The 14th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), which held utmost value to world cricket in deciding their plans for the T20 World Cup slated to be held later this year in India (well, as of now), was postponed indefinitely on Tuesday after a rise in the number of COVID positive cases within the bio-bubble. The teams have disbanded and the franchises are presently working closely with the BCCI for the safe return of all the foreign recruits back to their home. However, the IPL 2021 just about provided enough - having reached the half-wark mark in the league stage with 29 completed games - to learn how India's T20 World Cup hopefuls fared in the competitions.
Shikhar Dhawan: After years of struggling with his strike rate despite being among the top run-getters in the league, a transformed Dhawan has taken over the T20s, a form that was evident last year where he scored 618 runs at 44.14 and a strike rate of 144.73. In 2021, at the halfway mark, he has already managed 380 runs at 54.28, at a strike rate of 134.27 with three half-centuries, which is the most by any player this season, let alone an opener. Dhawan has also shown the ability to bat deep, up his aggression with the time he spends in the middle while improving his leg-side game.
Earlier in the season, following his 92 off 49 against Punjab Kings, explained that it was a conscious effort from his side to improve on his strike rate. "It was a conscious effort from my side. I knew I have to improve on that (strike rate). Started taking more risks. Not afraid of changes, always open towards it. Not scared of getting out as well. Have worked on a few shots. My slog shot has improved a lot. It was there earlier as well, but now I play it more freely. I'm more relaxed, having played for so many years. Don't take things for granted," he had said in the post-match presentation.
However, despite his scoring rate being 8.06 runs per over this season and the boundary rate being 5.55, Dhawan faces stiff competition from two others, who have now created an outside chance of making it to India's World T20 squad.
Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal: After a forgettable few months with the bat which even saw him losing his Test spot in the Indian squad, Shaw returned in top-class fashion, piling up a record tally of runs in the Vijay Hazare Trophy before establishing himself as a destructive opener in IPL 2021. He scored 308 runs in eight games, which came at a strike rate of 166.49, implying a scoring rate of almost 10 runs per over and a boundary rate of 3.78. The standout number in his eight IPL games this season has been his PowerPlay strike rate of 187.39, which is the most by any batsman who has at least faced 50 balls during that phase. And all these destructive numbers were a result of a five-day session with Pravin Amre where he worked on his bat-lift and footwork.
Mayank as a T20 batsman is less reckoned with, but he has shown considerable improvement in the format over the last two years. In 2019, he scored 332 runs in 13 games at a strike rate of 141.88. A year later he piled 424 runs at a strike rate of 156.45 with a century and two fifties. This season, he has already pulled off 260 runs at a strike rate of 141.30 which includes an unbeaten 99 off 58 and a 36-ball 69, both against Delhi Capitals. Mayank has shown the ability to play the role of an aggressor right from the start, with an overall scoring rate of 8.48 and a boundary rate of 5.26.
MIDDLE ORDER OPTIONS
Sanju Samson: Consistency has been a major issue pertaining to Samson. In the last couple of years, Samson has shown a trend in IPL wherein he has opened the season with some breathtaking knocks to become the cynosure of the competition, but eventually fades away as the season unravels. This year, he started off with an inspirational 63-ball 119 in Rajasthan Royals' attempted chase to a colossal 221. In the next four games, he managed only a run-a-ball 26, and just when critics began sharpening the knife, Samson bucked the trend to put three consecutive scores of 40s to show both his ability to stay in the middle as against his aggressive role as a batsman and manage a healthy strike rate to keep the scoreboard ticking. Overall, he has scored 277 runs at 46.2 with a strike rate of 145.8.
Ishan Kishan: A season after scoring a record 30 sixes en route to his tally of 516 runs, on the back of which he made his India debut in T20Is and even scored a half-century in his maiden appearance, Ishan struggled for form. On the sluggish Chepauk conditions, Ishan managed only 73 runs in five games at 14.60 with a strike rate of 82.95, before being dropped by Mumbai Indians in their next two games.
