The ultimate IPL fairy tale
What words can conjure the goosebumps that the story of Rashid Khan deserves? To state that he is only the second player still playing for an Associate country to play in the IPL is inadequate. For he is not just from any Associate nation but from Afghanistan, a country whose cricket team only began to attract attention five years ago, a country that evokes several emotions but seldom joy, seldom hope. Rashid is a legspinner from Afghanistan and is 18 years old. His presence in the IPL is remarkable, his success astounding. When he took two wickets against Royal Challengers Bangalore in the tournament's opening game, some put it down to the batsmen being unfamiliar with him. But his performance against Gujarat Lions, in which he mixed quick legspinners with googlies that no one seemed able to read, had everyone suspecting the INR 4 crores ($600,000) he was bought for may have been a bargain.
The boss on the bench
A year ago, the prospect of Chris Gayle being dropped from any T20 team was as unlikely as an 18-year old Afghanistan player being an IPL star. But the last six months have seen Gayle's form dip. He scored just 109 runs in five games in the Bangladesh Premier League last year, and 160 in nine innings in this year's Pakistan Super League. All the talk before Royal Challengers Bangalore's third game of this season centred around Gayle becoming the first man to 10,000 T20 runs - he was 25 away. However, he was dropped. And while he returned for the next game, against Mumbai Indians, he was dismissed for 22, leaving him still three runs away from the landmark.
Samson roars again
One of the finds of the 2013 IPL, Sanju Samson's performances over the next year were impressive and led to an India cap in a T20 international against Zimbabwe in 2015. The performances weren't as impressive in the previous IPL, and he had a poor run in the Inter-State T20s earlier this year. By the start of this IPL, he was not even the most talked about young wicketkeeper-batsman in the Delhi Daredevils squad. Then, he scored the season's first century - 102 off 63 balls - against Rising Pune Supergiant.
The line at the clinic gets longer
The IPL has lost a lot of its stars to injuries this season, and Chris Lynn looked like the newest addition to the list. Lynn started imperiously, smashing eight sixes en route to 93 off 41 balls in Kolkata Knight Riders' first match, against Gujarat Lions. Then, in Knight Riders' second match, against Mumbai Indians, Lynn injured his shoulder while fielding against Mumbai Indians, and it wasn't just Knight Riders fans who were disappointed at the possibility of him missing the rest of the tournament.
Why doesn't the IPL have the DRS?
In a tournament that has a spider camera, an umpire camera and flashing bails, the absence of the DRS, technology that can actually impact results, is puzzling. The cry for reviews intensified over the first week of the tournament as the list of umpiring errors grew longer. The umpires seemed to reserve their biggest howlers for Mumbai Indians. Jos Buttler was on the receiving end of two in three games, and Rohit Sharma was adjudged lbw despite smacking the ball into his pads against Kolkata Knight Riders. Bowlers have borne the brunt too. Imran Tahir trapped Kieron Pollard right in front of the stumps in Pune, Yuzvendra Chahal did the same to Carlos Brathwaite in Bangalore, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar got Robin Uthappa to edge one behind in Kolkata Knight Riders' home game against Sunrisers Hyderabad. On all three occasions, the umpires remained unmoved.
Batting at both ends
The DRS may be able to correct some howlers, but you still need the on-field umpires to enforce some of the basic rules of the game, such as batsmen not changing ends at the end of an over. In Mumbai Indians' home game against Sunrisers Hyderabad, David Warner struck the last ball of the sixth over for a boundary, and the officials didn't notice when he took strike to the first ball of the next one.
A helping hand
Perhaps Warner was confused which end he should be at, because these days he tends to focus on multiple things while on the field, such as ensuring players on both sides are suitably attired. Gujarat Lions' Basil Thampi lost a shoe while trying to stop a drive off his bowling, and Warner, running from the non-striker's end, bent down mid-run to hand it to him.
Life can't be easy for the IPL's commentators, who have to ensure their tone and decibel levels live up to the tournament's promise of breathless excitement. You can forgive them for the odd cliché or failed joke, but it was hard to simply ignore Ravi Shastri's attempt to use a food analogy to describe Rashid Khan's performance for Sunrisers Hyderabad against Gujarat Lions. "In the land of the biryani," Shahstri growled, "he's bringing a bit of Chicken Afghani."
