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Ed Hawkins: Easy for Mumbai as IPL flatters to deceive

Rohit Sharma
Rohit led Mumbai to a fifth title

The much-hyped tournament will continue to be uncompetitive thanks to baffling team and squad selection...

"Bandying around terms like ‘the greatest’ in a format which is only 17 years old is a bit like raving on about teenage Jonny in high-vaunted terms for winning a bassoon scholarship. There’s a hell of a lot of hot air"

Too easy for Mumbai

Mumbai Indians have been hailed as the best T20 team ever after they claimed a record fifth Indian Premier League title by beating Delhi Capitals on Tuesday. And the tournament itself has been hailed as the best in the world. Guess what? We've got a problem with both hyperbolic statements.

For a start, bandying around terms like 'the greatest' in a format which is only 17-years-old is a bit like raving on about teenage Jonny in high-vaunted terms for winning a bassoon scholarship. There's a hell of a lot of hot air. The amplification comes after an IPL season notable for being alarmingly uncompetitive when it should have been the opposite.

The Covid pandemic forced alterations that should have made things unpredictable and reduced talent gaps, not that these should be significant anyway (but more on that in a bit). Matches spread across three venues with wearing surfaces, the challenges of bubble life and franchises forced to stick with squads selected for home grounds where they would never play had should have made it a bun fight.

It wasn't. Mumbai barely broke sweat and, one suspects, there is some bemusement and amusement within their camp at the ease of it all. For all the talk about Mumbai's planning and preparation (admirable, yes but surely a given at this level?) Mumbai won because they did something that no other team managed: they picked their best team and, by and large, stuck with it - 14 players played seven or more matches.

Otherwise the tournament was characterised by teams sowing chaos in selection. By the end of the 60 matches the only franchise who could possibly claim to know their best XI alongside Mumbai was Sunrisers Hyderabad. And that was a crime in itself because it was staring everybody square in the face from the start.

Had Sunrisers worked out sooner that they had to find room for a big-hitting all-rounder - stubbornly refusing to budge on a middle-order which was the personification of a slow hand clap - they could well have challenged Mumbai for supremacy at the top of the table. Every other franchise was a farce.

Take Delhi Capitals, for example. They redrafted their team and balance for the play-offs. Likewise Royal Challengers Bangalore, just when it looked as though they had found combinations which could take them to their first title.

And it was hardly surprising that Kolkata Knight Riders, who picked a different balance or XI every game it seemed, couldn't make the top four. Kings XI found their strongest suit until they needed to go on an improbable winning sequence in the last seven while the less said about Chennai Super Kings' self-harm the better. The one franchise that is probably excused is Rajasthan Royals. They had little to work with from ball one, Jofra Archer aside.

JofraArcherNets1280.jpg

That brings us back to the earlier point about the level of quality in the IPL. With each franchise having the same amount to spend in a draft for the very basic reason that the administrators want a highly-competitive, level playing field, it is beyond belief that so many franchises are, frankly, pathetic.

Chennai not picking Imran Tahir, Sheldon Cottrell and Mohammad Shami used as death bowlers for Kings, Mujeeb batting at No 7 for the same team, Gurkeerat or Chris Morris at No 5 for RCB, the proliferation of teams using only four specialist batsmen, Kane Williamson as a finisher, the Royals reckoning they only needed one fast bowler. And on.

This 'throw the names up in the air and see how they land' approach to squad selection and tactics undermines the IPL's potential to be the best. It only has the reputation for being so because in shouts the loudest and, if we're being honest, pays the most money. The Pakistan Super League, with bowling talent making it a fascinating battle, is still No 1 with most.

It is relatively simple to solve. All the other teams need to do is copy Mumbai's common sense approach. Pick good players. Play them in the right positions. Get the combinations right. Then the IPL will live up to its hype. Don't hold your breath, however. The BCCI are believed to be planning for a full auction and the addition of a ninth team, based in Ahmedabad, for the next tournament which begins in April.

One to watch

Wicket-takers are crucial in T20. And few are better than Lungi Ngidi. Yet he will continue to go under the radar because of Chennai's refusal to play him. In only four matches he claimed nine victims. At that rate he would have taken at least 30 wickets had he played the full 14 matches. He was 10/1 for top CSK bowler. His South African team-mate Kagiso Rabada takes all the plaudits. But only because he plays. Ngidi is more lethal on the data.

Biggest flop

Andre Russell on a squad list was once a signpost to an outright wager. Not anymore. He is fast becoming a hindrance. In this IPL he was a disaster, playing nine matches with a top score of 25. He hit only nine sixes, usually three games' work and his eight overs cost 9.72 per over. And he was injured. Again.

Rising star

Indians dominate the top runscorer lists down the years. So who is the next hot talent to follow in the footsteps of orange cap winner KL Rahul? Dev Paddikal at Bangalore has the potential to interest us at big numbers next time around. Paddikal seems to have all the shots, the speed and the temperament. All that is missing is the ability to go big just once to push him into the top three.

Team of the tournament Rahul, Dhawan, Yadav, De Villiers, Pollard, Stoinis, Axar, Rashid, Archer, Rabada, Bumrah

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Ed Hawkins IPL P-L

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