Four games that defined the IPL’s top four

The four teams in the IPL 2022 Playoffs have taken entirely different paths to get there, maximizing their respective strengths and finding ways around their weaknesses. Here are four games that summarize the journey of each team, seasons in miniature.

Gujarat Titans v Chennai Super Kings, Pune

Before the start of the season, you probably wouldn’t have tipped the Gujarat Titans to qualify for the playoffs, let alone make it there as table players. If they got there despite obvious holes in their batter, it was largely down to three things: their strength as a bowling unit, match winners in their lower middle order, and luck in some number of close matches.

There has been no shortage of dramatic matches in their run so far but their comeback against Chennai Super Kings has defined their season. It started with the bowlers. The Super Kings were 124 to 2 after the 14th, but Alzarri Joseph, Mohammed Shami, Yash Dayal and Rashid Khan conceded just 27 of the next five. That left the Titans hunting 170 rather than, say, 190.

Even so, the Titans were still vulnerable as Hardik Pandya was injured, compromising their depth as Rashid was ranked No. 7. At 87 for 5 in the 13th, that lack of depth was going to be severely tested, even with David Miller at the stick brilliantly.

You know what happened next. The 18th started with the Titans needing 48 of 18 – ESPNcricinfo forecaster gave them a 4.2% chance of victory – before Rashid whipped Chris Jordan for 6, 6, 4, 6 to turn the match. Comes the hour, comes another unlikely hero.

Rajasthan Royals v Lucknow Super Giants, Wankhede Stadium

Even before a ball was thrown this season, the strengths and weaknesses of the Rajasthan Royals were clear. Their front five and bowling offense were among the best in the league on paper, but it was unclear how they would close the gap between those two ends of their roster.

They unveiled the solution to this problem in their fourth game of the season, against Lucknow Super Giants. Down to 67 for 4 in the tenth game of their innings, the Royals promoted R Ashwin to No. 6, giving viewers a first glimpse of their intention to maximize his batting ability. They would use him in other roles in future games – most often as a pinch hitter at No. 3 – but now they were sending him to see the rest of the middlemen in the company of Shimron Hetmyer, with Riyan Parag retained for later.

Ashwin played his part perfectly, but just when he threatened to extend his home, his innings extending to the 19th, he ran off the field and became the first batter to tactically to retire in the IPL. With Hetmyer racing to an unbeaten 59 from 36, the Royals set the Super Giants a target of 166.

The Royals bowlers then did their part to seal a thrilling win. Trent Boult took two wickets in his first over, Ashwin kicked four no-limit overs, and Yuzvendra Chahal – whose last two overs were held up for the 16th and 18th in the Super Giants pursuit – made the decisive intervention with numbers of 4 for 41.

Lucknow Super Giants vs Delhi Capitals, Wankhede Stadium

The flexibility offered by a plethora of versatile players was seen as the Super Giants’ trump card. As things turned out, that flexibility has been a bit of a mixed blessing so far, at least with the bat, leaving the Super Giants with an unstable middle order.

With the ball, however, flexibility allowed KL Rahul to use and hide bowlers as needed. This was particularly evident during a successful 195 defense against the Delhi Capitals at Wankhede Stadium.

As Mohsin Khan and Dushmantha Chameera brushed off the Capitals opener early, Rahul gambled bringing Krunal Pandya for fourth despite Rishabh Pant being in the crease. He might have hoped that Pant would treat the left-arm spinner with more respect than normal given the match situation, or that Pant would go after Krunal and lose his wicket in the process. The move backfired, however, with Pant hitting three fours and a six in a 19-run over. The Capitals took 34 over the next two overs and ended the power play at 66 for 2.

But the Super Giants’ wealth of bowling options ultimately helped them claw their way back. This allowed them to hide their fingerpinners, which weren’t having the best days; Krunal only beat that one, and Krishnappa Gowtham – who was taken down by Rovman Powell in the 12th round – only two. Then, with the Capitals needing 50 on the back four, the Super Giants were able to use the last three overs from their fast leading bowlers at 17th, 18th and 19th, since they had Marcus Stoinis in reserve. There were 13 needed on four balls, and Stoinis did his job, stringing together three crucial points in a row as he denied Axar Patel’s lift.

Royal Challengers Bangalore vs Delhi Capitals, Wankhede Stadium

Royal Challengers Bangalore were the worst power play team in IPL 2022. With the ball they were both the most expensive team (economic rate 8.05) and the least penetrating (average 45 ,13) of this phase. With the bat, they have the lowest run rate (6.40) and the third-worst average (25.61). But they found ways to make up for that, about enough times to sneak into the playoffs.

Perhaps the best example of the Royal Challengers overcoming their power play weaknesses is their victory over the Capitals, who were ultimately their closest rivals for fourth place.

Sent off, the Royal Challengers lost both openers in a 40-point power play, and Virat Kohli two balls later, before crucial shots from Glenn Maxwell (55 from 34 balls), Shahbaz Ahmed (32* from 21) and Dinesh Karthik (66* out of 34) helped them recover and set an ambitious goal of 190.

David Warner put the Capitals on the right track, propelling them to a 57-to-1 power-play score. But Harshal Patel, Wanindu Hasaranga, Maxwell and Shahbaz combined to give just one limit in the next four overs, and the Capitals’ required rate jumped to 11.10 at the halfway mark.

Forced to take risks, Warner hit Harshal for two limits in the 11th but fell trying to change Hasaranga’s shot in the 12th. It began a slump which saw the Capitals lose four wickets for 21 runs in the space of 22 balls, and the Royal Challengers were now in control, with 75 required from the last 30 balls. Late strikes from the Capitals’ lower order spoiled numbers from Harshal and Hasaranga, but the result was never in doubt.

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