IPL-2023 has been one of the most closely fought seasons as it went to the last league game to decide the Final 4 for the playoffs. On Sunday, Shubhman Gill’s classy century for Gujarat Titans outgunned Virat Kohli’s terrific ton and knocked Royal Challengers Bangalore out -ensuring an entry for Mumbai Indians into the playoffs. Though it was heartbreak for last year’s Runners Up Rajasthan Royals and Kohli’s fans, ultimately the four teams to qualify – Gujarat Titans, Chennai Super Kings, Lucknow SuperGiants and Mumbai Indians – were a notch ahead of their challengers.
The first Qualifier on Tuesday will pit defending champs Gujarat with Chennai. The Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led side has not only enjoyed the maximum popularity but also a great amount of success in the 16 IPL seasons so far. The match will also be an emotional affair as ‘Thala’ Dhoni might be playing his last IPL match at the Chennai home ground. But Gujarat will have their tails up being last year’s winners and also the most consistent team of this season. They also qualified with the most wins and topped the league table with 20 points.
Gujarat Titans’ success has been a team effort led by their captain Hardik Pandya. The fact that the team’s premier bowlers, Mohammed Shami and Rashid Khan, are also the top wicket takers of this IPL demonstrates the dominance of the Gujarat side. Not just that, Shubman Gill with his fine form has reached second on the top run scorers list and with 2 definite games ahead, he may well walk away with the Orange Cap for the most number of runs this season. The Titans also have a solid middle order, which has power hitters like David Miller and Rahul Tewatia, and of course, they possess the most lethal bowling attack this season.
Chennai Super Kings, however, are a formidable side and Dhoni’s expert handling of the side combined with solid starts by Devon Conway and Rituraj Gaikwad has put them in the final 4 yet again. With Ajinkya Rahane’s form revival along with Shivam Dube, Ravindra Jadeja and Dhoni himself, Chennai has a strong batting unit.
CSK bowling, however, leaves a lot to be desired with an inexperienced pace attack which was initially a big handicap. It was handled expertly by Dhoni who was able to mix the spin options in the middle overs with his limited pace resources. In Maheesh Theekshana, Moeen Ali and Jadeja, Chennai has a strong spin department. The Chepauk wicket could play a vital role in deciding who enters the final for if it’s a turning track, the winner may well be the team that plays the spinners better on the day.
Lucknow SuperGiants face Mumbai Indians in their Eliminator game also to be played in Chennai. Lucknow started well in the competition but KL Rahul’s injury nearly ended their chances at one stage. But 3 wins in the last 3 matches meant that they qualified as the 3rd team for the playoffs. In the absence of Rahul, Krunal Pandya marshalled his resources brilliantly. All through the season they were rescued by their middle order with Nicholas Pooran making sure even in the last league game that they managed a respectable score. While Kolkata lost to them by just 1 run in the final game, it was the spin duo of Krunal and Ravi Bishnoi who pulled things back when the match was swaying against them. Ravi especially has been in good form this season and has been the top wicket-taker for the side.
Lucknow will need to be at their best to win against the mighty Mumbai Indians who seem to have the momentum behind them. Their story is completely a flip of Lucknow as initially, Mumbai was struggling at the bottom half of the table. But they lifted their game and finally ended as the fourth team in the playoffs. Mumbai has a terrific batting unit which dragged them out of many tough spots this season. Suryakumar Yadav has been at his belligerent best and while he has held one end up, the likes of Tim David and Cameron Green have had the license to go full tilt at the back end of the innings.
Sadly, Mumbai’s bowling has been unimpressive in the absence of Bumrah. They gave away over 200 runs yet again in the last league game against Sunrisers Hyderabad. Piyush Chawla has been the only bright spot in their bowling unit and there is a need to sharpen their attack for them to go all the way this season.
Rinku Singh and Yashasvi Jaiswal- Two bright young stars
Beyond the top 4, IPL this year has thrown up a range of bright young stars. At a time when Team India has been lacking left handers in its batting line up, two lefties have impressed a great deal – Rinku Singh and Yashasvi Jaiswal. The 21-year-old Jaiswal from Rajasthan Royals has a dream story– from selling ‘pani-puri’ on Mumbai streets to now in reckoning for Team India selection. His century knock against Mumbai was lauded by many experts.
Another story of batting brilliance is Rinku Singh from Kolkata Knight Riders who hit 5 sixes of the final over to win against Gujarat Titans. His stupendous hitting and remarkable composure all through the season is being cheered by all cricket lovers as the birth of a new cricketing star. His amazing knocks this season will linger in people’s minds for years.
Rinku Singh’s role of finisher also becomes special as he played in different positions in the batting orders.
With the league stage ending on a thrilling note, the business end of the tournament promises to be an exciting mix of high-quality cricket and high drama. Team India’s resource-pool has been enriched by the league stage this season which has enhanced IPL’s reputation as the world’s most prestigious cricket extravaganza. While it’s unclear who will grab the coveted IPL Trophy, what’s certain is a sparkling spectacle that’s bound to regale cricket lovers all around the globe!