IPL 2020 Review: New Season, New Stories in the Bubble
IPL 2020 has been a smashing hit, there are no 2 ways about it. Despite everything happening around the world, we could still witness Cricket’s biggest annual carnival without a hiccup. There was a different feel to the tournament with the pandemic guidelines and the absence of usual sizzle. Yet cricket took the centre stage and surely, this season lived up to the expectations. And the reason for this resounding success, because at the crux of it IPL still remains an intense contest rather than a glamour fest. Not only from the competition perspective, but this season will also serve as a benchmark for how a multi-team event should be organized successfully without any incident.
Amidst the pandemic, IPL 2020 was shifted to the Middle East following a bio-bubble model. A new norm for sports in this uncertain future. Players were restricted from wandering out and had to stay away from families for a considerable period of time. It was a different setting: no audience, no cheerleaders, no handshakes. New venues brought unfamiliar conditions and an equal disadvantage to every team. It was refreshing to see bigger grounds than the subcontinent adding to the challenge. Why should batsmen have all the fun? Ohh no, didn’t I tell you, bowlers could not use saliva on the ball for that shine and swing. Even though the event flagged off with a controversy of a few players testing positive while the others pulled out of the tournament but hey, all’s well that ends well.
The 8 teams began their season with the aspirations of the championship. The usual suspects were clear favourites heading into a new season. Apparently, the scriptwriters had something else in their mind. Everyone was in for a surprise right from the get-go. It was an unpredictable campaign for multiple teams who either shattered the presumptions or simply weren’t worth the hype. What we saw over the course of the last couple of months was definitely one of the best IPL seasons in the last few years. So much so that it saw a record-breaking 28% increase in the viewership compared to last season. Still going strong in its 13th year.
Now let’s talk about how the individual teams fared in the tournament.
Chennai Super Kings
Chennai Super Kings started with a bang but it was all downhill from that point. They were missing their star player Suresh Raina who opted out of the tournament due to COVID and family reasons. His presence would not have helped looking back at the team’s performance this season. Chennai relied on experience rather than the youth in the batting department and suffered heavily. Their bowlers could not salvage the wreck as well. Chennai looked like a team running a pension scheme with most players in their mid or late 30s. Their marquee players lost their Midas touch. Dhoni could no longer wreak havoc in the death overs. Jadeja and Bravo had a dismal season with a below-average performance by bat and ball. Let’s not even talk about Kedar Jadhav and Piyush Chawla. The saving grace was Faf du Plessis’ contribution at the top order. Nonetheless, CSK’s ship could not sail to the play-offs for the first time in franchise history.
Dhoni was apt in his last match to suggest it is time to hand over the baton to the young players. It could very well be true considering the performance by Sam Curran and Rituraj Gaikwad, especially towards the last couple of matches to salvage some pride. Deepak Chahar and Shardul Thakur weren’t prolific but could definitely take it as a learning opportunity for the next season. The young players around the circuit somehow reacted as if it was Dhoni’s last season in IPL but he silenced all the rumours by saying “Definitely Not”. CSK have little time to turn the fortunes in their favour for the next season. The team is going through a transition phase and another bad season could definitely smear the legacy of one of the top teams in the league.
CSK’s sinking ship was joined by Rajasthan Royals. It has been another disappointing season by the Royals despite a great start in the first couple of matches which saw them score 200+ runs. But they ran out of gas soon enough. They ended up in the last place despite gathering the most points by the last finishing team in IPL history. Bowlers and batsmen could not complement each other to bring the games home. Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes could provide some hope along with Sanju Samson and Rahul Tewatia. Jofra Archer won the MVP award of the season for his heroics. However, they never appeared as a single cohesive unit as the season progressed. Steve Smith and Jos Butler never performed as per their calibre. Unadkat’s performance in the last couple of seasons speaks a different story than the one when he was the highest-paid player. Uthappa too has nowhere to hide after another poor season.
Rajasthan Royals have faced similar challenges for a few years now. Heavy dependency on international players due to lack of support from Indian players. They owe their only title to the likes of Shane Warne, Graeme Smith, Sohail Tanvir and Yusuf Pathan. You can’t blame the current Indian players in the squad as well. You have decent role players but no star power who could take charge and carry the team to the playoffs. Sanju Samson needs a breakthrough season to strengthen his case for a permanent national team selection. Steve Smith hasn’t been at his prolific best which we have come to expect of him. The players need to step up to target orange and purple cap. An addition of a few stars can take them from bottom dwellers to being the sharks. Let’s see if the management makes any smart decision before the next season.
Kings XI Punjab
Kings XI Punjab too missed out on winning big this season. They had a really balanced squad you could bet your money on. But I hope you didn’t because it would have all gone down the drain. Kings had a horrible start to the season but made a great recovery in the latter half of the tournament only to fall short in the last couple of matches. They lost their first match in a super over and won a nail-biter in the first-ever second super over in IPL history. A mixed bag of results. KL Rahul was in sublime form deservedly winning the orange cap. Mayank Agarwal performed above and beyond expectations with additional help from Chris Gayle. Mohammad Shami was the lone warrior in the bowling department with decent contribution from Ravi Bishnoi. And that’s about it. Everyone else has been a let-down.
Maxwell has shown no signs of improvement in the last 5 seasons. The only positive for Kings is that the Indian players have performed better than the international players. It can be perceived either way where one can make an argument for foreign players to up their game and raise the bar for everyone. This team has nowhere to go but up having made the playoffs only twice in 13 years. The squad doesn’t need a major change but they soon need to show results before players start jumping ships. It’s good that the players are on the right side of the age and hence management need not focus much on modifying the squad. The players better start performing and rely on themselves than the others.
Kolkata Knight Riders
Kolkata Knight Riders were left yet again at the mercy of other teams to qualify for the playoffs. And as fate would have it, they were denied again by the Sunrisers Hyderabad tying them in the points and trailing in Net Run Rate. It was a tough season for KKR which saw a change in captaincy midway down the tournament. Dinesh Karthik could not perform as the first choice captain and handed the reins to Eoin Morgan. Morgan could relish the captaincy and do his best with the bat while Karthik’s worries continued. The dependable West Indies duo of Russell and Narine was a no-show.
Young guns, Shubman Gill and Nitish Rana stepped up with Varun Chakravarthy rising up to everyone’s surprise. Shubman earned the call to Test and ODI team for Australia and Varun made a cut in the T20 squad. Varun’s story is inspiring with him taking a sabbatical for architecture and later reigniting his passion for the game. Good for him and the game. KKR was a running joke till they started winning the championships and regularly made the playoffs. They have the right collection of talent and championship experience. The veterans of the team need to step up and guide the youngsters to make a claim for the trophy next season.
Now coming to the teams who qualified for the playoffs:
Royal Challengers Bangalore
Even when the world is going through unpredictable times, one thing remains constant. RCB’s failure to win IPL. The team started well but lost all its momentum in the last few matches. The initial head start helped them qualify for playoffs despite 4 losses in a row. But they ran out of all the luck against SRH in the playoff bowing out of the tournament. Now if I would have said, that you had an opening pair of one of the best openers and a fresher, everyone would have picked the fresher to struggle and his partner at the other end to pile up runs. But when it’s RCB, it’s always the other way round. Devdutt Padikkal had an exceptional start to his IPL career winning the emerging player of the season whereas Aaron Finch just could not get his act together.
Despite a good scoring run, it would be fair to say Kohli and De Villiers underperformed. RCB is like the quintessential 2000s Indian Cricket team. If Sachin didn’t perform the team then crumbled and so is the case with Kohli-ABD. No assist by any batsmen whatsoever. Oh, how they miss KL Rahul. I would go on to say that this was a better squad than the one which played 2016 IPL final considering a serious enhancement by the bowlers this year. Chahal was well assisted by Siraj, Morris, Saini, Sundar. Siraj earned the call to the Test Team while Saini booked his place across all the formats. It’s high time that RCB batsmen stopped living in Kohli-ABD’s shadow and learn from Padikkal’s success. Go on hate me for suggesting this but trading Kohli or ABD might help the team. You would surely lose a world-class player but the whole team might finally start performing as a unit. Regardless, they have a great squad who can do better than play-offs or runners-up.
Sunrisers Hyderabad is the kind of team one doesn’t like because they spoil your party but you would kill to be on their side. Sunrisers have been really consistent and made playoffs every year since 2016 and were not looking to break the streak. They had a bumpy start but won 4 out of their last 5 games to qualify for the playoffs. Even though they took care of RCB but succumbed to DC in 2nd qualifier to exit the tournament. David Warner proved again why he is one of the best opening batsmen in cricket. He was well abetted by Williamson, Manish Pandey, Bairstow and Saha. The bowlers did their part to carry the team to the playoffs.
