Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Review of the Squads

Virtually every conceivable news medium in India has had their say on the strengths and weaknesses of the 8 teams competing in the inaugural edition of the Indian Premier League. With the competition getting underway tomorrow in Bangalore, I thought I must add to their comments and opinions. I believe it is the quality of the domestic players present in a squad which will determine its effectiveness considering that only 4 non-Indian players from a squad may be present in the final eleven. Therefore whilst analyzing the players in a team, particular emphasis needs to be placed on the Indian players that the team has managed to obtain.

Bangalore Royal Challengers: Most people are of the opinion that the Bangalore team owned by Vijay Mallya has far too many players unsuited to this version of the game. Agreed, Rahul Dravid, Jacques Kallis, Shivnarine Chanderpaul (in spite of his recent brilliance) and Wasim Jaffer might not be the world’s best 20-20 players, but I certainly have my doubts as to whether all these four players will find a place together in the final eleven. 20-20 cricket is not all bang-bang and the presence of one or two of these players in the eleven will certainly stand the team in good stead. It must be remembered that the Bangalore team does posses the dangerous Misbah Ul-Haq who has one of the coolest heads in world cricket and Cameron White, the Victorian captain who is a massive hitter of the cricket ball as well as a useful leg break bowler. They also own Mark Boucher who is capable of wonderful improvisation as the wicketkeeper batsman.

Bangalore’s bowling attack is one of the most formidable in the Indian Premier League. Dale Steyn can be lethal under the lights and his new ball partnership with Zaheer Khan could serve the team wonderfully well. It will be interesting to see how Praveen Kumar who had an excellent series in Australia recently performs in this shortened format. They also have Kumble and Kallis to call upon to apply the breaks in the middle overs (Although I am not quite sure what exactly qualifies as ‘middle overs’ considering the format of the game). However as a fielding unit the Bangalore team does not inspire the greatest confidence and I don’t see them saving the necessary 15 or 20 runs in the field which could be crucial in this format. The pool of local players at their disposal seems to be decent and the likes of Virat Kohli and Shreevats Goswami who are both talented young players may well get a chance to showcase their skills in front of a wide audience.

Chennai Super Kings: Although Mathew Hayden may not be available for the entire tournament, I think he is one of the best buys made by any team. He loves the conditions in India and he is capable of demolishing any bowling attack and the start that Hayden provides along with Fleming could work wonders for the Chennai team. The middle order is extremely strong with the likes of Michael Hussey, Subramaniam Badrinath, Suresh Raina and Parthiv Patel offering solidity and the likes of Dhoni, Albie Morkel, Jacob Oram and Vidyut Sivaramakrishnan offering the firepower that is vital in the 20-20 format. Dhoni’s captaincy has been very impressive and it will be interesting to see the tactics that he employs once the tournament gets underway.

Whilst the players present are more than decent fielders, the team’s problems are primarily contained in the bowling department. With Morkel and Ntini likely to miss the first few games, the team is extremely short of new ball options. Lakshmipathi Balaji who was once considered an excellent prospect for India is returning from a lengthy spell on the sidelines and Oram is not amongst the quickest bowlers doing the rounds. I cannot also for the life of me imagine why a team would have actually spent money to buy Joginder Sharma. If at all you must be paid to have him in your team. For me he ranks as the worst buy made by any team in the league. The team does however have Muralitharan in its ranks and I don’t think anything can be said about Murali that hasn’t already been said. Although I am hoping the Super Kings emerge victorious, I think their lack of new ball options might cost them dear.

Deccan Chargers: They have by far the most exciting team on paper. An explosive batting line-up and superb bowling options make them the team to watch out for. Assuming that Gilchrist and Vaas are automatic choices considering their availability for the entire tournament, the other two spots open to foreign players needs to be filled up from a list which includes Afridi, Symonds, Styris, Chamara Silva, Nuwan Zoysa and Herschelle Gibbs. VVS Laxman, Rohit Sharma and Venugopal Rao offer excellent middle order options. Gilchrist in spite of his age and retirement is the best wicketkeeper batsman in the world and is likely to open the batting with Gibbs or Afridi which is mouthwatering to say the least.

The presence of RP Singh who had a superb time at the T-20 World cup as a new ball partner to Vaas could prove to be extremely important. Pragyan Ojha, the young left arm spinner who may be called upon to apply the breaks is one for the future. As a fielding unit the Hyderabad team is right up there with the best in the league, but the lack of adequate local bowling options barring RP Singh and Ojha is a cause for concern. Sanjay Bangar may well have to be called upon to bowl his military medium dibbly dabblers. I think the team could have well done with a good local first change bowler. But with the options that Styris, Afridi and Symonds offer, this might turn out to only be of marginal concern.

Delhi Daredevils: The team boasts an excellent mix of foreign and local talent. Sehwag and Gambhir at the top of the order are potentially the best opening pair in the IPL. With the presence of de Villiers and Dinesh Karthik the team has first-rate choice for the position of wicketkeeper batsman. The one that doesn’t make the cut is likely to be used in the middle order in any event. Shoaib Malik and Dilshan are both intelligent middle order batsmen with the latter also having the reputation of being one of the best fielders in the world. Local options in the form of Mithun Minhas, Manoj Tewari, Rajat Bhatia and Shikar Dhawan are likely to further boost the middle order.

