Week three of the IPL road-show, and as the table begins to separate the contenders from the also-rans, there's a long-awaited glimpse of one of the tournament's big guns. Here's how the English contingent fared this week. Click here for week two's update.
Another miracle win for Rajasthan Royals ensures Archer's efforts are not in vain
Jofra Archer is bowling wheels. Just ask Hardik Pandya, who saw his life flash before his eyes this week as he limboed out of the way of a full-throttle beamer in Abu Dhabi. That delivery was an eye-popping exception for Archer in this tournament, for he has landed pretty much every other punch he's thrown. His sub-7 economy rate is the best among the tournament's frontline quicks, while he's bowled the eight fastest deliveries of the tournament so far, as well as two-thirds of all deliveries in excess of 150kph. Only the Delhi Capitals' Anrich Nortje has come close to offering similarly consistent heat. And in his most recent outing, Archer even secured himself the promise of a new Xbox, after firing one through the defences of David Warner to take their head-to-head record in 2020 to five dismissals from 41 balls in six innings. The only thing that he has lacked, in fact, has been a sufficiently consistent team to convert his personal efforts into points. But, with Rahul Tewatia conjuring up the Royals' second miracle out of their three victories to date, they've kept themselves in touch with the pack at the end of an otherwise disappointing week.
Bairstow achieves lift-off after promising early form
The bromance is back. On the occasion of Warner's 50th IPL half-century, it was his dancing partner Jonny Bairstow who took the lead against the Kings XI Punjab with an innings of vitriolic savagery that he's been threatening, on and off, all tournament long. All told he slammed 97 from 55 balls with seven fours and six sixes, dominating an opening stand of 160 in which Warner's 52 from 40 was made to look unjustly pedestrian. After a bristling beginning, it was the introduction of the rookie spinner Ravi Bishnoi that clicked Bairstow into overdrive, as he lurched towards a 200 strike rate with 6, 4, 6 in three balls. Glenn Maxwell was the next to feel his wrath, punished into the stands for back-to-back sixes, and a second Sunrisers century seemed only a matter of time until Bishnoi exacted his revenge with a slider that was shown to be hitting leg stump. Against the Royals three days later, Bairstow wasn't quite so fluent, making 16 from 19, but he seemed to have settled the debate with two sharp catches behind the stumps to account for the dangermen Jos Buttler and Sanju Samson. Remarkably, it wasn't to be.
Sam Curran continues to prove he belongs among the big dogs
Another busy but under-rewarded week for Sam Curran, whose stock continues to rise even as that of his team falls away beneath him. Consecutive losses have left the Chennai Super Kings in serious danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in IPL history, but Sam himself could have done little more to set up a victory chance against the Knight Riders in Abu Dhabi. His waspish left-armers returned the superb figures of 2 for 26, including an exquisite skiddy bouncer to scalp England's white-ball captain Eoin Morgan, in a sub-par total of 167. But with the bat, his innings was once again sweet but too short - another initiative-seizing knock of 17 from 11 balls, including a rare volley of aggression against Sunil Narine, but running out of steam with 39 needed from three overs and Andre Russell fresh to the attack. He had less to write home about in his second match of the week - a bit of a schooling from Virat Kohli at the death, followed by a first-baller in another lost cause against the Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Morgan comes off the boil but Knight Riders stay competitive
That bouncer from Sam triggered a relative downturn in fortunes for Eoin Morgan after a stellar second week, but with two more wins to consolidate the Knight Riders' playoff credentials, he won't mind slipping back into the pack for now - nor, with the bigger picture of England's T20 World Cup campaign in mind, will he necessarily begrudge his young team-mate getting one over him; there are few better ways to get noticed than to knock over your captain, after all. Morgan's second knock of the week was a low-key but quietly crucial 24 from 23 balls against the ever-misfiring Kings XI. Promoted to No. 4 for the first time this tournament, after two early wickets, he kept Shubman Gill company in a 49-run stand that, in the final reckoning, left just enough time for Dinesh Karthik to play the winning hand.
