After a few moments into the IPL 2016 Final played between Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) and Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH), a question popped up on our TV screens: it was whether the ninth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) had been the most exciting since the tournament’s inception in 2008. 83% of the voters gave a thumb up and only 17% disagreed with the notion. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I too concur with that poll and would say IPL 9 was a truly fascinating watch, and it was special because a lot of the lesser teams outclassed the behemoths and made their presence well and truly felt. When the ninth season commenced on April 9, who would have thought that the final was going to be between RCB and SRH, and three of the four teams which qualified for the IPL 2016 playoffs, had never won an IPL title before.
2016 has been a year for the underdogs, with Leicester City playing outstandingly well over a 10-month period and lifting the Barclays Premier League (BPL) title, Atletico Madrid reaching the finals of the UEFA Champions League (UCL) by beating Barcelona in the quarterfinals, Bayern Munich in the semifinals and only losing on penalties to Real Madrid in the final, and now Sunrisers excelling in the IPL and becoming the champions of India. So, a lot of neutrals have enjoyed these league tournaments and the exceptional performances of the trio mentioned above can only bode well for the two sports, cricket and football.
Synonymously, this article discusses the top Indian performers – five of them – of IPL 2016 who exceeded a lot of expectations and excelled during the season that concluded only a couple of nights back.
The UP seamer was instrumental in Sunrisers’ march to the IPL 2016 title and personally too, he bowled some of the best overs of his international cricket career till date. His pace was up by at least a couple of bars and in certain games, he managed to move the ball in the air and off the pitch. He was a reliable new ball bowler for David Warner, the SRH captain, throughout the tournament. But when the need arose on the night of the final, he delivered the goods at the death too, strangulating Stuart Binny and Sachin Baby, who were able to score off most other Sunrisers’ bowlers but Bhuvneshwar, who found the blockhole consistently and hurried the batsmen with his pace too.
Before the season began, few would have expected Bhuvneshwar to walk away with the Purple Cap, having picked up 23 wickets and conceded just 490 runs from his 66 overs – at an economy rate of 7.42. But he was impressive, consistent and went about his trade rather confidently, for a bowler who had struggled for wickets and been hit for plenty of runs across all formats over the last 18 months.
The Mumbai seamer had a dream IPL season and can be extremely proud of his performances for Gujarat Lions (GL) in their debut IPL campaign. The most impressive feature of his bowling was his ability to mix the length of his deliveries and keep the batsmen guessing. He was the one who dismissed Rohit Sharma in both of Gujarat’s meetings with Mumbai. Kulkarni took Rohit’s scalp with identical deliveries that were short and got the Mumbai stylist to pull balls which climbed on him. Therefore, Rohit could not generate the kind of power he would have liked and was caught by Shadab Jakati on both the occasions when he also fielded at square-leg, once inside the circle and once on the boundary.
Kulkarni was not easy to score off too, as is proven by his economy rate of 7.42 runs/over. He finished the season with 18 wickets from 14 games and took a wicket every 16 balls he bowled. He is a part of the Indian squad for the upcoming tour of Zimbabwe and in my opinion, Kulkarni will play in all six games (three ODIs and three T20Is) of the tour.
In a side as star-studded as RCB have been for much of the nine IPL seasons, it can be difficult for a lot of players to get noticed, but Chahal, with his brilliant bowling performances, ensured that he was not one to be left behind the likes of Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers, Virat Kohli, and Shane Watson. Chahal’s success was special because he bowled at a venue – the Chinnaswamy Stadium – which is small and where hitting sixes is like eating a piece of cake for many batsmen. He exuded great control over his leg-breaks and was equally good with his googlies, which were not easy to pick up too. There was a googly he bowled in the IPL 2016 final, to Yuvraj Singh, and beat the stylish southpaw with a delivery that pitched on middle stump and even on a benign wicket from a spinner’s point of view, viciously spun away. It was a sight to behold for any leg-spinner watching!
Chahal finished the season as the second highest wicket-taker (21 wickets), having played in just 13 games. He was economical too, conceding just 8.15 runs/over and taking a wicket every 2.2 overs. Chahal, if you didn’t know already, excelled with the ball for RCB in the 2015 season too, when he picked up 23 wickets from 15 games. Chahal has to be appreciated for not letting his performance levels drop from last season, with his consistency and wicket-taking ability earning him a call-up to the national side for the tour of Zimbabwe.
The trio mentioned above were known to a lot of Indian cricket fans in general, but what about this man from Baroda? Well, yes, he hasn’t played first-class cricket and therefore, was an unknown commodity, but the confidence he exuded every time he got to bat, in particular, was of a man with good experience at the top level. He was sent in at a variety of batting positions in order to give impetus to the innings or to keep the momentum going, and K Pandya was able to fulfil the responsibility given to him by the MI think-tank. Another aspect that stood out was his ability to play all around the clock and not just target one corner of the ground: he was able to hit straight down the ground, go inside-out against spinners and then play the pull to good effect too, off pace bowlers. He finished the season with 237 runs from 12 games, and he scored those runs at 191.12 runs/100 balls.
His left-arm spin bowling didn’t yield a lot of wickets (6), but Rohit was able to throw the ball to K Pandya in critical stages of games and strangle the opposition. And his economy rate of 7.57 from bowling 31.1 overs, proves his ability to deliver under pressure. Yes, he does not have a lot of variety in his armoury and bowled a flatter trajectory for the most part of his debut IPL season, but he still managed to tie the batsmen down and help his bowling partners out at the other end.
The Karnataka batsman was a revelation for the Royal Challengers. He was another Indian player who had a dream IPL 2016, which could well prove to be the watershed of his Twenty20 International (T20I) career. Rahul has already proved himself as a wonderful Test batsman who can be relied on, but T20 cricket, expectedly, has not come naturally to him. For someone who plays authentic cricket shots and is gifted with great technique, Rahul has found it difficult to lose the shackles as a T20 batsman and in IPL 2014 and IPL 2015, he was unable to find the boundaries regularly. In the ninth edition of the IPL, however, Rahul played quite fluently, stroking the ball all around the dial and thus was able to garner runs at a fair clip. Needless to say, he had an impressive strike-rate of 146.49, which is nearly 22 runs more than his previous best of 125.oo in the 2013 season, when he also played in just five games. It tells you how far Rahul has come as a T20 batsman.
He scored runs briskly, but he also scored substantial runs. A tally of 397 runs from 14 matches is something he can be satisfied with and hope to improve on next season. But what Rahul’s performances in this IPL season have done is, given him an idea about how to bat in T20 cricket and the shots that are most productive to him. Rahul played as a batsman/wicket-keeper and he did not have a good time behind the stumps. Period.
During a season which did not see the mainstays of the national side – most notably Ravichandran Ashwin, Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja – play to potential, it was exhilarating to see the aforementioned quintet excel at their respective trades. The fact that they weren’t expected to at the start of the season, made it all the more special. Bhuvneshwar, Kulkarni, Chahal, K Pandya, and L Rahul, having proved themselves at the IPL level, would hope that their performances get recognised and rewarded by the Indian national selection committee.