IPL 6 Tournament Review

In March 2010, after intense IPL interest in Impact Index appeared to have abruptly cooled off, a senior BCCI functionary revealed to one of us informally that BCCI had a ‘problem’ with Impact Index because ‘it was too transparent’.

It was a shock and a bit of a turning point for us, and we have primarily focussed on automation thereafter (which has taken longer than we anticipated) and never walked down those portals again.

But it did make us wonder what it meant. Especially in light of strange things that happened off and on – catches of a particular player being dropped in subsequent matches, big no-balls at crunch moments, players playing contrary to proven strengths and so on. There was even a point-of-view that some form of manipulation (perhaps even betting) was part of the business plan for all IPL franchises, designed to be a veritable income stream but of course, that was all speculation.

The interesting thing was – it did not really seem to affect the results much, as far as cricket in India goes at least. The above-mentioned moments came in small, staccato snatches, not as sustained irregularities, and with sufficient doubt. The better teams (as per what our numbers suggested) most of the time still prevailed, and when they didn’t, there seemed compelling cricketing reasons for them – suggesting that the irregularities were perhaps some kind of insurance from undesirable upsets – the antithesis of what sport stands for, but still it did appear to be a fringe activity that did not produce highly unlikely winners. The 2011 World Cup itself a great example – the semi-final against Pakistan seems highly suspicious and the final began with dubious selection at Sri Lanka’s end, but still there is little doubt that the best team in those conditions won. Neither is there any doubt that Chennai Super Kings (despite the IPL 6 final) has had a truly great T20 side, or that Rajasthan Royals, Deccan Chargers, Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians produced quality cricket to win one IPL title each.

By the same token, it is curious that the two tainted teams in this IPL – RR and CSK – have both finished in the top 3 this year. Isn’t fixing matches about losing matches for money?

IPL has borne the brunt of many purists using match/spot fixing murmurs to vent their indignation. And by extension, so has T20 cricket. These people have sadly not been paying attention and missed the evolution of this format from slam-bang flippancies to a mindset that provides free rein for natural talent to express itself. The mind has a great deal to say here too – the filter of character comes through in different ways than in longer formats – but it definitely does, and often makes for very compelling cricket. But if you look for the taste of Tiramisu in Caramel Custard, you’re likely to be disappointed anyway.

The objections against IPL are often confused too. All that has happened is that the Corporate has taken over the sport – and thrust its mindset upon it. That’s happened in all other aspects of life too – so what is the fuss really about? Greed and short-term myopia is a way of life for many of these people, especially in India, and it is ironic to see so many of IPL’s trenchant critics on TV channels from these same backgrounds who scramble to give their children the education that will enable them to live the same lives.

Corruption and manipulation is a way of life in the corporate/business world today, especially in India – this is not cynicism but an easily verifiable fact, and largely accepted by everybody, at least in our quarters. Life goes on gloriously with attendant ‘growth and progress’. Given how much the IPL has contributed in terms of opportunity and financial benefit to a lot of people (especially the cricketers), it is ridiculous to generate calls of shutting it down from armchairs and pulpits which are often dubious to start with for the same reasons (like the Indian media, for example).

And those who have followed the cricket will recognise that intensity in the middle and the fiercely channelized intent as things that can’t really be faked. There was enough of that during this IPL too, and that is what we at Impact Index draw from at any rate.

So, here is our analysis of the tournament.

This was our preview for IPL 6, with projections. As always, they’re an indication of relative strengths of the teams based on the T20 performances of each individual in the squad – thus being more a suggestion of potential rather than watertight predictions (unlike what some seem to take them for). Unlike 2011 and 2012, this year the deviations from what we projected have been slightly more. We can just hope it is not connected to the fixing furore that has erupted; there do seem to be cricketing reasons for them.

CSK and MI, we had expected in the top 4. And RR, who were the 5th highest impact side, we had put down as dark horses – and as the side that displayed the most hunger this year, they overachieved to finish 3rd in the face of considerable anguish due to the spot-fixing suspensions to three of their players (one of them, a crucial peg) – great credit to them for that. We expected KXIP to be a real force if their 3 big players delivered, and they didn’t, not consistently at any rate. KKR had a high team impact and we expected them to be in the top 4, and although we put down their bowling as their Achilles Heel, their batting let them down more this year.

We got SRH and PWI wrong the most. PWI had the team but their terribly inconsistent performances belied the potential the team had. That its eventual captain was a player they selected as an afterthought gives away how confused their thinking was. Not playing their highest impact players perhaps came from the same place too. SRH, conversely, contradicted all expectations of being a weak side. Their batting never inspired confidence right through the tournament but their bowling spectacularly made up for it, especially in home conditions. The inexplicable collapse of teams against them from seemingly comfortable positions in the first half of the tournament may have rightly raised eyebrows, but it would be perhaps wrong to deny their bowlers credit for the manner in which they asserted themselves.