The bowling attack contains the legendary Glenn McGrath and the phenomenally accurate Mohammed Asif. It will be interesting to see how McGrath adapts to this format of the game. Although McGrath was the Man of the Tournament at the 2007 ODI World Cup in the Caribbean, we did see some of the batsmen launch into him in a manner that we were not accustomed to seeing. McGrath does however have the necessary experience and the guile to be successful in this format. In Daniel Vettori the Delhi team probably possesses the best spinner in this version of the game. Assuming McGrath is an automatic choice, I think one of Asif and Vettori will be picked, which would mean that the team needs to pick two bowlers from its local pool. I would expect Yo Mahesh and Amit Mishra, both of whom are not the most consistent bowlers to get the nod. Overall the Delhi team boosts an excellent blend of local and foreign talent and all things going well they are a certainty in the semifinals.

Kings XI Punjab: A sensational middle order and a compact bowling attack make Kings XI Punjab one of the stronger teams in the IPL. However it is the lack of adequate batting options from the local pool of players that is concerning about the team. The likes of Ramaresh Sarwan, Kumar Sangakarra, Mahela Jayawardene, Shaun Marsh, Simon Katich, Luke Pomersbach and James Hopes are all superb batsmen but all of them cannot be picked in the same eleven, which is what makes the need for local batting talent crucial. Barring captain Yuvraj Singh, the team lacks world class Indian batsmen and this could well cost them dear once the tournament gets underway. The lack of opening batsmen in the squad makes me think that Irfan Pathan may well be asked to don the role of an opener alongside Katich or Sangakarra.

However, the bowling attack seems to be very solid. Brett Lee and Sreesanth are likely to share the new ball with Pathan offering a good choice as a first change bowler. Ramesh Powar and Piyush Chawla are the spin options that are available to Yuvraj. Although the team possesses Kyle Mills, I don’t expect to see him being used too much in view of the restriction on the number of foreign players in the eleven. The presence of Powar does however have a negative effect on the fielding as the presence of a singe poor fielder in the eleven could cost your side valuable runs.

Kolkata Knight Riders: The team probably contains the largest ensemble of star players amongst all teams in the IPL. In Ganguly and Gayle the team possesses an explosive opening pair which is capable of denting the bowling attack of any team in the world. In the absence of Gayle, the team can make use of Salman Butt who seems to revel in Indian conditions. The presence of Ricky Ponting and David Hussey greatly boosts the middle order. In Brendon McCullum they have one of the best wicketkeeper batsmen in the world. For a small man he packs quite a punch. I do however believe that the team needs to pick two players from the group of Aakash Chopra, Cheteshwar Pujara, Siddharth Kaul, Rohan Banerjee and Iqbal Abdullah in the final eleven with the first two likely to get the nod. Whether these players rise to the occasion will be crucial to the hopes of the Kolkata team.

The absence of Shoaib Akthar due to his ban might well turn out to be a blessing in disguise as the team can make use of Ishant Sharma and Umar Gul who are both far more consistent as new ball partners. The inconsistent yet at times brilliant Agarkar offers a nice blend to the pace attack while the presence of Murali Kartik means that Ganguly has an intelligent spin bowler in his arsenal. As a fielding unit the Kolkata team is not the best, although their strengths in other departments might well compensate for this.

Mumbai Indians: I am extremely surprised at the composition of the Mumbai team. Although they have an explosive top order in Tendulkar, Jayasurya and Uthappa, the middle order is lacking in top quality players. Ashwell Prince of South Africa is simply not suited to this format of the game. The rest of the middle order will have to be filled up by local players none of whom barring Abhishek Nayar are worthy of mention. The Mumbai team also lacks an established wicketkeeper batsman although Luke Ronchi has been highly successful in Australian domestic cricket. The teams strength lies in its top order and its bowling attack which is potent with the presence of Shaun Pollock, Dilhara Fernando, Lasith Malinga, Ashish Nehra and Harbhajan Singh. Pollock’s performance with the bat in the lower middle order is of great importance if the team is to be successful. Jayasurya’s left arm spin may also be extensively used by the team. All cricketing fans will be watching with keen eyes to see how Tendulkar performs in this format of the game. The start that he and Jayasurya can give at the top order is of crucial significance to the team’s chances.

Rajasthan Royals: On paper, probably the weakest team in the competition. Justin Langer is likely to open with Graeme Smith whenever the latter is available and the starts that they provide are of vital importance. The middle order contains decent quality in the form of Younis Khan, Mohammed Kaif, Shane Watson, Dmitri Mascarenhas and Yusuf Pathan. The likes of Watson and Mascarenhas need to click for the team to be successful. Kamran Akmal is a useful wicketkeeper batsman and may even be used as an opener in the absence of Smith. In spite of the presence of Kaif, as a fielding unit the team looks rather ordinary especially with the presence of Munaf Patel. The lack of quality local players in all departments might cost the team dear. Pankaj Singh, Ravindra Jadeja and Taruwar Kohli none of whom are established players might have to perform important roles for the team. However, the team does possess decent bowling options. Munaf Patel, Morne Morkel and Sohail Tanvir are all good quick bowlers. The guile and astuteness of Warne as both bowler and captain is of vital significance. Warne needs to be at his best for the team to even enjoy moderate success.

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