Rashid Khan puzzled the opposition with his spin bowling while Holder, Sandeep Sharma and T. Natarajan kept their end of the bargain. T. Natarajan made it to the Indian team reserves for Australia owing it to his death overs bowling. I feel Sandeep Sharma should have made the team as well, but if he continues performing the way he did, it can’t be denied for long. SRH has one of the most balanced squads on paper. Multiple players joined the team late for the chemistry to settle in and find the ideal XI. But they can do one better and add to their lone title once they return with the full strength.
Delhi Capitals had the most surprising run amongst all the teams in the IPL. They improved from last season and finished one place better. They started this season topping the points table at a certain point. It got derailed towards the end of the group stage but they quickly regained their composure to make it to the final. However, they were defeated at the hands of mighty Mumbai Indians. Regardless, they would look back and cherish the experience of competing in the final and giving a good fight. Shikhar Dhawan and Shreyas Iyer performed outstandingly with their blades. Kagiso Rabada proved his mettle and won the purple cap. He was aided by Nortje and Ashwin. Marcus Stoinis was the difference who chipped in both the innings in important matches.
Prithvi Shaw and Rishabh Pant, other youngsters who represent Indian team underachieved against their own and everyone’s wishes. It’s good to see Delhi Capitals perform consistently for the last couple of seasons. They had been the laughing stock for so many years previously and it strangely feels like a great underdog story. With their finals run, every current team in the IPL has reached the final at least once, finally. Delhi Capitals’ has got a great squad under a great coach Ricky Ponting. They can carry this momentum in the next season and try to mirror the feat of reaching the final. Not only that, even go a step beyond.
And now, coming to the champions, again! Mumbai Indians. Was it any surprise? Mumbai Indians showed their pedigree as the defending champions throughout the tournament. They topped the points table at the end of the group stage and didn’t put a single foot wrong in the playoffs, capping it off with their 5th title. Do you know why they win? Because even if their star players falter, role players step up to outshine everyone. Ishan Kishan, Quinton de Kock and Suryakumar Yadav led the batting order and took opposition bowlers to the cleaners. The pace attack was spearheaded by Bumrah and Boult with a spin help from Rahul Chahar. What a deadly duo, they just struck fear in batsmen’s hearts right from the start of the innings to the very end.
Rohit Sharma, Pollard and Hardik Pandya contributed decent enough to help the team raise a 5th banner in the rafters. To be honest, no other team boasts of such lineup on the paper year after year. The depth of the batting squad plus the quality of bowling in death overs and powerplay overs always make them a strong contender. Rohit Sharma has proven time and time again a viable candidate to captain the Indian team in the shortest format of the game at least. Nothing against Kohli, but it might bring a different perspective which can help India in the next T20 world cup. Nonetheless, Mumbai Indians will remain a strong contender the next season and will look to become the first team to three-peat.
Well, this season offered a lot of wonderful memories for the fans. Here’s my pick for the top 13 memorable moments in the 13th season, in no specific order:
- Match 6: KL Rahul’s 100: Earlier in the tournament, KL Rahul faced his former team and blasted them all over the ground for 132 runs off 69 deliveries. He was dropped twice credit to the captain on the other side, but he made sure the opposition suffered because of that. Result: KXIP won by a whopping 97 runs.
- Match 9: Rajasthan Royals chasing 224: If your team scores anything above 200 batting first, you will breathe easy in the next half of the game. But it wasn’t true for KXIP. Chasing a massive 223, Royals maintained a steady pace with Samson and Steve Smith’s innings. But it was Rahul Tewatia who boosted the chase to make it look like a comfortable victory in the end.
- Match 10, Super over drama for RCB and MI: RCB put up a massive 201 on board thanks to Padikkal, Finch and ABD’s 50s. MI’s early wickets gave hope to RCB until Ishan Kishan and Pollard’s partnership made them sweat. So ironic, that Ishan Kishan goes out on 99 and MI fell a run short to win the match. Match went to super over for RCB to grab a major victory.
