Overseas players at IPL 2018: Afghanistan ace the league phase

Rashid Khan spreads his arms to commemorate a wicket BCCI

What's in a ranking?

The eighth-ranked T20I side leads the way in bowling this IPL season. Afghanistan have had only three players in the tournament, out of which just two have been regulars, but both their young spinners have lit up IPL 2018 with their bags of tricks. Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman have been the lynchpins of their respective sides this season, with a combined total of 30 wickets this season so far.

Going by Smart Stats - ESPNcricinfo's new metrics to understand T20 cricket - they have been the most frugal bowlers, with a combined Smart Economy Rate of 6.59, while bowlers from teams standing above them in the ICC rankings have conceded over 8.4. While Rashid has saved more runs than he has conceded, Mujeeb's absence from the Kings XI Punjab side following an injury has gone as far as making their bowling unit look far less threatening.

England join the party

When it comes to England players in the IPL, you might be conditioned to immediately think of Ben Stokes, who took centre-stage at the auctions. However, he did not live up to the INR 12.5 crore (USD 1.95 million approx) price tag this time around, with just 196 runs and eight wickets in 13 games, after a Player of the Series-winning debut season in 2017. That's roughly INR 6.3 lakh (or comfortably over USD 9000) for every run he has scored - runs, which largely did not add much value for Royals.

While English players' participation in the IPL rose significantly this year, and there were one-match wonders like Jason Roy, Sam Billings, Moeen Ali and Liam Plunkett, it was Jos Buttler who easily had the most fun. While Rajasthan Royals failed to capitalise on his performances, Buttler had a breakout season, scoring the most runs by an English player in an IPL edition. His sublime form also earned him a Test call-up, which prematurely cut his IPL season short.

He hit form after being deployed as an opener, with his Smart Strike Rate rising to 200 from 114.72 as a middle-order batsman. He has also contributed nearly 44% of the total runs scored by England players in this IPL season (as of May 18, 2018).

Lest we forget, the second-best player from England has been someone who is serving his qualification period to earn a national call-up in 2022. Jofra Archer earned his Royals cap in their sixth game of the season and bagged the Man-of-the-Match award right away. A number of middling performances followed, but he'd look to be more effective in the coming seasons.

The undisputed kings of T20

Do the West Indies need to prove why they are the masters of the format? Even the numbers agree this year. Their Smart Strike Rate has climbed from 148.55 in the last three years to 175.57 this season, putting them top of the tree by a distance. Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo turned back the clock in their first few games, while Sunil Narine and Andre Russell made the most of their retention by Kolkata Knight Riders. For Mumbai Indians, Evin Lewis made a couple of noteworthy performances while the retained Kieron Pollard didn't quite live up to reputation, following a bad run of form and a spell out of the side to score in a crucial game towards the end of the league phase.

Williamson fills in Warner's boots (and de Villiers does his thing)

Finding a like-for-like replacement for David Warner may have sounded like a daunting task, but Sunrisers seem to have done it with ease. These bowling giants did lack batting depth, but there was captain Kane Williamson who carried them on his shoulders to take them to the top of points table. Williamson had only played five games in the past three seasons for Sunrisers, averaging around 31 and usually playing second fiddle, but his average of 60.09 this year could possibly see him beat his ex-captain Warner as the highest run-scorer for Sunrisers in a single season. While the other popular batting choices from New Zealand - namely Brendon McCullum and Colin Munro - could not make an impact, bowlers like Trent Boult and Mitchell McClenaghan are in the top ten on the wicket-takers' charts this season.

While we are running out of superlatives for AB de Villiers, who has been as impressive as ever, the other South Africans in the tournament like Quinton de Kock and JP Duminy have not been at their best. De Kock has struggled to find the hitting form which has made him one of the most exciting young batsmen going around.

Their bowlers haven't fared too better either. The likes of Imran Tahir and Lungi Ngidi have been unpredictable and have not featured regularly for Chennai Super Kings, while an injured Chris Morris returned home after a lean patch in a directionless Delhi Daredevils team. Would Kagiso Rabada have made the difference for them? Maybe we'll know next season.

Australia's 36-year-old lone warrior

With three trophy-winning captains, four Man-of-the-Series awardees and five orange cap winners over the seasons, Australians have been IPL's hottest property over the years. In this season, however, there are just two names worth mentioning: the current purple cap holder Andrew Tye, and a surprise in the form of Shane Watson. With six 30-plus scores, Watson is second on the list of most runs for Chennai Super Kings this year.

Clearly, Watson has been the only one contributing to the Australians' Smart Strike Rate, which has fallen from 143.72 in the last three seasons to second worst 126.46 (just above Bangladesh) this season.

Steven Smith and Warner's absence and injuries to a number of fast bowlers can be blamed, but big buys like Glenn Maxwell, Chris Lynn and Aaron Finch haven't quite been themselves. And the bowling? Apart from Tye, Watson and Maxwell, all the others who have bowled in five matches or more have an economy rate of over 9.7. They also have the worst Smart Economy Rate this season, finishing as the only team conceding at 9.