnight.