posted on 2019-05-06 21:07:30
posted by Michael Harrison
With the league stages done and dusted, it's that time of the year when we sit down to pick the IPL XI of the season. While consistency in the respective departments remains the biggest parameter, the other major criteria was the impact of the performances as well as the conditions/opponents that have been decisive.
There have been some usual suspects in the list while a few names, as is the norm with the IPL every year, have come out of the blue, translating their innate potential into powerful performances on the big stage. Here's a look at the 11 men who've made it our IPL team of the season.
A XI without Warner is impossible to imagine, given his unbelievable consistency over the last five years. He might have missed out in 2018 due to the ban but it certainly didn't show in his performance this season. If anything, the Australian was hungrier than ever and turned up match after match with telling performances at the top of the order. This time, he had dashing English batsman Jonny Bairstow for tango as the duo destroyed attacks at will. Before the tournament, Warner had apparently promised to SRH mentor VVS Laxman that he would tally a bare minimum of 500 runs. Eventually, he almost touched the 700-run-mark and he is a prime reason why the Sunrisers managed to scrap through to the playoffs.
Unlike the 2018 season, KL Rahul was a more measured player this year. What didn't change though, was his consistency at the top of the order for KXIP. There were times when he was a bit slow to get off the blocks but this careful approach meant that he was able to bat a more significant portion of the innings than he did last year. The strike-rate dipped in comparison but his error percentage did too, which showed how much Rahul was trying to polish his gameplay. A constant contributor in most of KXIP's wins, the Karnataka batsman has more or less cemented himself among the core group of the franchise.
To be honest, this is a player who made it to the list unexpectedly. Not that the man's talent was ever in doubt but for some reason, Manish Pandey's IPL form had been stagnating in recent times. It seemed to have worsened at the start of this year as he struggled to get the scoreboard moving. It was a far cry from the Pandey we saw during his KKR days. Perhaps, he was batting too low as number five barely did justice to his talents. Fortunately for him, an emergency opened up the number three slot and he grabbed it like there's no tomorrow. The authority was back, so was the tempo and Pandey was back to where he belonged. What it also told everyone was that the bloke from Karnataka hadn't faded away, it was about utilizing him properly.
Another of the prodigal batsmen of India's generation next, Shreyas Iyer has had a moderately successful season. What's stood out in his game is his ability to take the extra responsibility as the leader of the side. The dynamic and aggressive side of Iyer is known to all but he surprised everyone by toning down his shot-selection to meet the demands of the team. The result is a significantly lower strike-rate by his standards but what's been important is that it's added value to a young Delhi Capitals franchise that has imploded a few times under pressure. Therefore, Iyer's composure has been priceless.
Like old wine, the inimitable finisher continues to thrive amidst the mayhem of youth competing around him. MS Dhoni has been CSK's best batsman this year, shouldering the responsibility of a specialist as well as a finisher with seamless adaptability. His keeping and captaincy continue to be street-smart but it's his batting that's shone brighter, quite like last year. This season, Dhoni has had to deal with extra pressure due to the lack of form of CSK's top order. Time and again, the former India captain has bailed his side out and if the team has managed to finish in the top two, Dhoni once again has been a pivotal reason behind the success.
The term one-man army aptly defines the explosive West Indian. Barring David Warner for SRH in years gone by, there hasn't been an individual who has had to shoulder so much burden as far as his team's fortunes are concerned. Andre Russell didn't mind it though, in fact he seemed to relish the challenges and kept bailing Kolkata Knight Riders out of crunch situations match after match. Of course, the rescue acts were happening so frequently that someone else also had to stand up. That unfortunately, didn't happen for KKR but Russell's phenomenal efforts were a sight to behold. Such was his ball-striking that the bowlers shuddered at the sight of the West Indian.
He's had good seasons before but clearly, this has been Hardik Pandya's breakthrough season as a genuine all-rounder. In terms of clean-hitting and finishing games, he's been on par with Andre Russell and also bettered the West Indian in the bowling department. Now a vital cog of India's limited-overs line up and World Cup plans, Hardik's form was under the scanner before the tournament started, owing to injuries and then, the suspension which had threatened to disrupt his career. However, he bounced back in style and seems to be in great rhythm these days. His hitting against spin had always been sensational but it's the way he has upped his striking against pace, that's been laudable. That helicopter shot, an MS Dhoni trademark, is now played more often by Hardik than the former India captain himself.
Wrist spin and T20 can't be separated. This year, it was young Shreyas Gopal's turn to steal the limelight. For those who have followed his game since his inception, this hasn't come as a surprise at all. A technically fluid batsman who transformed into a leg spinner, Gopal's googly is the latest mystery in town and the victim list of AB de Villiers, Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan among others tells a tale in itself. It's been a coming of age season for Gopal who with his utility batting and fine fielding skills, should soon knock the door as far as India's white-ball squads go. Rajasthan Royals have certainly found a long term investment in this leg spinner who could become a crucial core member for the franchise, in the years to come.
Nobody makes wicket celebrations fascinating as much as Imran Tahir does. His celebratory runs make for entertainment but his bowling isn't far behind either. Like he has been for all white-ball units that he has played for, Tahir has been massive to Chennai Super Kings whose bowling attack lacks genuine wicket-takers apart from the South African who has enjoyed the responsibility thoroughly. Playing half of the games on the spinning surfaces of Chepauk does help but Tahir has been threat in the away games too, with his fizzy brand of leg spin. This year, he's also smartly added the slower leg break to his repertoire and that's made him more effective than before.
In this format dominated by batsmen, bowlers like Kagiso Rabada continue to stress the point that batters win games, bowlers win tournaments. Delhi Capitals haven't won the silverware yet but a major reason for their transformation this year has been Rabada's wicket-taking spree. Both with the new and old ball, the South African has been peerless and has managed to provide an x-factor DC's bowling unit that's also gotten better in terms of balance this year. With Rabada as the spearhead, the franchise have looked a better all-round side and his absence will certainly be a massive blow in the playoffs.
Another of the bolt-from-the-blue names in the XI. When he burst into the international scene last year, it seemed like India's quest for a crafty left arm pacer had ended. Khaleel Ahmed was tall, could swing the ball both ways and operated at swift pace. The Asia Cup showed glimpses of his talent, so much so that he briskly sprung up the pecking order for India's support seamer in the World Cup. However, a few injuries and inconsistent outings in Australia and New Zealand had drowned Khaleel's World Cup hopes. He didn't start in the SRH line-up either and it wasn't until the side faced a bowling dilemma, that Khaleel entered. And since then, he hasn't looked back. The Rajasthan-born fast bowler has been SRH's premier wicket-taker since his inclusion and has added a cutting edge to the fast bowling department. Speed, swing and accuracy all seem to be back and if he can keep this going, he could be back in India's white-ball plans in the near future.