Before the weekend action one could have been forgiven for reckoning that the Indian Premier League title race was a two-horse affair. Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians appeared to be all-powerful, swatting teams aside as if they were sun-drunk flies in the midday sun.
Both both have lost a bit of their lustre. Kolkata were hammered by Sunrisers Hyderabad and the Indians won a Super Over against Gujarat Lions having been poised to deliver the killer blow in a meagre chase.
Of course we don't expect either to suffer an fall from grace and fail to qualify. One more win for both of them will be enough but momentum is important in franchise cricket - look at Sunrisers last season - and there are hints that the top two are starting to stall.
Kolkata, our tip for glory, are beginning to cause alarm. Perhaps we feel every wobble or stumble more keenly than other teams but it was hard not to be agog at the manner of their defeat against Sunrisers.
Conceding 209 in first innings just doesn't fit with the characteristic of a champion. Okay, so they ran into David Warner on a day when he was seeing the ball like an zorb but there didn't seem to be a plan as to how to bowl to him or much thought into how to stem the flow when he wasn't on strike.
On paper, they have a good bowling attack. The names stack up. But in reality it is worth wondering whether they might be another team who have problems keeping totals down. This IPL has been characterised by teams who, to put it bluntly, cannot bowl. Shock. Horror. But could KKR be in the same category?
The average first-innings total they concede is now 186 from four outings. That is way too high. They are doing as well as they are, then, thanks to a cool heads and hot bats in a chase. But if they keep conceding that sort of number bowling first we just can't seem them copping at [4.2]. They have also failed to defend 178 against Mumbai and 188 v Gujarat Lions.
One of the reasons could be team selection. Answers please on a postcard as to exactly how the hell Colin de Grandhomme and Chris Woakes are still getting in the XI.
De Grandhomme, an all-rounder, has 19 runs in seven matches and four wickets. Woakes, an all-rounder, has 37 runs in ten matches and 11 wickets, although at an exorbitant 9.65 an over.
We could understand it if Kolkata had no other option. But sitting twiddling his thumbs has been Shakib-al-Hasan, the best limited-overs all-rounder in the world. He must have upset someone in the KKR management to be given only one game.
Shakib leaves for a Champions Trophy training camp on May 4 meaning that KKR appear to have decided that because he will not be part of any play-off, he is not worth bothering with. Even so, they could have given Rovman Powell, another all-rounder in the style of Andre Russell, a whirl to solve their problem.
As for Mumbai, their pathetic effort when chasing 154 against a Gujarat attack which has also had its struggles brought to the fore nagging doubts. Is their batting good enough?
Rohit Sharma, who is supposed to be the linchpin, is having a terrible time averaging 16 and striking at only 107. When they go with Parthiv Patel and Jos Buttler as openers, who are hit or miss merchants, there has often been too much pressure put on the middle-to-lower order. Mumbai have handled it well but, just like Kolkata, their luck may run out.
They are [3.55] to win the thing and it is a poor price. They too have issues with the ball considering Lasith Malinga (economy rate 10.4) and Mitchell McClenaghan (9.13) are first choice.
It means that we are increasingly keen on Sunrisers and it is arguable they should be second jollies instead of third at [4.6]. They have momentum, a very settled XI and will reckon they can claim top spot. It is not insignificant that the final is at their home ground where they have now won five in a row.
Rising Pune Supergiant should finish fourth, although it will be down to more luck than judgement. They have been fortunate that they are the best of a very average bunch outside the top three and their bowling is, frankly, terrible particularly with Imran Tahir soon to be unavailable. At [7.4], though, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that they make the showpiece on a chasing ground keep their nerve to get 180-190 to win the thing.
Sunrisers to win IPL [4.6] (1pt)
Ed Hawkins P-L
Based only on available prices. Does not include back-to-lay in-running match advice or commission rate. Figures 2013-2016 on 1pt level stakes. New points system (0.5pt-5) introduced for 2017.
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