Gautam Gambhir and 10 IPL Players to Watch in the Next 7 Days and Why
The seventh edition of the Indian Premier League has almost reached the end of its United Arab Emirates leg. Following Wednesday's clash between Mumbai Indians and Sunrisers Hyderabad, the IPL circus is heading back to India for the remainder of the tournament.
The 19 matches played so far have created some new stars but haven't been very kind to a few others. The perennial underachievers, Kings XI Punjab, are at the top the table, while the defending champions, Mumbai Indians, lie at the bottom.
While the UAE leg has been quite successful, the teams would be looking forward to playing in front of their home crowds back in India, especially the ones that are in the bottom half of the table.
So as the circus prepares to head back to India, here is a list of 10 players who you should watch out for in the next seven days.
1. Chris Gayle
The hard-hitting Chris Gayle, playing for the Royal Challengers Bangalore, missed his team's opening four games due to an injury. However, the towering Jamaican was back in RCB red on Monday for their clash against the Kings XI Punjab.
Gayle provided a snippet of what the crowds had been missing out on by smashing two fours and as many sixes in his very first over faced. However, his return wasn't to last long, as he threw his wicket away in the following over for 20.
However, the six deliveries that Gayle faced before he was dismissed provides much optimism and excitement for RCB fans, as the team heads back to the familiar environment of the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore, for their next match on Sunday against Sunrisers Hyderabad.
What does the two-time Orange Cap winner have up his sleeve this time? He would be eager to make up for the time he's lost so far.
2. Mohit Sharma
Chennai Super Kings' fast Mohit Sharma has definitely been the most exciting bowler of the tournament so far. The 25-year-old has taken eight wickets so far in five matches, including a four-for-14 against Mumbai Indians. His tally puts him just one scalp behind the season's leading wicket-taker, Sunil Narine.
Sharma's line and length has been near-perfect so far, and he bowls a superb slower one that deceives most good batsmen. He has managed to push himself above a team that is riddled with superstars. Along with fellow quicks Ishwar Pandey and Ben Hilfenhaus, Sharma has all but transformed Chennai's reputation of being a team that relies on spin.
Sharma was the performer of the previous seven days. What's he got in store for the next seven?
3. Gautam Gambhir
Gautam Gambhir's scores for his first four matches in IPL 7 read zero, zero, zero and one. The Kolkata Knight Riders skipper was coming under increasing pressure to warrant a place in the side. He last played for India in January 2013, and his confidence appeared shattered and low.
Gambhir decided against dropping himself for KKR's fifth match of the season against Rajasthan Royals on Tuesday. The decision turned out to be a fruitful one, as the southpaw scored a 44-ball 45 that included some vintage Gambhir shots. It wasn't the most aggressive of Gambhir's innings, but it was the need of the hour.
If Gambhir can gain confidence from his latest knock and carry the form into the remainder of the tournament, it would augur well for KKR and himself.
4. Varun Aaron
The 24-year-old Varun Aaron is having quite a tournament, picking up eight wickets in the four matches he has played. Aaron, who has been in and out of the Indian national team, surprised many with his exploits with the ball.
Aaron was always known to have good pace, regularly clocking the high 140s and touching the 150s. However, what he was criticised for earlier was his lack of control over his bowling and inconsistency. He seems to have worked on his shortcomings well and is turning out to be a very handy bowler for RCB.
Aaron's good form would do him huge favours in terms of winning a permanent place in the Indian team, but for now, he's one bowler to watch out for in the IPL.
5. Ajinkya Rahane
Oblivious to many, Rajasthan Royals opening batsman Ajinkya Rahane has inconspicuously climbed up the leading runscorers list for the season and currently sits in fourth place with 182 runs in five matches.
Rahane is the complete antithesis of Chris Gayle when it comes to an opening batsman in that he is not a slam-bang cricketer. He is a clever batsman who waits for the bad deliveries before going for his shots and at the same time isn't slow enough to be a liability in this format.
Rahane has hit two half-centuries so far, including a superb 72 off 59 balls in the Royals' last game in UAE against Kolkata on Tuesday, which came in a winning cause. He seems to be high on confidence and could give the blasters ahead of him in the Orange Cap list—Glenn Maxwell, Dwayne Smith and Brendon McCullum—a run for their money.
6. Sunil Narine
It is next to impossible to keep Sunil Narine out of any cricketing list. The mystery spinner from the Caribbean is having one of his usual successful IPL seasons and is already leading the Purple Cap list with nine wickets.
Rather shockingly, Narine went wicketless in his last outing for Kolkata Knight Riders against the Rajasthan Royals on Tuesday and suffered a further blow by being his team's bowler in the Super Over and failing to defend his team's total.
However, Narine is not one to be bogged down by an occasional failure and would be eager to move on. Expect Narine to come back strongly in KKR's two games in the coming week.
7. Glenn Maxwell
Glenn Maxwell has been the performer of the tournament with the bat so far, having launched the season with spectacular scores of 95, 89 and 95. However, his last two outings have yielded only 21 runs, but he can be forgiven for his previous exploits.
Maxwell would be keen to get his season back on track, and this would only mean trouble for the opposition. The Kings XI Punjab come up against the bottom-placed Mumbai Indians next. This would be the perfect game for Maxwell to get his momentum back, considering Mumbai's dramatic dip in form and confidence.
Despite his two recent failures, Maxwell leads the Orange Cap list by 60 runs and is a clear front-runner to remain there until the end of the season. Punjab could go a long way in achieving their target of winning their first IPL title should Maxwell continue with his stellar form.
8. Lasith Malinga
Lasith Malinga has probably been the only positive about the defending champions Mumbai Indians' season so far, where they have lost all four of the matches they've played. The Sri Lankan quick has picked up seven wickets in four matches and has tried his best to make up for his team's despicable batting performance.
The Mumbai Indians play three matches, two of which are at the Wankhede Stadium, in the next seven days, which would define their season. While it is imperative that their batting gets back in groove, Malinga is obviously Mumbai's trump card, and a lot would be expected off him in these three games.
The return to Mumbai's fortress of Wankhede, where the champions won all their matches, would be an incentive.
9. Steven Smith
Steven Smith comes into this list on the basis of one shot he played for Rajasthan Royals on Tuesday against Kolkata Knight Riders.
After the match ended in a tie and KKR set a target 12 runs to win in the Super Over eliminator, Rajasthan needed just two runs off the last ball to go through. Smith was on-strike and facing Sunil Narine, who is one of the most difficult bowlers to negotiate.
Normally in such cases, a batsman would go for a big slog to clear the ropes, but Smith realised that such extravagance wasn't necessary. He gently tapped the ball toward extra cover, where the fielder was deep, and he set off for what were two easy runs. As easy as that!
Smith bats quite low down the order for the Royals and thus hasn't been able to face enough deliveries to show his worth with the bat so far. However, his efforts and dedication in the field, where he has already taken one of the better catches of the season, prove him to be an invaluable player for any side.
10. Mitchell Johnson
A lot was expected from Mitchell Johnson this IPL season. The man of the series during the 2013-14 Ashes had been bought for over $1 million by Kings XI Punjab, and his mere presence in the bowling line-up spelled trouble for the opposition.
To everyone's surprise, Johnson had a slow start to the season, with returns of just one wicket from his first two games. However, in the next three, the Kings XI Punjab's million-dollar recruit was back at his best as he scalped two victims in each match.
Apart from Punjab's first match of the season against Chennai, Johnson hasn't conceded more than 30 runs in any game. He is just about warming up to the season, and the prospect of watching a pumped-up, all-guns-blazing Johnson in the coming few games is exciting, to say the least.