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From Dwayne Smith to Virender Sehwag, the role of the opener has been a key factor in deciding the fate of most sides in the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2014. Shiamak Unwalla examines the impact made by the openers of each team.
Kings XI Punjab (KXIP): While Virender Sehwag has been consistent for Kings XI Punjab, his opening partners have failed to provide KXIP a solid platform. First Cheteshwar Pujara and then Mandeep Singh were unable to score quickly or consistently at the top. All this changed in their previous match, where Sehwag himself suffered a rare failure, but youngster Manan Vohra came out and, with Wriddhiman Saha for company, played a match-winning innings of 47 from just 20 balls to set the tempo for a mammoth run chase which saw KXIP chase down 205 with consummate ease. The KXIP openers have currently scored 245 runs together at an average of 24.5, but in most matches, either one of the two openers has gone on to make a significant contribution. At least one opener has scored no less than 30 in eight of the ten matches. While the likes of David Miller and Glenn Maxwell have done the bulk of the scoring for KXIP, it has been their openers who have given them a solid base from which to launch their eventual onslaught.
Chennai Super Kings (CSK): When one thinks of successful opening partnerships of IPL 7, the most obvious ones would be the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) opening pair of Dwayne Smith (440 runs at an average of 44) and Brendon McCullum (333 runs at an average of 37), who are ranked second and sixth respectively on the run charts at the time of writing. They have been quite simply the best opening pair this year. With 479 runs in 10 innings together at an average of 47.9 runs per partnership, the duo have got CSK off to a good start more often than not. What has been most heartening is that invariably when one fails, the other kicks on to a substantial score. Quite astoundingly, either one of the two have gone on to get a half century in seven of the ten innings. Of the three innings wherein neither opener scored a fifty, the higher score was 29, 33 and 44. In a format where a 30 is considered a good innings, this is an outstanding record. CSK are sitting comfortably with only two losses in 10 games, and a major reason for their success has been their outstanding opening partnership.
Rajasthan Royals (RR): Another team that has struggled with less consistent performances, the Rajasthan Royals have tried out five different openers in the tournament. Ironically, the highest opening partnership they have recorded was put on by make-shift openers Ankit Sharma and Shane Watson. While Ajinkya Rahane has been consistent and Karun Nair has been good, they have never fired together, and have managed to cross 50 runs together only on two occasions out of the seven times they have batted together. Currently, the Rajasthan opening partnership has scored 311 runs at an average of 28.27 runs per innings. Rajasthan is one of the few successful sides that has not relied too heavily on its opening partnership to provide the winning touch.
Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR): After a horrendous start, the openers of the Kolkata Knight Riders have suddenly blossomed into the second most successful one in IPL 7. Gautam Gambhir and Jacques Kallis started out as KKR’s openers for the first three games. Gambhir’s string of three ducks have been well documented, as have KKR’s early batting woes. After their openers scored just 57 runs in six innings at a laughable average of 9.5, things suddenly fell into place for Kolkata with the promotion of Robin Uthappa to the top of the order. KKR had tried three different opening combinations and five different openers in six innings before Uthappa and Gambhir finally put in a noteworthy performance where they put on 121. Since then, they have gone on to score at least 50 runs together in every innings. Currently, they have put on 362 runs together at a terrific average of 72.4. Their partnership at the top of the order has also galvanised KKR into a winning outfit.
Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH): With one of the most explosive opening pairs in the IPL — Shikhar Dhawan and Aaron Finch — much was expected from the Sunrisers Hyderabad top order. They are the only pair, with the exception of Dwayne Smith and Brendon McCullum for Chennai Super Kings, to have been the same two openers in every game so far this year. However, they have flattered to deceive more often than not. With only two fifty-plus opening stands in 10 games, SRH are among the teams with the lowest average for the first wicket, with 271 runs at an average of 27.1. Neither of their opening batsmen have been in great form either, with Finch scoring only two half-centuries and Dhawan managing a top score of just 45 so far. In fact, even in the rain-hit chase of 44, Finch and Dhawan could manage just eight runs off 15 balls between them. SRH has struggled with their bowling as well this year, and without a powerful batting line-up it does not seem likely that they will progress to the final four unless they improve drastically in the coming matches.
Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB): Chris Gayle. That name is enough to send shivers down the spine of even the most resolute of bowlers in T20s. However, the record three-time Orange Cap winner has been way below his normal standards in IPL 7. His lack of form, combined with Virat Kohli’s, has meant that Royal Challengers Bangalore have struggled at the start of their innings in almost every game so far. With AB de Villiers and Yuvraj Singh showing some recent form, it has been their middle order that has got them out of trouble on most occasions. They currently average a dismal 21.6 for the first wicket after 10 matches. They too have tried out various opening combinations, but of the current pair Chris Gayle has a high score of just 38, while Parthiv Patel has scored just one fifty. RCB will need their top three batsmen to really step up their game, as it would be foolish to depend on Yuvraj and de Villiers to pull them out of trouble in every game. They are one of the three teams still in with a chance of grabbing the final spot in the top four, and one feels that if Gayle can start firing for them, their chances will shoot up.
Mumbai Indians: There are a number of reasons behind Mumbai Indians’ disgraceful showing in IPL 7. To blame it all on the openers would be unfair. But the fact that in 10 games the highest partnership for the first wicket has been a pitiful 25 runs speaks volumes of Mumbai’s form this year. With seven different opening batsmen in just 10 games, Mumbai have never given themselves a chance at stability at the top of the order. With just 132 runs at 13.2, Mumbai have had the worst possible starts. Lendl Simmons’ 68 in their ninth game has been the only half century by a Mumbai opener this year. The next highest score is also by Simmons, with 38 in Mumbai’s eighth match. For all intents and purposes, Mumbai are out of contention this year. They will be praying for a more settled opening combination next time around.
Delhi Daredevils: Much can be said about the performance of the Delhi Daredevils this year, and little of it will be good. They have struggled in almost every department, and their impressive-looking batting line-up has repeatedly faltered. At the time of writing, the opening combination of the Daredevils has scored 280 runs at an average of 25.45. Their opening combination has gone through a few changes, but has remained more or less consistent. Either one of Murali Vijay or Quinton de Kock has opened in 10 out of 11 innings this year. In fact, the duo have scored 216 runs together at a very healthy average of 43.2. Their opening partnership has been fairly consistent without being explosive, but the batsmen coming in after them have failed on more than one occasion. Delhi do not have a realistic chance of qualifying, but can take heart in the fact that their openers will perhaps not be a cause of concern for next year. Their middle-order and their bowling attack probably will.
(Shiamak Unwalla is a reporter with Cricket Country. He is a self-confessed Sci-Fi geek and Cricket fanatic who likes to pass his free time by reading books, watching TV shows, and eating food. Sometimes all at the same time. You can follow him on twitter at @ShiamakUnwalla)
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