When a team looks past a set of failures and puts their faith in a player they have marked for the future, we get what Chennai Super Kings got from Gaikwad. Another team might not have installed him in at the top of the order after a starting sequence of 0, 5 and 0 (last year), but then he gave them an Orange Cap-winning 635 runs this year, and played a starring role in their title run.
Most IPL teams are usually happy with one consistent, high-performing opener, but Super Kings had two this year. du Plessis was just two runs behind Gaikwad in the Orange Cap race. He might have seemed like the less dominant partner in their stands, but du Plessis shone when needed, his experience coming to the fore in a big way, never more than in the final, where his 59-ball 86 - he was dismissed off the last ball of the innings - put Super Kings well beyond Kolkata Knight Riders' reach.
Every big story needs smaller stories, and the best of those in this year's IPL went by the name of Venkatesh Iyer. When he walked out to open the innings for Knight Riders after the restart, most wouldn't have heard of him. Not anymore. Not after the role he played in swinging Knight Riders' season around. It wasn't just the runs, but his attitude, and his approach… that he is handy with the ball and in the field is just a bonus.
With Maxwell, it was perhaps always a case of when, and not if, he would shine in the IPL, though the sequence of poor returns over the years did lead to enough ifs thrown his way too. This time around, Royal Challengers Bangalore did Maxwell a huge favour, and batted him at No. 4. Clearly the right call - look at the numbers! He had been going well in the first leg anyway, but a sequence of 56, 50*, 57, 40 and 51* in the UAE just raised his stocks by a notch.
It was almost like yet another blow-hot-blow-cold season from Samson, till he decided that it wouldn't be, whatever it took. Samson lit up the tournament in its early stages, with that century against Punjab Kings (in a loss), but following a sequence of poor scores, he ended the first leg with 42*, 42 and 48. On to Part II, and while Rajasthan Royals didn't get too far, Samson stayed the course, especially when he strutted around for a 53-ball 70* against Delhi Capitals (in a loss, again) and then 82 in 57 balls (in a loss, but you knew that!) against Sunrisers Hyderabad.
He was well below what he is capable of, but Hetmyer did show enough signs of being the finisher and the late-overs hitter he can be. Not all his innings were big, but he pulled out the big hits almost effortlessly when he got going. If there is a platform and just the death overs to maximise, he is one of the best.
A batting average of 75.66 and an economy rate of 7.06 with the ball, as one of the frontline bowlers for his team - that's about as valuable as a player can get… not to forget what Jadeja contributes in the outfield. He is one of the best in the business, and a must-have in the XI.
He hasn't quite been the bowler he once was, and he isn't quite the pinch-hitter at the top of the order he once was either, but Narine has not only remodelled his action, he has remodelled himself, and is still one of the toughest to get away, especially in the middle overs. And every once in a way, like against Royal Challengers Bangalore in the eliminator, he can put up a performance that lingers in the mind in the overall haze of the IPL: 4 for 21, including the wickets of Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Maxwell, all of them tricked into failure, and then a 15-ball 26 at a tricky time, 18 of those runs coming off the first three balls he faced.
In his last over of the tournament, first ball, Harshal got Narine to mishit one, off a patented slower ball on leg stump. And Devdutt Padikkal shelled it. If it had stuck, Harshal would have ended with 33 wickets for the season - no one has picked up more. But, record or not, it was a stellar season for a 30-year-old seamer who is, arguably, in his best form yet, as the numbers, with ball and bat, for Haryana in the Indian domestic circuit prove. To say that someone who has been playing in the IPL since 2012 had a breakthrough year sounds silly, but Harshal did, didn't he?
It was almost impossible to get Chakravarthy away, right through the IPL, for the second IPL in a row, in fact, and in tandem with Narine, he formed a sensational pair in the middle overs, drying up the runs and setting Knight Riders up for one unlikely win after another. Chakravarthy picked up wickets with some regularity, but his great achievement was definitely in the economy department.
Avesh enjoyed a true breakthrough season. Second only to Harshal in the wicket-takers' tally, it was almost as if Avesh would get a wicket each time he came on to bowl, in every stage of the innings. Still uncapped at the international level, though he is on the fringes, Avesh showed how he has improved in the past couple of years, still hitting the deck as he always did, but now with more control, and at what pace. He can hit 140kph, but also has a bagful of slower deliveries, and bowls both in the powerplay and at the death.