Kieran Parmley looks at the key trends and tactics from the opening week of the 2022 tournament.
Powerplay Batting Trouble
The off season saw plenty of changes in the IPL landscape, with the addition of Gujarat Titans and Lucknow Super Giants increasing the number of teams to 10, with a ‘mega’ auction spicing up the playing staff we’ve been accustomed to in recent seasons. And yet, it’s the shift from venues in the UAE, to venues in Mumbai and Pune, that’s been the most notable change during the opening week of the 2022 IPL season.
The conditions we’ve seen in Mumbai and Pune have been favourable for the fast bowlers early on during night games, typified by Umesh Yadav’s opening bursts in his first two matches, with the right arm quick elevated from the bench to become a starter for KKR. He registered back-to-back three-over Powerplay figures of 2-12 against Chennai Super Kings and Royal Challengers Bangalore, leaving them 36-3 and 35-2 at the end of the Powerplay.
These lower Powerplay scores continued until Rajasthan Royals put up 58-0 against Sunrisers Hyderabad, despite a fine new ball spell from Bhuvneshwar Kumar which had Jos Buttler in all sorts of trouble. Sunrisers skipper Kane Williamson decided to remove his star pace bowler from the attack after two overs, as opposed to giving him a third over, a defensive move which has somewhat been the norm for opening bowlers so far.
Captains attacking(or not, in the case of SRH) with the new ball is just one side of this dilemma – the other is the response from batting teams that we could see during the second week, will they look to continue to attack throughout the Powerplay, risking an early collapse?
Or instead play out the Powerplay and back themselves to make up the deficit in the remaining overs?
Perhaps a blend of the two, by using pinch hitters and ‘saving’ their premium batting resources for more favourable conditions considering opening batters have been beaten playing defensive strokes inside the Powerplay?
There’s plenty for IPL think-tanks to mull over.
Rajasthan Royals: Depth v Quality
Sanju Samson’s side handed out seven caps to debutants in their opening game, with only Samson himself, Jos Buttler, Yashashvi Jaiswal and Riyan Parag remaining from last season. The Royals were one of the more fascinating ‘rebuilds’ during the auction, top quality players almost regardless of role. It could be argued that this wasn’t a plan going into the auction, with boys in pink falling short in bidding wars for Jason Holder and for Romario Shepherd, in a late attempt to balance their lineup.
Going into the first match, Rajasthan looked a little short in both batting and bowling depth, with Riyan Parag and Nathan Coulter-Nile occupying the No.6/No.7 position. However, their gameplan went exactly as planned; their top five batters faced 109 of the 120 deliveries, and Nathan Coulter-Nile bowling his first ball with Sunrisers already 14/3 in pursuit of 211.
Whether their success in recruiting guys like Hetmyer, Ashwin, Boult and Chahal outweighs their lack of depth and balance in the side is something to keep an eye on as the season develops, particularly with the injury status of Coulter-Nile.
An IPL debut for Gujarat Titans and Lucknow Super Giants also saw Hardik Pandya’s first game as a captain in the tournament, having severed ties with Mumbai after 2021 and joining the new franchise as skipper. Hardik’s Titans started with a victory, but it wasn’t without some early question marks over his captaincy – the decision to delay both Rashid Khan and Lockie Ferguson with the ball, as well as holding back a fourth over of Mohammad Shami, was an interesting one considering the Titans had LSG on the back foot at 29/4. India’s ‘rockstar’ all-rounder will have to develop his captaincy style, and that may be moving into a more attacking mould as the season progresses, but this call was conservative, introducing himself to the attack and returning figures of 0-37.
Hardik’s team swap also saw a new batting position for him, coming in at No.4 with his side suffering from two early wickets during their run chase – his entry point, 2.02, was his earliest in an IPL match since April 2016 against Gujarat Lions, a real change in role from that of a finisher he occupies in the India side and took up throughout his spell at Mumbai.
Hardik is going to have to refine his game to find success in the No.4 role pushing forward considering the heavy amount of spin he’s likely to face – only twice has Hardik faced more than 50 balls of spin in an IPL season, but his overall record against spin in the IPL suggests there is enough talent there for him to succeed in the role given time – an average of 35 with a strike rate of 132 is a good base to work from.
Adding captaincy skill, returning with the ball and a new batting role to Hardik’s armoury is only likely to elevate his status as one of India’s premium all-rounders in the shortest format – whether or not he’s able succeed at all three aspects across an IPL season is another matter.
RCB’s DK Rehab
Dinesh Karthik’s stock heading into the 2022 mega auction was pretty low – across the two IPL seasons prior, the senior wicketkeeper was averaging just 17 with a middling 129 strike rate. However, the 36-year-old was potentially one of the best pickups during the auction, with RCB snapping him up for 5.5 crore to cover for both their lack of a domestic wicketkeeper, which plagued them throughout the last auction cycle, as well as the retirement of AB de Villiers, who left a gaping hole at the backend of their batting lineup.
In RCB’s opening two games, Karthik has batted exclusively at the death, the phase which suits his funky finishing game against pace, with entry points of 17.02 and 16.02. The first game saw Dinesh Karthik score a quickfire 32* from just 14 deliveries to elevate RCB to 205/2 batting first, the second match was perhaps more interesting with Karthik held back until the end despite RCB suffering from a top order collapse, with the threat of Sunil Narine and RCB’s flurry of all-rounders allowing them the flexibility to drop one of their senior batters down the order to see off the end of a tight chase, hitting six, four off Andre Russell’s final over to give RCB their first victory of the campaign.
DK may not be AB, but he’s doing his best to try and fill the void left by him, and is very much aided by the way RCB have used him so far. This could be the redemption arc of one of India’s finest finishers and who knows – he could even be pushing his case for a return to India’s T20I squad come the end of the 2022 campaign.
Punjab Lay Down a Marker
Punjab Kings were a side with a clear philosophy when it came to purchasing their side at the mega auction, with more of an emphasis on batting than bowling. Their batting heavy team combination, with Odean Smith occupying the No.7 spot, exposed their weakness with the ball in their opening game after conceding 205 to RCB but they more than made up for it with the bat, chasing a lofty target with an over to spare.
The way they went about their chase was also telling, with none of their batters passing the 50 run mark but five of the top seven all posting 20+ scores – a clear emphasis on high octane batting with little value on wicket preservation, and considering the type of players they’ve recruited, this philosophy that is likely to be sustained even when Punjab Kings are asked to put a total on the board, although that could be risky considering the conditions we’ve seen so far in the tournament.
Punjab Kings also have Jonny Bairstow to add to their batting lineup to further emphasise this highly aggressive batting approach, although Bhanuka Rajapaksa, the man likely to drop out, can feel hard done by after his brutal 43 off 22 in the season opener, including 22 off 11 against compatriot Wanindu Hasaranaga – Rajapaksa dropping out also reduces the number of left-handers in their lineup, perhaps a slight concern for those in the Punjab Kings think-tank.
Will this be a sustainable batting approach, even when batting first? Will their bowling cost them eventually? Those are questions yet to be answered but for now, Punjab Kings at least have the ‘fun’ tag when it comes to IPL teams this season.