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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) leg of the Indian Premier League (IPL) XI has some recognizable and some fresh faces after the first leg. R Vishal names and justifies why the respective players have made it into the team.
Dwayne Smith: Having been an integral part of the all-conquering Mumbai Indians (MI) outfit that romped to IPL and Champions League T20 victories in the 2013 season, the hard-hitting West Indies batsman has made a seamless transition slotting into a well-oiled and settled camp. Chennai Super Kings (CSK) pinned their hopes on Michael Hussey and Murali Vijay to set the tempo for many seasons. Smith’s three half-centuries have come at a dazzling strike rate of 143 and comfortably clinches the openers spot.
Ajinkya Rahane: With Rahul Dravid hanging up his IPL boots last season, Rahane was handed a bigger responsibility of donning the mantle of a senior player in the Rajasthan Royals (RR) setup. Armed with international experience, Rahane has taken his role with aplomb and both his half-centuries in the five games so far resulted with his team ending up on the winning side. Rahane brings a touch of alacrity and elegance in his stroke-play and the RR opener’s reliability at the top order cannot be ignored.
Sanju Samson (wk): The Kerala batsman has played only one innings that befits his ever-growing reputation in Indian cricket — a sparkling half-century against Kings XI Punjab (KXIP). Samson’s assurance behind the stumps, all-round stroke-making and nerves of steel that belies his tender age that is a vital for a No 3 makes him shade Parthiv Patel.
Glenn Maxwell: Maxwell has scored all his runs at No 3 position, but demoting him at two down is not going to change the ‘Big Show’s’ approach to the game. Pure unadulterated hitting that that the IPL has seldom seen since its inception has left the hapless bowlers scarred and clueless for answers. 95, 89, 95 in three back-to-back innings is not an everyday occurrence and the aforementioned scores have taken him to the top of the IPL run charts and subsequently, took his team wins in the UAE. Maxwell’s unique brand of swashbuckling cricket and innovation is sure to keep fans at the edge of their seats in India as well.
Manish Pandey: Like Rahane, Manish has also thrived under added responsibility. Pandey has displayed a maturity at the crease that bailed his team, KKR from two sticky situations. India’s first IPL centurion Pandey’s versatility hands him the No 5 spot in the line-up.
Shane Watson (c): Watson surely turned a corner with the bat during Australia’s 5-0 triumph against England. While the burly all-rounder proved his naysayers wrong with the bat, captaincy was going to be a different kettle of fish, but Watson has so far has done well in that role and has galvanized the team. Watson has displayed the ability for a good tactical brain, and is getting the best out of his young team. With other captains misfiring or not getting enough chances, as is the case with MS Dhoni, Watson takes the captain’s role.
Suryakumar Yadav: The Mumbai youngster has been a revelation down the order for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), and as it stands, Suryakumar’s 110 runs in the UAE came at an average of 55 with a jaw-dropping strike rate of 177. No other lower-order batsman has displayed the audacious flourish in the final overs as Suryakumar, and he grabs the crucial No 7 spot by a country-mile.
Mohit Sharma: Dhoni’s persistence with the Haryana pacer has paid rich dividends for CSK. His stump-to-stump line and unpredictable slower deliveries has continued to deceive batsmen, and provide important breakthroughs. After being carted around the park in their tournament opener against Punjab, Mohit has gone from strength-to-strength, and his eight wickets have come at a healthy run-rate of just over six runs.
Sunil Narine: The mystery spin of Narine continues to leave batsmen in a daze; two years after KKR signed him up, and is the current purple cap holder of IPL 2014. Narine’s economy rate of 5.35 is simply phenomenal in this format. With more slow and spin-friendly pitches awaiting the West Indian tweaker in India, the Purple cap is sure to be perched on Narine wily head for a while.
Varun Aaron: Aaron’s disappointing form with the Indian team before the IPL 7 is now a thing of the past, and the Jharkhand speedster has been in red-hot form for Bangalore. Aaron’s eight wickets have come of only four games, coming at a remarkable economy rate of 5.66. Aaron has been bending his back and has often hit the 140+ mark, a rarity for an Indian pacer. Aaron should try to further build on his stellar shows in the UAE so far.
Yuzvendra Chahal: The surprise package of the IPL XI with a string of impeccable displays with the ball has seen the frail leg-spinner’s fortunes change from warming the drinks for MI to the most economical bowler among the top wicket-takers. Chahal has been a headache for the batsmen to put away and could be knocking on the doors of the Indian selectors with more of such displays.
(R Vishal is a journalist and alumni of the Asian College of Journalism. He can be followed on Twitter @vishhell)
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