In the home T20I series against England, which preceded the IPL, India captain Virat Kohli lined up alongside KL Rahul as a contender to open with Rohit Sharma. While Rahul continued to prosper in the IPL, Kohli and Sharma, though consistent, scored at a quieter strike rate. At the halfway stage of the IPL, the trio's first 10-ball strike rate was: Kohli (126), Rahul (100) and Sharma (89). But Sharma had played five out of seven matches on the challenging pitches in Chennai.
Earning huge salaries through the auction could result in a lot of pressure in the IPL. Not often do we see such players living up to the price tag. There have been instances in which a player has not played despite being sold for a large sum. However, early indicators this season showed that the big money players performed well. Chris Morris, who fetched the most money for any player at an IPL auction, won matches with the bat and ball for the Rajasthan Royals while serial IPL millionaire Glenn Maxwell neatly settled into a middle-order role at the Royal Challangers Bangalore. Maxwell played in tough conditions, helping his team get over the line on couple of occasions. Kyle Jamieson, relatively unknown on the T20 circuit, came into the league with a lot of questions, but displayed his potential with some tight bowling in difficult conditions and also showed he could stand his ground with the bat.
In 2020 they surprised with their worst-ever IPL season. Barely six months later, MS Dhoni's team surprised by making a remarkable turnaround. The Chennai Super Kings were leading the points table at the halfway stage. That turnaround happened because the team management had addressed their weaknesses promptly. In 2020, the Super Kings were the worst batting unit in the powerplay, but this time around the Super Kings were probably the only team to go hard through the 20 overs without worrying about the wickets.
ESPNcricinfo is running the Greatest IPL Performance series currently. In the next edition, AB de Villiers' undefeated 76 against the Knight Riders will easily be one of the nominations. It might be second to Kieron Pollard's majestic assault against the Super Kings, but de Villiers once again proved why experience matters. And why Graeme Smith and Mark Boucher, the top brass at South Africa, want him back in the T20 set-up.
Not many might have expected the Royal Challengers' fast bowler Harshal Patel to hold the purple cap and the Capitals' quick Avesh Khan to be second among the highest wicket-takers at the halfway state of this IPL. Yet, both men made headlines by bowling the difficult overs. With an ability to bowl in the high 140s at will, Avesh was both accurate and consistent while being one of the best yorker specialists. His continued success not only allowed the Capitals to leave out their 2020 IPL hero Anrich Nortje, but also find space in the top order for Steven Smith.
Did we ever imagine that franchises would drop players of the caliber of David Warner and Nicholas Pooran? Or Ishan Kishan after his success last IPL, which earned him an India T20I call-up? Despite being among the runs, Warner was dropped by the Sunrisers Hyderabad, both as captain and batter, for the sake of finding the right team balance. For some years now Sunil Narine has been dealt with easily by opposition batters and this season was no different as he failed to make an impact. Pooran, one of the smoothest power hitters in T20 cricket, had four ducks this season. Kishan played just two matches, but that was enough for the Mumbai Indians to change their combination and promote Krunal Pandya to No. 4 for the first time. The suspension of the IPL meant it is hard to comprehend the exact impact of such hard calls.
Netural venues, contrasting pitches and the difference in boundary sizes made for interesting viewing. While Chennai and Ahmedabad aided spinners and kept the batters in check, Mumbai and Delhi were a nightmare for bowlers, mainly due to the dew setting in early. Batters scored at an average strike rate of 125 in Chennai and Ahmedabad, and 145 in Mumbai and Delhi. With no home advantage, teams such as the Mumbai Indians had to find new strategies to combat the slower pitches. Delhi and Mumbai saw teams scoring in excess of 200 consistently, making it difficult for the bowlers. The toss did not make as much of an impact as previous seasons.
For the second season now, Kuldeep Yadav struggled to find a spot in the Kolkata Knight Riders' bowling attack owing to the success of Varun Chakravarthy. In 2017, Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal were meant to be the future. However, even Chahal has been struggling to make an impact over the last one year, both with India as well as the Royal Challengers. Since January 2020, Chahal's economy rate of 9.27 is the highest among all spinners (minimum 100 balls bowled) in T20Is. The break could be a welcome opportunity for the pair to work out an approach to help them bounce back strongly.
Gaurav Sundararaman is a senior stats analyst at ESPNcricinfo