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Halfway through, half to go

With the IPL group stage almost at its halfway point, we take stock of where the teams stand and who have been the best players so far

The IPL league stage has almost reached its halfway mark since the tournament began on March 23rd. The tournament has already seen a rich haul of 7,419 runs, 683 fours, 294 sixes,four centuries and 250 wickets — all this, just 24 matches down in the cricket fest.

Here, we take a look at where teams stand, and which players stand head and shoulders above the rest.

The usual suspects

If there is one team that is synonymous with IPL success, it is defending champions Chennai Super Kings. The men in yellow have been in the last four every single time that they have played this tournament and have clinched the IPL trophy thrice. This season too, they have been in rollicking form, winning five of their six matches, and sit pretty on the top of the table with 10 points.

Dhoni’s men have been sensational, especially at home at Chennai’s M Chidambaram Stadium, where they have not only won all their matches, but won quite handsomely. Case in point, the way they drubbed another strong contender Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) on Tuesday night. The Super Kings not only look formidable, but chances are they will clinch the title again for a record fourth time.

Another team that has done consistently well for the past few tournaments has been KKR. The two-time champions have been one of the most consistent teams throughout, and this year too has been no different. Under the captaincy of Dinesh Karthik, and led by the extraordinary form of Andre Russell, KKR is the team that has scored the most runs and currently with the highest net run rate in the tournament. With eight points from six matches, they sit currently at No. 2 at the points table. They have been the one of the best teams this tournament and will definitely earn a spot in the playoffs. What they should aim for now is to finish in the top two spots so that they have a better chance of winning the tournament.

The surprise package

The team that has definitely sprung a surprise this time around have been Kings XI Punjab. Though their tactics have come under the scanner — Ashwin mankading Jos Buttler being a case in point — their players have put in the performances in each and every match. Kings XI have never been considered the favourites to win the tournament- as the team from Punjab have just crossed the group stage twice in 12 seasons. In fact, they have been one of the worst teams in the tournament’s history.

But this time, they chopped and changed their squad in the auction, and have come out strong. The best thing for the team led by R Ashwin is that in every match they won, different players have won Man of the Match. This proves that they don’t rely on any individual, but as a team are performing brilliantly. They even beat previous champions Sunrisers Hyderabad convincingly

With this form, the Priety Zinta owned team looks all set to be in the top four for the third time in history. That’s only if they don’t falter in the latter half of the tournament, like they did last year.

The middle muddle

While three spots in the top four seem to be sealed, it is the fourth spot that is up for grabs. Three teams, however are vying for this one spot: Mumbai Indians, Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) and Delhi Capitals.Two teams are tied with 6 points and MI are at 8 points, but all of them have been pretty inconsistent.

Of the three, the team that looks the most promising is the Sunrisers. David Warner and Johnny Bairstow have been sensational, the best opening pair in the tournament, with both of them averaging more than 50 runs per innings. Mohammad Nabi too is playing superbly for them. However, it has been the middle order and surprisingly the death bowling that has been a worry in the matches that they lost.

Though they stand third,three-time champions Mumbai Indians have been highly inconsistent. While they won against the likes of CSK and SRH, they lost against Delhi Capitals and Kings XI. They would even have lost against SRH had they been not saved by the magic of Alzarri Joseph.

Adding to their inconsistent form, the three-time champions have another headache as their skipper Rohit Sharma has apparently been knocked out by an injury and is rumored to miss the rest of the IPL.

Delhi Capitals is looking the least likely among the three to clinch a top four spot, as they are probably the most inconsistent team this season. They have scored 213 versus Mumbai Indians, and on the other hand failed to score 23 runs in the last four overs vs CSK. Even in the match against KKR, they almost lost from a very comfortable position, and the match rolled on to a super over.  However, they somehow managed to claw 6 points, and are in a much better position than the previous years, and may just go into the top four for the first time in five years.

The ‘Royal’ failures

The teams that have been in the worst run of form incidentally are the Rajasthan Royals and the Royal Challengers Bangalore. While their names have the word ‘royal’ in them, their performances have been far from royal.