Here are some observations:

Mumbai Indians – overachieved: The only team to have beaten Chennai Super Kings twice this year prior to the final rediscovered the form they had shown in the initial stages of the tournament in the most crucial match of this year’s tournament. With Lasith Malinga not delivering the kind of performances expected from him, Mitchell Johnson stepped up this year as the second-highest impact bowler for Mumbai Indians and was a handful especially on the bouncy tracks at Wankhede. Their decision to play Dwayne Smith mid-way through the tournament was a smart choice even though there was no reason why he should have missed out earlier in the tournament as Ponting is a much lower impact T20 performer than him. MI had the highest impact bowling attack in this year’s IPL and it was the variety in their attack which worked for them. Both Dinesh Karthik and Rohit Sharma had a loss of form at the latter stages of the tournament but their performances with the bat initially set up Mumbai Indians for the kind of dominance they enjoyed later on. The players who provided tournament-defining performances (high impact performances in the knockout stages) for Mumbai Indians are: Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Smith, Harbhajan Singh, Dinesh Karthik and Ambati Rayudu (the last of whom we had mentioned prominently before). Given the propensity to play as a group of individuals rather as a unified team, given how big a mistake ‘Pondulkar’ was at the top, given the captaincy issues this unit has always had, it was somewhat unexpected that they got their act together as well as they did. Their team and management deserves kudos for it.

Highest Impact Batsman- Dwayne Smith
Highest Impact Bowler- Harbhajan Singh
Highest Impact Player- Dinesh Karthik

Chennai Super Kings – played to expectation: The most consistent team of this year’s IPL played their most uncharacteristic match in the final against the Mumbai Indians. A team filled with big-match players shockingly collapsed in the final and lost their second IPL final in a row. Michael Hussey was their mainstay in the batting department and the domination of their top-order batsmen throughout the tournament meant that their middle-lower order batsmen were not exposed to tough match situations in this edition, though their experience should have belied that. Even though they had wicket-taking bowlers in Dwayne Bravo, Mohit Sharma and Chris Morris, their Economy Impact was a weak link (something we had identified before the tournament) and it was usually their batsmen who seized the initiative in most parts of the tournament. Still, they were a classy side that played to potential – till the final.

Highest Impact Batsman: Michael Hussey
Highest Impact Bowler: Dwayne Bravo
Highest Impact Player: MS Dhoni

Rajasthan Royals – overachieved: The main reason for their success in this year’s tournament was the performance of their young Indian talent. Stuart Binny and Sanju Samson stepped up spectacularly for them and the performance of Rahul Dravid who rediscovered himself as a T20 batsman (sadly in his last IPL) was a huge boost. James Faulkner capped off a brilliant tournament by ending up as the highest Top/Middle order Wickets Tally Impact bowler (proportion of wickets to matches) of the tournament. Their decision of not playing Samuel Badree (the most restrictive bowler in T20 history) in any part of the tournament (except for their first match) was bewildering and may have cost them in the latter stages of this tournament given how he is a proven big-match performer. Shane Watson was again phenomenal for them (their highest impact player) but failed to produce the big performances expected of him in the knock-out games. This was palpably the hungriest team in the tournament (probably thanks to where their captain was mentally) and it served them well.

Highest Impact Batsman: Shane Watson
Highest Impact Bowler: James Faulkner
Highest Impact Player: Shane Watson

Sunrisers Hyderabad – overachieved: The team that went beyond their potential the most in this IPL – and great credit to them for that. Their bowling in this tournament was outstanding; they capitalised on their home conditions immaculately. Their mix of high Economy Impact bowlers (Dale Steyn, Karan Sharma) and wicket-taking bowlers (Amit Mishra, Thisara Perera) proved a lethal combination. Their batting, meanwhile, was unspectacular (despite the addition of Dhawan at the half-way stage) and not entirely consistent, and was one of the main reasons why they couldn’t go deeper into the knockout stages, even though they grossly overachieved by making the playoffs in the first place.

Highest Impact Batsman: Shikhar Dhawan
Highest Impact Bowler: Amit Mishra
Highest Impact Player: Darren Sammy

Royal Challengers Bangalore – overachieved: It surprises a lot of people to see RCB fail, who see the magnificence of Gayle as ultimate proof of this team’s superiority. But this is a team sport – and every one of the others has to pull his weight too. As has been their story in past IPL tournaments, RCB were too heavily dependent on Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli (who actually produced his best T20 run of performances in this edition). But as before, they lacked quality Indian domestic talent (even though Vinay Kumar didn’t do badly with the ball). But their team selection was also iffy and their decision to bench Ravi Rampaul may well have cost them a lot. Selection has been the biggest problem with this franchise – Gayle’s superhuman consistency over the last 3 years camouflaged it somewhat but not adequately. In the end, by being a playoffs contender right till the end of the league phase, this team actually did better than the potential of its collective suggests.

Highest Impact Batsman: Virat Kohli
Highest Impact Bowler: Ravi Rampaul
Highest Impact Player: Ravi Rampaul