Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul’s stellar show to drown their off-field distractions, David Warner’s warning shot to his World Cup rivals and a 40-year-old Imran Tahir turning the clock back were some of the main takeaways from the just-concluded IPL.
While Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s ‘Dad’s Army’ nearly did an encore, Mumbai Indians’ consistency on the big day paid off again during a season with more than 30 last-over finishes.
In a World Cup year, it was imperative that the focus would be on international stars, with the fitness and form of the players from the top contenders attracting special attention over the 50 days.
Pandya boost for Indian middle-order
For tournament favourites India, the foremost gain was Pandya and Rahul’s performance.
The enormously gifted Pandya and the very stylish Rahul seemed to have channelised all their energies on the field during the past seven weeks to produce results that will augur well for India in the upcoming World Cup in England.
Back after serving a temporary ban for their controversial comments on an Indian talk show, IPL was a platform for the best friends to get their focus back in the game, and they did so in a glorious fashion.
Kings XI Punjab couldn’t make it to the playoffs but Rahul did his bit opening the innings, scoring 593 runs and finishing second behind David Warner (692) in the run-scorers’ list.
His approach was classical and the six fifties and one hundred that he scored will certainly keep him in high spirits if the team management expects him to bat at No 3 or 4 in the mega event.
Rahul’s skipper Ravichandran Ashwin wasn’t exactly happy with his strike-rate (135.38) but the 438 balls that he faced in an actual match situation is the best simulation he could have had before the showpiece.
For Hardik, the IPL triumph couldn’t have come at a better time as he, time and again, justified the tag of a ‘game-changer’ and showcased his ‘x-factor’.
402 runs at a strike-rate of 191 plus, that included 29 sixes to go with 14 wickets with the ball and 11 catches on the field is the stuff of any all-rounder’s dreams. Pandya’s numbers would have given India captain Virat Kohli some solace during a disastrous show by his RCB side.
Mumbai Indians skipper Rohit Sharma couldn’t agree more.
“Hardik is the best example. Before the IPL, he didn’t have a good time, was injured, and missed a few games as well. But he has been tremendous for us – both in batting and bowling.
“So, yeah it’s [IPL’s] a big tournament and you can judge yourself where you’re at before a big tournament like the World Cup,” Rohit had said prior to the IPL final.
While the Indian team management will be bothered about Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah’s workload, their haul of 19 wickets each was an indicator of their wicket-taking ability.
Warner warms up for the big stage
Warner’s 692 runs are one of the best comeback stories of IPL and his form will certainly keep his World Cup opponents on guard. His former captain Steven Smith found form towards the end of his IPL campaign, which later translated into runs during the practice games against New Zealand.
Australia’s purpose of sending the duo to play IPL while stopping others, such as Glenn Maxwell and Aaron Finch, worked wonderfully as they have been reintegrated into the setup after a solid tournament.
Tahir topples Indian leggies
The South Africans will be delighted with their premier bowlers who were on top of their game, accounting for top two spots in the wicket-takers’ list.
Kagiso Rabada (25 wickets) was fast and furious and the yorker to Andre Russell in the Super Over will remain in the memory for a long time.
Before the tournament, the hype was about India’s wrist spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal but at the end, it was someone nearly double their age who walked away with the top honours. The 40-year-old Tahir’s traditional leg-breaks and the fast googlies was a difficult proposition for all the batsmen, yielding 26 wickets and the ‘Purple Cap’ for the wily South African.
West Indies will be overjoyed with the fact that Andre Russell will be wearing the maroon jersey once again and they are expected to lend more support than what Kolkata Knight Riders provided to the Jamaican, who shouldered their campaign singlehandedly with 510 runs (52 sixes) and 11 wickets.
There are no imminent signs of a Sri Lankan renaissance in ODIs but Lasith Malinga’s final over in the summit showdown may just be the spark that the Islanders need in a big tournament.
The dodgy tracks at Delhi and Chennai along with the sub-standard umpiring stuck out like a sore thumb, taking some sheen off an otherwise enjoyable tournament.