On Saturday night, the league stages of the 12th edition of Indian Premier League reached the halfway stage with Royal Challengers Bangalore deciding it was finally time to win a match. In the 28th match out of the 56 that are played before the playoffs, Virat Kohli and Co avoided the ignominy of becoming the first team to start an IPL season with seven defeats by beating Kings XI Punjab in Mohali.

Though the win does not change their position in the league table, it gives RCB a glimmer of hope to put together a miracle run in the second half as even Rajasthan Royals defeated Mumbai Indians earlier in the day to keep things fairly tight in the table.

Here’s how the table looks after 28 matches in IPL 2019.

Points table as of 13 April 2015 (after KXIP v RCB)
Points table as of 13 April 2015 (after KXIP v RCB)

A quick look at what the strengths and weaknesses of each team has been over this phase:

1. Chennai Super Kings

Once again the pace-setters in IPL, CSK have almost ensured themselves a place in the playoffs to keep their incredible run going – the team in yellow has never been eliminated before the knockout fixtures.

Strengths:

  1. Experience has been the buzzword for CSK once again. By sticking to their processes, and with clarity of thought under pressure situations, CSK have managed to turn tough situations around. Their last win against Rajasthan Royals is the best example of it.
  2. Home advantage has played a big role for Chennai, even if the pitch has come under sharp criticism from captain MS Dhoni. With their spinners in great form (Harbhajan Singh and Imran Tahir, in Dhoni’s words, have matured like fine wine), CSK have looked unbeatable at home. CSK’s overall bowling economy rate of 6.93 is the best in tournament so far.
  3. Dhoni’s form with the bat has been brilliant as he has repeatedly bailed his team out from top-order failures. In the five matches he has batted, he has been dismissed only twice and has scored his runs at 127.38.

Weaknesses:

  1. While Dhoni’s form has been great, CSK’s overall batting is a concern. Their scoring rate of 7.09 is the lowest this season, albeit that comes with the territory of playing four matches in Chennai. But the fact that Dhoni is the only CSK batsman in the top 20 run-scorers of the season, tells you the story.
  2. Fielding. No surprises there. Though the team has improved in their efficiency compared to 2018, taking more catches and being generally safe, it’s never going to be their strong point.
  3. Death bowling is again a concern as it proved to be the turning point in their only defeat against Mumbai Indians, while nearly proving to be the game-changer in the close finish against RR. Dwayne Bravo, bowling better than he did in 2018, will be a welcome addition the XI when he returns from injury.

2. Kolkata Knight Riders

A couple of crushing defeats in their last two games – (against CSK and DC) – have undone some of the good work KKR put in during the early part of the season. Andre Russell and his big-hitting prowess, predictably, is KKR’s biggest talking point.

Strengths:

  1. Russell keeps going from strength-to-strength. No franchise has a player who can clear the ropes at will like the West Indian can at the moment. He will continue to be the two-time champions’ trump card but his fitness will be a concern.
  2. KKR are explosive at the top and bat deep. Shubman Gill’s fine outing against Delhi as an opener shows that there is enough back-up ammunition in the top order to set or chase down big scores.
  3. Piyush Chawla has been valuable in the early overs and has accounted for wickets too. It has helped KKR keep the opposition’s scoring rate in check during the powerplay.

Weaknesses:

  1. There are too many players who are struggling for form, including skipper Dinesh Karthik. Chris Lynn, Sunil Narine, Nitish Rana and even Kuldeep Yadav have been below-par so far, with consistency proving to be an issue.
  2. Russell has bailed them out of what looked like two certain losses, but in the last two games, he has struggled for fitness. Can KKR afford to rest him? Who do they have in their bench that can create even half the impact that Russell creates?
  3. The bowling overall has been a worry. Prasidh Krishna has performed reasonably well and Harry Gurney’s start has been encouraging. But, one suspects losing young pacers Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi will come back to hurt them in the back end of the season. Kuldeep’s lack of wickets, however, is their biggest concern – he has three in seven matches. The only bowler in the top 20 wicket-takers for KKR is.... Russell.

3. Mumbai Indians

MI fans have seen far worse starts to the season than a mixed record of four wins and three losses at the halfway stage.