- Match 18, Watson and du Plessis in the vintage form: While CSK was struggling with back to back losses, it looked another uphill task to chase 178 scored by KXIP. But the Chennai openers had a different plan to give their batsmen additional rest. They went on to chase the score comfortably in the 18th over without losing a wicket, with the second biggest opening partnership in a 10-wicket win in IPL.
- Match 34, Dhawan’s century and Axar’s last over blitz: Delhi Capitals had a difficult start chasing 180 against CSK. Dhawan held his ground while the wickets kept tumbling on the other hand. He managed to score his first ton of IPL with the last over remaining. Axar Patel smashed Jadeja all over the park hitting 3 sixes in the final over to win the match.
- Match 36, IPL’s first second super over: While chasing 176, KXIP only needed 9 off the final over. But Bumrah managed to give a lifeline to MI by taking a wicket on the last delivery taking it to the super over. While Bumrah bowled to his strength in the 1st super over, Shami bowled superbly to tie the score yet again. With KXIP determined to make playoffs, they took home the match eventually, making it the first IPL game to be decided in the 2nd super over.
- Match 39, RCB dismantling KKR: KKR didn’t know what was about to come. RCB’s bowlers just bulldozed through the KKR’s batsmen restricting them to the lowest score in IPL history. Mohammed Siraj bowled 2 maiden overs in his spell taking 3 wickets. Nonetheless, it was an easy chase for RCB.
- Match 42, Chakravarthy’s fiver: Delhi Capitals had the knack of scoring big this season. While chasing 195 against an inconsistent KKR should have not been a lot difficult. Yet the mystery spinner Chakravarthy stopped Delhi in their tracks. He bowled the best spell of the season to snatch a victory for Knight Riders.
- Match 43, SRH’s collapse against KXIP: KXIP found themselves in a do or die situation in every match in the latter half of the group stage. Their chances looked slim with only 126 to defend. SRH got off to a confident start but broke down like a house of cards losing 6 wickets in the last 13 balls. KXIP managed to keep their playoff hopes alive.
- Match 45, Ben Stokes’ century: MI flexed their muscles scoring 195 in the first innings. While Rajasthan did chase 200+ previously in the season, it looked highly unlikely considering their form. The addition of Ben Stokes to the squad turned the tides in Royals’ favour. The world cup winner scored a century with Sanju Samson’s 50 to make it an easy win in the end.
- Match 49, Jadeja’s heroics for CSK: While CSK’s season was more or less complete, they still rained on other team’s parade. Chasing 173 should have been easy for CSK but this was a season, unlike others. Ruturaj Gaikwad provided the stability giving CSK a chance but it was Jadeja who scored hefty in the last 2 overs including 2 sixes in the last 2 balls. Another win for men in yellow.
- Qualifier 1, Delhi’s top order disappearing like a magician: With the top 2 teams meeting in the first qualifier, everyone expected a tight battle. Mumbai scored a massive 200, making room for an exciting chase. But all the excitement just went poof. Delhi’s first 3 batsmen returned to the pavilion without adding to the score. For the first time in IPL, the scoreline read 0/3. The damage was already done and Mumbai made it to the final.
- Qualifier 2: Delhi Capitals’ redemption and Rabada’s almost hattrick: While facing SRH in the second qualifier, Delhi did learn from its previous qualifier experience. They put up a great 189 against impressive SRH bowlers. On the other hand, SRH kept losing their wickets in a regular interval but were on the course to make it to the final. Until Delhi’s saviour in the purple cap took 3 wickets in a row in the 19th over to derail SRH. Well, not exactly 3 balls considering a wide delivery in between.
Due to the unusual circumstances, we could not get the much-awaited All-Star match. Yet if I had to imagine it with the best players of the tournament, the following would be my pick for the two teams:
David Warner (c)
Quinton de Kock (wk)
AB de Villiers
KL Rahul (wk)
Virat Kohli (c)
While this season is over, the next season is expected to return at its usual time. It is still tough and early to speculate anything, but all the teams might have a very limited time to figure out their strategy for the next season. The only thing which will help everyone is the match fitness they will gain before the next season, unlike this one where they just put on the pads after a long pandemic break. The critics for long have forecasted the demise of IPL’s popularity yet it keeps getting stronger and bigger. It is one of the biggest sporting leagues and remains a platform for the young cricketers to rise and shine. With sports slowly resuming to its very best, we would hope to see the packed stadiums, home and away matches and IPL return to its full glory.