Chitrabhanu Kadalayil shares his thoughts as we complete the first month of this year's Indian Premier League season
IPL 2018 talking points: Virat Kohli should rethink RCB captaincy, and Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh can take inspiration from MS Dhoni
Kohli should consider stepping down
Virat Kohli is probably not scoring as many runs in the Indian Premier League (IPL) this year as he should. It is an odd thing to suggest given he has aggregated 349 runs and is second in the batting chart with the season just past the halfway mark.
The fact is Royal Challengers Bangalore are struggling. They are fifth in the table, although they beat Mumbai Indians on Tuesday night and still have an outside chance of making the play-offs. And yes, they need a much stronger bowling unit to challenge the top sides. But the southern Indian franchise have reached three IPL finals on the back of their batting might.
In the absence of Chris Gayle, who appears rejuvenated at Kings XI Punjab, however, the onus of scoring the bulk of the team’s runs has fallen on Kohli and AB de Villiers. Both batsmen rose to the challenge in 2016 but flopped just as remarkably the following year. The difference? RCB finished runners-up two years ago and dead last in 2017.
This year they are mid-table with Kohli having already improved on the 308 runs he collected last year. But the world’s best batsman across all formats must ask himself whether he is taking too much on himself. After all, he is also the Indian team captain and their primary run-scorer.
While he may be reaching his peak, would it not be worth giving someone else a shot at the captaincy while he focusses solely on his batting – for two months of the year – thereby keeping him fresh for both RCB and India?
Stokes worth price tag?
Two years in a row Ben Stokes has been the IPL’s most expensive player. In 2017 he went to the now-defunct Rising Pune Supergiant for US$2.17 million (Dh7.34m). This year he was picked for roughly the same amount by the more imaginatively-named Rajasthan Royals – the league’s inaugural champions in 2008.
In 2018 Stokes has scored a paltry 147 runs across seven innings at a strike-rate of 123.52 - below-par figures by his standards. And the less said about his bowling the better. But all that would be overlooked if Stokes could live up to his billing as a game changer, the rationale behind Rajasthan’s investment.
Indeed, there was an expectation the England all-rounder would snap back into the form of yore after he was cleared to play for his national side following a charge of affray outside a nightclub in England. But his inability to inspire a win or two has been down to lack of game time over the past few months, as a result of his suspension. Perhaps, it could also be due to the toll the ongoing court case may be having on his mind.
This is not to write Stokes off. He may yet rediscover his mojo and Rajasthan could still reach the play-offs. But at this stage of the season, the franchise will be rightly worried they are not getting worthwhile returns on a very large investment.
Our IPL 2018 coverage
Rahane too circumspect for age of IPL
Rajasthan’s other problem has been the captain's batting style. Ajinkya Rahane’s innings against Sunrisers Hyderabad last Sunday illustrated the problem. His batting at the top of the order is not fast enough for Twenty20. Certainly not in the IPL, a tournament not known for great bowling exploits or high-quality bowling attacks.
The fact he batted through the innings and could not take Rajasthan close to Hyderabad’s target of 141 shows his inability to pace an innings in this format. He also showed little sense of urgency to hit the big shots – a task that was left to him after the fall of key wickets such as that of Stokes.
He will do well to learn from Hyderabad captain Kane Williamson, who also scored a fifty in that game but needed far fewer balls to get to it. Williamson has, generally speaking, shown how one can make an impact with the bat even with classical batting style amid the rough and stumble of T20 cricket.
Dhoni and Gayle back, but Yuvraj and Gambhir struggle
Veteran Indian batsmen Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh, who have both been left out of their respective sides after poor starts to the season, should not worry too much that their playing days may be numbered.
Yuvraj, 36, who has suggested he may not play beyond 2019, needs only to look at the rejuvenation of the 38-year-old Gayle, his Kings XI Punjab teammate, and the 36-year-old MS Dhoni, his former India captain. Gayle has a hundred and a fifty to his credit in IPL 2018, while Dhoni has terrorised most opposition bowlers this season with his late-innings flourishes. They have both proved the old sporting adage that form is temporary, class is permanent.
Gambhir, also 36, stepped down as Delhi Daredevils captain last week but he must know his struggles with the bat in the IPL have been more recent.
Admittedly, Yuvraj may find it more difficult to bounce back given fitness has been an issue in recent times. But Gambhir can surely not be written off just yet.