Strengths:

  1. Rohit Sharma’s captaincy has once again been lauded by the pundits. The way he managed his troops during two tough defensive efforts against CSK and SRH showed he is an astute leader once again.
  2. While death bowling has been a problem area for most teams, MI can claim to be the only team which can say their death batting is an out-an-out strength. In Hardik Pandya and Kieron Pollard, the team has two ferocious strikers of the ball. No wonder Hardik (183.95) and Pollard (177.88) are No 2 and No 3 on the list of best batting strike rates for this season, behind only Russell.
  3. Contrary to how the season started for MI, the team is blessed with a variety of options in the fast bowling department, and Alzarri Joseph’s arrival has only strengthened that area. Jason Behrendorff has been a handful in the powerplay and Jasprit Bumrah continues to deliver at the death.

Weaknesses:

  1. Rohit’s form with the bat is an area of concern for MI. The skipper announced before the season that he will open in all matches and it was widely hailed as the right move but, despite a couple of useful 40s, the consistency has been missing.
  2. Consistency is also a concern for the batting order with Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan / Yuvraj Singh as well as Krunal Pandya not quite delivering big runs. The team has been bailed out by Pollard and Hardik more than once.
  3. Lack of spin bowling wherewithal was identified as an area of concern before the season began and it has proved to be the case. While Rahul Chahar has come in and provided a spark, Mayank Markande (when picked) and Krunal have not delivered.

4. Delhi Capitals

Despite displaying some daredevilry of the past, DC have shown that they have the makings of a good side, occupying the fourth spot at the half-way stage.

Strengths:

  1. The Indian batting talent at their disposal is perhaps unmatched in the rest of the league. Though they have not collectively clicked as a unit, Shikhar Dhawan, Prithvi Shaw, Shreyas Iyer, and Rishabh Pant have scored bulk of the teams’ runs so far.
  2. Kagiso Rabada, after missing the 2018 edition, has lit up this season, leading the way with 13 wickets at the halfway stage. His yorker to Russell in the Super Over would not be forgotten anytime soon. Thanks to Rabada, DC have the best economy rate between overs 17-20 this season – 8.90.

Weaknesses:

  1. The batting lineup is the source of their best wins and the worst defeats this season. DC could have been second on the table with 10 points but they threw away the win against KXIP in the most incredible fashion. They have since showed the tendency to repeat the mistake of losing a wicket too many to rash shots in a run-chase.
  2. Home form will be a worry for DC throughout the season if the Kotla pitch does not improve. The only match DC won at home out of the three so far was the Super Over affair against KKR. The pitch is not suited for their batting lineup that they possess and leaves them with the unenviable task of winning as many matches away from home as possible.
  3. Lack of a good spinner to exploit aforementioned home conditions is also an area of concern. Axar Patel has been decent in patches while Sandeep Lamichhane has been in and out of the side.

5. Kings XI Punjab

On some nights KXIP punch above their weight, on some nights they flatter to deceive. It’s been an up-and-down start to the season for R Ashwin and Co – but not short on drama.

Strengths:

  1. It’s no surprise that the team continues to heavily depend on KL Rahul and Chris Gayle, who have both been in good form for the side, occupying the second and third spots on the list of top run-getters for the season. While that was expected, Mayank Agarwal’s efforts (with two fifties to his name) at No 3 have proved crucial and provided the support for the top-two.
  2. Part of their bowling. R Ashwin might have been the cynosure of all eyes during most of his matches for more than reason, but his bowling has been on point so far and he has led from the front for KXIP. Nine wickets at an average of 27 and economy of 7.6 are good returns for the captain. Mohammed Shami has also continued his rich vein of white-ball form into IPL as well, taking 10 wickets (avg: 28.1) in eight matches.

Weaknesses:

  1. The other part of their bowling. AJ Tye, a reliable performer in IPL in the recent past, has been in and out of the side so has been Mujeeb ur Rehman. Sam Curran has the hat-trick to his name but he has also gone for plenty of runs. Varun CV, the big-money buy, played only one match. The chopping and changing of the bowling lineup has not helped either.
  2. Two of KXIP’s four defeats, in Ashwin’s own words, could be put down to poor fielding and catching – against RCB in Mohali and MI in Mumbai. Add the defeat at Eden Gardens which came after Russell made the most of a no-ball dismissal stemming from not enough players fielding inside the circle, you see a pattern emerging.
  3. Somewhat similar to last season, KXIP are once again top-heavy with their batting. Though Mayank has stepped up, David Miller’s inconsistency and Sarfaraz Khan’s hit-or-miss returns have proved to be problematic.