Suryakumar Yadav: Like Ishan, Surya too made his India debut on the back of an impressive IPL 2020 where he scored 480 runs at 40 with a strike rate of 145.01. However, the sluggish Chennai conditions largely kept him quiet barring that 36-ball 56 in his second game. Despite the topsy-turvy season, Surya's 173 runs this season have come at a strike rate of 144.2 with a boundary every 4.44 balls.
Dinesh Karthik: His poor form with the bat last season led to him giving up his KKR captaincy, albeit the struggle continued. But this season, Karthik has shown glimpses of his finishing skills, scoring 123 runs at a strike rate of 138.2 with a boundary rate of 5.23 balls. In the death this season, he has a scoring rate of 10.14 runs per over with a boundary every 4.14 balls.
For Krunal Pandya, Rahul Tewatia, and Washington Sundar to get into the World T20 squad, they have to match the level of Ravindra Jadeja's all-round brilliance - 131 runs at a strike rate of 161.7 and six wickets at an economy rate of 6.71 in seven matches this season.
Although struggling in Chennai, with a change in venue (to Delhi) and change in responsibility (replacing Ishan at No.4 in batting), Krunal bounced back from 29 off 27 in five games to score 71 off 49 at a strike rate of 144.89 in the next two games. Tewatia has failed to emulate his wondrous all-round figures from last season. He managed 86 runs in five innings at a strike rate of 128.4. Sundar, on the other hand, was given a top-order responsibility by the RCB management this season but returned with 31 runs in 47 balls. However, as a bowler, while Tewatia remained ineffective having picked only two wickets at an economy rate of 9.75, Sundar and Krunal were an effective option in the middle overs.
Rahul Chahar: The younger of the Chahar cousins has been responsible for two of Mumbai Indians' four wins this season where he has single-handedly orchestrated a middle-over collapse of the opponents. In seven games this season, he has picked 11 wickets, the most by any Mumbai bowler, all of which has come in the middle overs, the most this season during that phase. With Yuzvendra Chahal struggling to find form and Kuldeep Yadav failing to feature in any of the games, Rahul stands the chance to take the lead in the race to become the lead spinner in India's World T20 squad.
Varun Chakravarthy: His 17-wicket 2020 season in the UAE, at an economy rate of 6.84, helped him make the Indian T20 team, before injury cut short his chances of making a debut. Six months later, Varun has picked seven wickets in seven games, which is the second-most among Indian spinners this season after Rahul, but all have come at a price of 7.82 runs per over. Although Varun has been a more effective option in the PowerPlay where he has bowled 7 overs, the most by a spinner this season, picking 4 wickets (the second-best overall after Deepak Chahar) at a strike rate of 10.50 (the best this season).
Deepak Chahar: He struggled in the UAE conditions last season, but returned to be a PowerPlay specialist yet again for Chennai Super Kings, showing abilities to swing the ball both ways. However, all of his eight wickets came in just two games this season, picking four apiece, to single-handedly dictate the terms for CSK. However, his seven PowerPlay wickets have come at an economy rate of almost 8 runs per over against Bhuvneshwar Kumar's 5.82 for just two wickets.
Harshal Patel and Avesh Khan: There are have been two Indian pacers who have been the most effective this season and both comprise the top two positions in the Purple Cap race. Harshal has emerged to be RCB's main bowler this season, especially in the death, picking 17 wickets in seven games. His slower variations and use of wide yorkers has paid off for the franchise, who have long been in search for an Indian pace bowling option. However, while nine of those wickets came at 5.74 runs per over in Chennai, eight others were picked at 11.74 runs per over in Ahmedabad.
Avesh, however, has been a far more effective bowler, despite standing three wickets behind in the second spot. Half of his 14 dismissals have been top-4 batters and only three being of No.7 and lower. Moreover, nine of his dismissals have been for single-digit scores. Avesh has also been an effective option in the middle overs where he picked seven wickets, the most by a pacer, at an economy rate of 7.33, which is only behind Rajasthan Royals Mustafizur Rahman (6.64).