By: Chinmay Vaidya
We're four weeks in and there's tremendous playoff intrigue. Five teams are within four points of each other with a sixth team (Chennai) only six points ahead of Sunrisers Hyderabad. With only four playoff spots available, it's going to be a heated fight to the finish. Every match from here on out is crucial and with World Cup call-ups happening soon, we'll see some re-configured rosters battling it out down the stretch. Let's get into our five observations from Week 4.
1. Hardik, Hardik, Hardik
At some point, the law of averages should catch up to Hardik Pandya. It's just a matter of when that point will be.
Pandya finished off RCB in style and made Pawan Negi re-think his future in the IPL. He even mishit a shot for six. Pandya is in supreme form at the moment and he's locked in as a finisher. There's been conversations about having him bat further up the order, but Mumbai shouldn't attempt to mess with something that's working.
The rest of the lineup has been inconsistent at best, but Pandya's been able to elevate the score in every inning at end. Against Delhi, the Indians looked like they would be lucky to get to 140. Of course, Pandya had other plans.
He's got 218 runs at an average of 43.60 and a strike rate of 194.64. Considering the spring he had and the backlash he faced after his comments on an entertainment program, I'd say Pandya has bounced back beautifully.
2. David Miller gives Kings XI some punch in the middle order
KL Rahul and Chris Gayle have been fantastic again this season for KXIP at the top of the order. After combining for 1,027 runs in last season's campaign, the pair has put together 739 runs through nine games this year. If Kings XI want to compete for a postseason spot down the stretch, they'll need to find some supporting players. And that's where David Miller comes in.
Miller went on to score 40 from 27 in Punjab's win over Rajasthan and provided flashes of his power in the middle order. He's been a devastating player for South Africa in the one-day game at the end of an innings and he needs to get going for Punjab as the season wraps up. He might not make it till the end due to World Cup call-ups, but Miller can at least put the Kings XI in a good position if he starts clicking.
3. Hyderabad's openers are back
The Sunrisers got off to a 3-1 start, but suffered three straight losses heading into a showdown with Chennai Super Kings, the top team in the table. On our most recent podcast, we went through Chennai's somewhat inflated record (they should be closer to a 4-win squad instead of 7) but Sunrisers desperately needed to get back in the win column. And they turned to the two most reliable players in the team to do just that.
If David Warner and Jonny Bairstow don't get some middle order help, Sunrisers are going to falter at the end of the season. Eventually, both these players will be called up for World Cup preparations. Hyderabad needs to win games while it still has the duo playing games while figuring out a sustainable middle order. Manish Pandey, Deepak Hooda and Ricky Bhui might be large pieces to the puzzle at the end of the season. Hyderabad has KKR, CSK and Rajasthan in its next three games. Those will be pivotal to climbing into the playoffs.
4. RCB's big guns are finally firing
Through the first six matches, RCB didn't look like a real team. On our preview podcast, the Royal Challengers were squarely in the third tier with their lack of bowling options and support around Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers. There was even talk of Kohli shutting it down and resting for the World Cup. Well, that talk has been put to rest for now.
After a week off, de Villiers and Kohli managed to put the team on their collective backs in two of the last three contests. The Royal Challengers still aren't going to make the playoffs, but they're at least going to look competent. Not exactly what you want to shoot for at the start of the season, but it's better than being downright awful.
Let's appreciate de Villiers while we still can. Unfortunately, he's not going to be in a South Africa uniform for the World Cup. In fact, he's not going to be a South Africa uniform period. This is the only chance we get to see de Villiers play cricket. He's a joy to watch and he's on his last legs as far as his career is concerned. Soak in the moment. Kohli still has a long way to go and many more mountains to conquer.
5. We're going to see a record for 6s
The IPL set a record last season for total maximums and it's likely going to be shattered this year. Andre Russell, the master finisher, has 39 sixes through nine matches. That's more than any player had in a SINGLE SEASON for the last three years. Here's how the numbers stack up right now.
Top 3 Batsmen for Most Sixes (#sixes in #matches)
2016: Virat Kohli (38 in 16), AB de Villiers (37 in 16), David Warner (31 in 17)
2017: Glenn Maxwell (26 in 14), David Warner (26 from 14), Rishabh Pant (24 in 14)
2018: Rishabh Pant (37 in 14), Shane Watson (35 in 15), Ambati Rayudu (34 in 16)
2019: Andre Russell (39 in 9), Chris Gayle (26 in 18), Nitish Rana (18 in 9)
Russell is going to set a record for sure. Gayle will probably find himself in some all-time list. There are five players, including Rana, who are at either 18,17 or 16 sixes with half the season left.