Thriller at the Wankhede
In T20s, dramatic last-over finishes are expected every other game, but this IPL has produced a lot of straightforward victories. Mumbai Indians' home clash against Kolkata Knight Riders bucked that trend, producing twists, turns, controversy, unlikely heroes and a nail-biting end. KKR stuttered in the middle of their innings and looked destined for a low total before Manish Pandey launched an assault in the slog overs. Mumbai Indians then started briskly, before two poor umpiring decisions set them back. When Kieron Pollard was dismissed with 60 required off 23 balls, the game seemed over. But Nitish Rana set up a tight finish with 50 off 29 balls. Eleven runs were required off the last over, and Hardik Pandya got them, assisted by some fielding blunders.
Form is temporary, street smarts are permanent
When Kevin Pietersen asked a miked-up Manoj Tiwary to rib MS Dhoni about his golfing skills during Rising Pune's home game against Mumbai Indians, Dhoni leaned into the mike and reminded Pietersen that he had dismissed him in a Test. That Pietersen had actually been given not out after a review did not dilute Dhoni's wit. A few overs later, when Kieron Pollard was adjudged not out after an lbw shout, Dhoni made a sign asking for a review, as if to tell the umpire he had made a mistake.
Later, when Supergiant came out to bat, Dhoni hit the last ball of the penultimate over straight to long-on. Steven Smith came charging down the wicket, but Dhoni stopped him, realising that crossing over would mean Smith would be off strike for the next over. Only when the catch was dropped did Dhoni go through with the run.
The man with the range
Sanjay Manjrekar, a regular commentator for IPL games, likes to pronounce the names of players accurately, the way people from their community would, but he wasn't aware the word "range" said in an Indian accent could sound like the word "brains" in a Trinidadian one. When he questioned whether Kieron Pollard, Mumbai Indians' destructive allrounder, had the "range" to bat up the order, Pollard responded angrily on Twitter, accusing Manjrekar of calling him brainless. Pollard is probably now thankful he misheard, for in his next game, he batted like a man with a point to prove. By the end of his match-winning 70 off 47 balls, it was clear he had both brains and range.
For critics of the IPL, the list of bowlers who have taken hat-tricks will forever remain a weapon. What must be the standard of batting for Rohit Sharma, who it wouldn't be unfair to describe as a right-arm longhop bowler, to take one, and for Yuvraj Singh, once described as a pie chucker, to take two? This year, two bowlers have already joined Rohit and Yuvraj on the list, but their reputations as Twenty20 bowlers are considerably more illustrious. Samuel Badree ripped apart Mumbai Indians' top order with a hat-trick in the third over of their chase, and then, on the same day, Gujarat Lions' Andrew Tye took three in the 20th over of Rising Pune Supergiant's innings to complete a five-for. The previous day, Umesh Yadav came close to taking one, getting three wickets in four balls against Kings XI Punjab, but that probably won't even be remembered after Badree and Tye's feats.
One-sentence team reports
The reasons for Royal Challengers Bangalore choosing to bat first in two of their first four matches are listed in the same book as the one that describes how to bat like AB de Villiers: a non-existent one.
The Pandya brothers, Nitish Rana, Jasprit Bumrah - if Mumbai Indians' young Indian players continue in the same vein, the team may consider not using all four overseas spots.
Rising Pune have just two points, but that's just nine less than MS Dhoni's average this season.
Spinners opening the bowling, star batsmen saved till late, one-over spells - is his gig with Kings XI Punjab really Glenn Maxwell's first go at captaincy?
How can anyone think about Yuvraj Singh's return to form in the IPL and Sunrisers Hyderabad's slow batting in Mumbai when you have an 18-year-old Afghanistan legspinner bamboozling opponents?
If you want to watch an outstanding individual performance, keep an eye on anyone playing for or against Gujarat Lions.
If Kolkata Knight Riders could have a point for every fielding and umpiring error that has occurred in their games, they would already be in the knockouts.
After a decade of there being no alternatives to MS Dhoni as India's T20 keeper-batsman, Delhi Daredevils have provided two.