Buttler hints at best form but struggles for consistency
When you've made your name as an IPL opener with five consecutive fifties and a haul of 548 runs all told, as Jos Buttler did for the Royals in 2018, you're probably entitled to a bit of time to find your best form. And against the Mumbai Indians in Abu Dhabi, it all seemed to slot into place as Buttler converted his fourth outing of the tournament into a scintillating 70 from 44 balls. But then he fell to a stunner from Keiron Pollard on the long-on rope, and his team's pursuit of a stiff 194 target stumbled with him. His follow-ups - 13 from 8 against the Capitals, and 16 from 13 against the Sunrisers Hyderabad - have been a reversion to an insubstantial mean. Though he's been ever-present at the top since missing the first match through quarantine, none of the Royals' four opening combinations to date has yet lasted more than 2.3 overs. And the identity of his latest partner was particularly intriguing…
Stokes arrives with intent, but little impact this time
He has been lurking in the UAE for a week already, completing his quarantine and finding his touch in the nets, but Ben Stokes finally made his tournament bow against the Sunrisers on Sunday, after his lengthy period of compassionate leave in New Zealand. And while his magic touch wasn't fully restored in what, remarkably, was only his fourth white-ball outing since his World Cup final heroics in July last year, Stokes' deployment with bat and ball offered an intriguing insight into how the Royals plan to use one of their biggest guns. His solitary over, the ninth of the innings, was short and to the point, pushing Warner and Manish Pandey back into their creases with hostile intent while conceding just seven runs; while his appearance at the top of the order alongside his World Cup Super Over partner Buttler was a fascinating strategy, and one that - if it does pay off in the long run - will give Morgan an even greater World Cup headache, given that he already has about seven potential openers for next year's event. Stokes came up short this time, misjudging the pace of the pitch as he under-edged a pull, but given how desperately the Royals need a settled pair of openers, he'll surely have another opportunity against the Capitals on Wednesday.
Tom Curran the fall guy as death options fall short
It's a cruel game at the best of times, but Tom Curran will be feeling particularly hard done by this week, after losing a high-stakes game of roulette to Suryakumar Yadav in Abu Dhabi. In what was already shaping up as another imposing Mumbai Indians display, Tom's first two overs had gone for a perfectly respectable 14 - even though Yadav gave a hint of his dexterity with a supremely deft deflection through third man for four. But that was nothing compared to the outrageous sweep that he pulled off in Tom's third and final over. It had begun as a handy yorker outside off, it ended up disappearing over fine leg for six, and a nonplussed Tom was out-thought one ball later as his slower bouncer was ramped for another four through fine leg. Two balls earlier Tom had dropped a return catch off Hardik Pandya, and Steven Smith decided his gig was up. Andrew Tye replaced him, to no great effect against the Capitals, but with Stokes' return completing the Royals' full quota of gun overseas stars, Curran may struggle to get another look-in in a hurry.
Jordan still not the answer to Kings XI travails
Another recall for the IPL's basement dwellers, but another mixed bag from Chris Jordan, whose final figures of 0 for 37 against KKR were respectable but hardly stand-out. He started well enough, conceding 11 from his first two, and actually finished with a bit of a flourish, limiting Dinesh Karthik and Pat Cummins to nine runs in the 20th. But by that stage, Karthik had already climbed into his diet of wide yorkers to snaffle 18 runs from the 17th, a crucial over of acceleration that wrecked the Kings XI's hopes of a sub-150 target.
Moeen Ali's mixed return as RCB are crushed
A first appearance of the tournament for Moeen Ali, but it was not an especially memorable one. He did strike with his third ball against Delhi, as Shreyas Iyer holed out to deep midwicket, but Marcus Stoinis - flushed with confidence with the bat - took him down and out one over later, a muscular six over midwicket and another four, arguably even better, one bounce back over his head. With the bat, he did at least provide Kohli with some ballast at No. 5 in a fourth-wicket stand of 32, the best of a flatlining innings. But he failed in his first attempt to clear the long midwicket boundary, and that was the end of that.
Banton gets the call-up at last
It's all a learning experience for England's next big thing. But with Sunil Narine absent after being reported for a suspect action, Tom Banton has been handed his chance in the Knight Riders colours against the Royal Challengers today, and was handed his cap by his England captain, Morgan. Watch this space.