IPL 2018: Five things we've learnt so far

Chris Gayle - IPL Betting
Chris Gayle has been in explosive form
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The return to form of a certain left-handed Jamaican and the fast starts for the teams with the best bowling attacks make Jamie Pacheco's list of lessons we've learn at this year's IPL so far. But what are the others?

"The two strongest and most-balanced bowling attacks before a ball was bowled in anger were those of Hyderabad and the Kings XI. They both boast a combination of tight opening pacers, nerveless death bowlers, unpredictable and economical spinners and a fifth bowler option who doesn’t get smacked around. After six matches, those two sides are both in the Top 3. Coincidence?"

Chris Gayle is back

No doubt if it were up to Chris Gayle, I would have called him the Universe Boss just now, his self-chosen moniker. I won't. But there's no doubt he's certainly been bossing the IPL this year.

And remarkably, at one stage there was every chance that he wasn't going to be involved at all. Ignored after the first day of bidding in this year's auction, it took a leap of faith from the Kings XI mentor Virender Sehwag to decide the Jamaican left-hander still had some life left in him as a boundary-clearing T20 opener.

But even then, he had to wait for his turn. Left out of the first two matches, Gayle had to watch from the sidelines and wonder if he should have bothered travelling to India at all this season. But when his chance came, in their third match against a strong Chennai Kings side, he made the most of it. Sixty-three off 33 balls in a Man-of-the-match performance was followed by knocks of 104 not out (MOM again, unsurprisingly) and 62 not out. Huge contributions from the man with 23 T20 centuries as the Kings XI won three in a row.

But there's a fly in the ointment. He missed their narrow Monday win over Delhi that put them top of the table with an unspecified 'soreness' and the Kings will just have to accept that he'll play some games but not others. After all, hitting 840 sixes in his T20 career is going to take its toll on a 38-year-old body.

Despite playing just three games when plenty of others have played six, he's on 229 runs and 54 short of leading run-scorer AT Rayudu of Chennai. He's 8/1 to be the tournament top runscorer (only not shorter because of those injury concerns) and whether his team win the IPL for the first time- they're [4.3] favorites- may just depend on how his body holds up.

England players and the IPL don't mix

This was meant to be the year that English players made their mark in the IPL. After all, 12 of them were bought at the auction. But it just hasn't happened.

Sam Billings and Jason Roy have one excellent knock each to speak of but that's as good as it got. Mark Wood has been dropped by Chennai after just the one disappointing performance and may not play again. Liam Plunkett has played just the one game although he was extremely impressive and should keep his place in the side. Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler have been poor at Rajasthan and right now are in the team purely on reputation. Tom Curran has been ok for Kolkata, playing six games out of four and taking five wickets. Chris Jordan has a sole outing, returning figures of 0/31; he may not get another. Moeen Ali and Alex Hales are yet to get a game.

So it's mostly been left to Chris Woakes to do his bit for English players' reputation. He played all of Bangalore's first five games and has taken eight wickets, although his economy rate of 10.36 is a big worry. And he was dropped in favour of Kiwi all-rounder Colin de Grand'Homme for their match against Chennai on Wednesday. We'll have to wait and see if and when he comes back.

That said, there is a definite silver lining for England fans. Well, sort of. Jofra Archer (who will have to bide his time before playing for England as he's not eligible for a few more years) could yet have a strong tournament. When finally being passed fit for Rajasthan, he was MOM in his only match to date, after boasting bowling numbers of 3/22. He'll keep his place in the team and could be their key man for the remainder of the tournament.

The IPL is likely to be won with ball, not bat

The two strongest and most-balanced bowling attacks before a ball was bowled in anger were those of Hyderabad and the Kings XI. They both boast a combination of tight opening pacers, nerveless death bowlers, unpredictable and economical spinners and a fifth bowler option who doesn't get smacked around. After six matches, those two sides are both in the top three. Coincidence?

Both of them this week posted sub-par performances with the bat first up before successfully defending those totals against the odds to go on and win the game. That ability to defend modest totals could be crucial in do-or-die games in the knockout stages. You could do worse than back the pair of them, Hyderabad at [6.2] and Kings at [4.3] to go all the way.

Delhi are hopeless

It's stating the obvious given they have just one win from six games but they just look infinitely weaker than the other seven sides. So where did it all go wrong?

Well, their recruitment of overseas players was very odd. Jason Roy is making his IPL debut this sesaon, Daniel Christian is past it at 34, South African Chris Morris' famed lower order big hitting is a rarity these days, Kiwi batsman Colin Munro has never got to grips with IPL pitches while Glenn Maxwell remains one of the most frustrating players in the world game. Few have his natural talent, even fewer throw their wicket away as often as him. There's no patience, no gameplan, no method. He just seems to decide which balls are going to go for six almost arbitrarily without judging them on their merits.

Of the overseas recruits, only Trent Boult has done his bit with nine wickets at a decent economy rate.

But the biggest problem of all has probably been the skipper. Gautam Gambhir has just 85 runs from six matches at an average of 17.0, horrible numbers for an opener. But it's also his permanent scowl and irritable demeanour that's a problem; it can't be doing much for team morale. No player is at his best when he's constantly fearing a tongue-lashing from his captain.

To be fair to the veteran World Cup 2011 winner, he's recognised his failures and resigned as skipper, nominating Shreyas Iyer as his successor but it's probably too little too late. Take the 5/6 on Delhi finishing rock bottom while you can.

Pace so far but spin will come into play

It's always been the case that if you can't play spin, you're always going to struggle over in India. But so far it's been the pace men racking up the wickets. Of the Top 10 bowlers with most wickets, eight of them are pace bowlers. Only the relatively unknown Mayank Markande of Mumbai, who is admittedly ranked number one with 10 wickets and Kolkata's Sunil Narine (eight wickets, ranked five) are spinners.

But this is where you need to be smart. As the competition goes on, the pitches will deteriorate and become minefields for the batsmen facing the premium spinners. On Wednesday, Chennai picked three front-line spinners against Bangalore, a sign that even as early as now the pitches are increasingly taking spin.

So if you're looking to play the tournament top bowler market, it might be worth looking at classy spinners with a few wickets in the bag already who play for teams who could go deep in the tournament.

That includes: Shakib Al-Hasan (six wickets) at around [16.0] on the Exchange and Rashid Khan (six wickets) at [14.0] of Hyderabad; Ravi Ashwin (five wickets) at [16.0] and Mujeeb Zadran (six wickets) at [16.0] of Kings XI.

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