6. Sunrisers Hyderabad

SRH have won three and lost as many. Despite possessing a squad that has several match-winners, last year’s finallists have been scratchy at best and they are yet to hit their stride.

Strengths:

  1. David Warner has made a triumphant return to form after his one-year ban. Jonny Bairstow has enjoyed a promising start to his IPL career. Without a doubt, the openers have been SRH’s backbone this year.
  2. Rashid Khan continues to be a thorn in the flesh of opposition batsmen and Sandeep Sharma has found consistency bowling alongside Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Siddarth Kaul.
  3. They have done alright as a batting unit despite Kane Williamson not getting a look-in. SRH, on paper, can bat deep and when they do click, a 200+ total is always on the cards.

Weaknesses:

  1. Bhuvneshwar Kumar is taking time to adjust to the leadership role. A couple of tactical decisions on the field (leaving Shakib al Hasan and Nabi to bowl 20th overs in crucial run-chases, for instance) have backfired and resulted in defeats.
  2. Much was expected from World Cup hopeful Vijay Shankar but, despite starting the tournament well, he has struggled to shoulder responsibilities when one or both of the big two fail. His troubles have been symptomatic of the middle order issues that have plagued the franchise for a while now.
  3. For long considered to be the best bowling lineup in the league, SRH continue to leak runs at the death. And in the last two editions, on five different occasions, the SRH bowlers have allowed the opposition to score centuries. Barring Rashid, the oomph factor seems to be missing from the bowling attack for the Orange Army.

7. Rajasthan Royals

A team whose results have perhaps been overshadowed by how poor RCB have been, RR have just about kept themselves in the hunt, thanks to an important win against MI on Saturday.

Strengths:

  1. There is only place to start for this one: Jos Buttler. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Englishman is too good for the Royals’ side lacking match-winners. He is the only RR batsman in the top 15 run-getters for the season so far and showed his class with a majestic 89 against MI.
  2. Shreyas Gopal has, meanwhile, steadily built up a reputation as an important utility player who delivers in all three departments. He was the difference-maker in RR’s first win of the season (dismissing Kohli and de Villiers) and kept his nerve at the end with the bat to hand his team their second win. His catching has been impressive too.

Weaknesses:

  1. Rahane was not happy in his winning-captain chat on Saturday because his team almost threw away another two points. That has been the story of RR’s season so far. They have been in good positions in almost all of their matches except the thrashing handed by KKR at home. But have been unable to close games out.
  2. Their bowling performances, as a collective unit, has been below par even if Gopal and Jofra Archer have been good individually.
  3. While batting apart from Buttler is a big enough concern, in Rahane and Steve Smith, they have two players too similar in their batting approaches. Rahane’s form with the bat has been patchy at best and Smith taking his time to find form after a long layoff has often scuppered the tempo of RR’s batting.

8. Royal Challengers Bangalore

Well, at least it was not 0-7 to start the season.

Strengths:

  1. This would have been left blank if RCB had managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in Mohali. But, they did not and the most obvious strength for the side is the batting might of Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers.
  2. Navdeep Saini, earmarked by Kohli as the bowler to watch out for, has been very impressive with his pace and with a little more control, could climb the ladder up to the Indian team soon.

Weaknesses: (For purposes of brevity, we will limit this to three)

  1. Fielding and catching. Rinse and repeat. Even in the win against KXIP, the catching was well below par for RCB with even Kohli dropping a sitter while de Villiers put down a chance as well. As Brian Lara observed, this poor fielding is a contagious disease.
  2. Lack of bowling plans (or the inability to execute them) remains a historical weakness for RCB. Mohammed Siraj continues to get selected and continues to get hammered. Barring Yuzvendra Chahal, none of the other bowlers offer a consistent threat as Kohli continues to meddle with his options. Maybe Dale Steyn is the answer?
  3. Over-dependency on Kohli and de Villiers. It’s a good stopping point as any, as you have probably heard this story a thousand times before.