The team from Rajasthan changed their jersey colours to pink, but are definitely not in the pink of form. They have won only one out of their five matches so far, and are languishing second from bottom at the table with only 2 points. The Ajinkya Rahane-led team’s bowling has been probably the most inconsistent, and as experts predicted, their poor choice of buys at the auction have haunted them as they lost so many matches. More bad news awaits the Royals, as their three main players – Jos Butler, Ben Stokes and Steve Smith, and in all likelihood Jofra Archer — are to be called up by their national teams for the World Cup camp, and they will be left with no choice of foreign payers at their disposal.

The team that has been most talked about this IPL, and are languishing at the bottom of the table, are the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). They have lost a stretch of six matches, and are yet to put up a single point against their name in the IPL table. Virat Kohli’s captaincy has come under question, and in spite of having big stars like Kohli and AB De Villiers, have failed to leave a mark. This is because none of their players have made a mark. Their big signing of the season, Shimron Hetmeyer, has been a complete failure as well. Nothing seems to be going right for them, and at this point, their chances seem already over for this season.

The main players

The beauty of the IPL is that players from all corners of the world come here for these few days and mix with Indian players, and many young Indian unknown quantities too rise to the occasion and leave their mark. Here are some players that have already had a blockbuster of an IPL.

Andre Russell (KKR)

The hard-hitting West Indian has undoubtedly been the best player by a long mile in this tournament. With 25 sixes to his name, Russell has literally saved KKR from the jaws of defeat. Against RCB, he hit seven sixes in 13 balls, scoring 49 runs of 13 balls. He has a strike rate of 213, and is leading the chart for the season’s MVP.

David Warner (SRH)

All eyes were on the Australian southpaw, as this marked his return to the tournament after last year’s ball tampering scandal. And boy, has he been sensational. With a staggering average of 87, and a century and three fifties to his name, Warner has scored 348 runs and is currently leading the race for the orange cap. His performances have certainly sealed his position in the Australian World Cup squad. Talk about comebacks!

KL Rahul (KXIP)

The best Indian batsman in this tournament has undoubtedly been KL Rahul. Like Warner, he too was coming on the back of the flak he faced for his Koffee with Karan fiasco. But he silenced his critics with the bat. Scoring 317 runs with an average of 79 and three half-centuries and a spectacular 100 in seven matches, Rahul has been the backbone of the Punjab batting line-up.

Johnny Bairstow (SRH)

David Warner’s opening partner for SRH too has been an absolute joy to watch. He is playing his first IPL and has made a huge impact on the fortunes of his team. He is second in the rungetter’s table, and has top scored with a massive 114 vs RCB. He and Warner form a key component in SRH’s chances for this season.

Kagiso Rabada (DC)

The South African has been hands down the best bowler of the tournament. The biggest mainstay on the Delhi Capitals’ line-up, Rabada has taken 11 wickets and leads the race for the purple cap. His yorkers are a thing of beauty. That super over against KKR where he got Russell out to a peach of a toe crusher, was proof that he single-handedly can win DC a match.

Harbhajan Singh (CSK)

Yes, Imran Tahir has been excellent and is the main spinner for CSK. But seeing Bhajji doing what he does best seems to have turned back the clock for Indian fans. At a time when people wrote him off, and he kept himself busy doing more commentary than playing matches, the wily old fox — with 7 wickets at an economy of 5.12—has proved why he is one of the greatest spinners ever.

Deepak Chahar (CSK)

CSK have been the best bowling team of the tournament and part of this has largely been because of this right-armed medium pacer. Chahar, with his swinging deliveries and cutters, has managed to fox the batsman, and though he may have not taken as many wickets, he has the ability to consistently bowl those dot balls – he bowled 73 off those—to set up the spinners for taking wickets. In the last match versus KKR, 20 of his 24 deliveries were dots, thus making an IPL record.

Special Mention: Alzarri Joseph

If you want to see a dream IPL debut, look no further than what West Indian Alzarri Joseph did versus SRH. In his first and only IPL match so far, he went home with figures of 6-12, thus shattering a long-time record – 11 years to be precise—set by Sohail Tanvir as the best bowling innings in IPL history.