The Indian Premier League (IPL) hit new heights of drama and suspense last year, ending a decade of immense fiscal growth, shrewd talent acquisition and soaring international prestige in a hugely fitting manner.
The road to Mumbai Indians’ final victory over Chennai Super Kings by just one run was a story of incredible excitement and professionalism, fought with style and grace by two top teams, and gives every reason to believe that the new, upcoming decade of IPL action will honour its predecessor.
— IndianPremierLeague (@IPL) May 12, 2019
Mumbai: The ones to beat
Mumbai’s IPL title win was their fourth in history, and by winning the playoffs as league premiers, there was a resounding sense of dominance despite the slim margin of triumph. Words such as ‘invincible’ and ‘unbeatable’ have been circulated, but it ultimately came down to the very basics that make up a solid team that plays to win.
Under coach Mahela Jayawardene, the Indians have honed their all-round skills effectively, but each and every member of the squad has bought into the uncompromising culture of success around the club. That success is built around core figures of reliability, and in 2019, captain Rohit Sharma stood out from any other leader on the pitch. Every one of Mumbai’s title wins have been with a squad in which Sharma has worn the armband, and in ending the 2019 IPL season as one of just ten players to exceed over 4,000 IPL runs in the competition as a whole, he remains as indispensable as ever.
Mumbai’s success was made all the more impressive by how much the team improved after a disappointing 2018, which saw them fail to qualify for the playoffs. It was, however, Quinton de Kock – with his insatiable lust for the high concentration of fours and sixes – that have long been the unique selling point of the IPL brand – that gave Mumbai their superlative fear factor.
If the game is fading in the middle overs, the South African will invariably give any team a chance of putting up anything from a brave stand against defeat to a crushing landslide victory. As a result of De Kock’s impressive work rate, he finished third on the runs leaderboard with 529 and has provided the champions with a blueprint for domination in the batting department for 2020.
Opening round games to watch in 2020
Mumbai’s opening duo of fixtures feature in the first three matches of the season overall, seeing them host fellow 2019 playoff qualifiers Chennai and Delhi on successive nights. This ensures that their resolve in defending the IPL crown will be tested from the very outset.
The presence of Chennai as the first IPL visitors of 2020 to Mumbai will also put several key cricket match prediction-making criteria to the test, especially with head-to-head form and team form being the most prominent amongst them.
Meanwhile, Hyderabad’s 1,500 km trip to Kolkata will be the earliest indication as to whether the ‘dark horses’ for the 2020 title can mix their commanding home form with improved consistency on the road.
Home form is Chennai’s key to reclaiming title
Though Mumbai look unstoppable on their day, Chennai Super Kings will be immensely agitated at having conceded the crown they won in 2018 by such a fine margin. They will undoubtedly be looking for revenge in the coming season.
Led by skipper MS Dhoni, the top-order batsmen make up a formidable core that guarantees a fast and furious regime of fours and sixes. Alongside fellow hard-hitters Shane Watson and Faf du Plessis, the Super Kings’ homegrown batsmen also stand out for their superlative experience on the international scene compared to that pooled by most other IPL teams.
The Super Kings’ bowling personnel always boast diversity, both in terms of nationality and method. Every type of mainstream spinner – left arm, right arm or leg-spinner – is at Chennai’s disposal this year, making the bowling track at the Chepauk more formidable than ever.
In turn, the Super Kings’ imperious home record from last year is set to continue into 2020 seamlessly. In 2019, the Super Kings beat every visitor bar Mumbai, recording an equal number of wins by wickets vs wins by runs (three apiece). The victories in the former category saw Chennai win by an average of 6.67 wickets, while those coming by the latter method averaged a margin of 36.7 runs.
Warner and Bairstow: A title-winning partnership
Delhi Capitals and Sunrisers Hyderabad made up the remaining teams in the 2019 playoffs, and while Hyderabad finished fourth only by courtesy of a league-high Net Run Rate (NRR) of +0.577, they are seen by a significant proportion of experts as likelier to be Mumbai’s closest challengers – rather than Chennai.
That league-high figure in the NRR stakes was down to the immense form of David Warner, who ended 2019 as the runaway top scorer by a 99-run margin over Kings XI Punjab’s K. L. Rahul. However, it is not merely Warner’s scintillating 2019 form alone that helps back the belief that Hyderabad can be one of the playoff finalists this year.
Warner is a particular expert at establishing dominance in the early overs, and with the very nature of IPL cricket favouring those that can rack up an above-average rate of fours inside the first five overs, he will certainly be one to watch.
Jonny Bairstow’s influence over Hyderabad’s batting game further underlines their potential to outstrip at least six other teams in the upcoming IPL season. As the right-handed foil to the left-handed Warner, less-experienced bowlers and fielders can seldom hope for a quickfire dismissal of either man. Given that 2020 will only be Bairstow’s second season of IPL action, this is a partnership that is still forming. The end product is likely to be extremely potent.