ESPNcricinfo picks the team of the 2018 IPL league phase using Smart Stats, our new method of analysing T20 cricket. Here's the 2017 team of the season. Only three players from last season feature in this year's XI.
1 KL Rahul (659 runs, average 54.91, Smart Run Index 26.78)
Kings XI Punjab's highlight of the season; the third highest run-scorer of the league phase. Rahul had a overall Smart Strike Rate of 187.33 (regular strike rate 158.41) and a Smart Strike Rate of 190.57 in the Powerplay (third best among batsmen with 100 runs in the Powerplay, after Jos Buttler and Sunil Narine).
Rahul's Smart Run Index (SRI) of 26.78 is the second highest of the season (behind Rishabh Pant). SRI measures how consistent the batsman has been, while maintaining a high scoring rate. A healthy SRI indicates Rahul wasn't getting out cheaply too often while attempting to score quickly, like say Narine who does not have a high SRI.
Rahul beat Ambati Rayudu to the opening slot in our XI because he has a better Smart Strike Rate than Rayudu in the first six overs, while Rayudu has a better middle-overs Smart Strike Rate than Rahul. Buttler did not make it to the XI because, despite his fabulous run late in the season, there were other compelling candidates for the four overseas slots in the interest of team balance.
2 Sunil Narine (327 runs, Smart Strike Rate 234.52, 16 wickets, Smart Economy 6.34)
The KKR allrounder enhanced his credentials as an opener by becoming only the fourth player to score more than 300 runs and take more than 15 wickets in an IPL season, after Shane Watson, Dwayne Bravo and Jacques Kallis.
Narine had a Smart Strike Rate of 234.52, the best among batsmen with at least 200 runs this season. His Smart Strike Rate of 263.56 in the Powerplay was the second best - after Buttler - among batsmen with at least 100 runs in the first six overs.
With the ball, Narine had the sixth best Smart Economy Rate (6.34) among 31 bowlers to have bowled at least 30 overs this season. His Smart Economy Rate in the Powerplay was 6.65, the best among spinners. And he bowled during difficult periods - 54.7% of his overs were either during the Powerplay or at the death.
So if you wanted a fast-scoring opener who almost never wasted balls, and who also bowled tough overs and took wickets - Narine was your man.
3 Kane Williamson (capt) (661 runs, average 60, Smart Runs Index 22.40)
The Sunrisers captain finished as the second highest run-scorer in the league phase, with eight half-centuries in 14 innings. Williamson was hard to dismiss and would bat smart: at a reliable pace in demanding conditions or in a small chase, and surprisingly faster when the situation needed it. His Smart Runs Index was 22.40, the fifth best in the league.
A master in the middle overs, Williamson averaged 92.00 in that period, during which he scored 460 runs and was dismissed five times. His Smart Strike rate in the middle overs was 177.39, the fifth best among batsmen with at least 200 runs. His dot-ball percentage in the middle overs (24.08%) was the lowest among 23 batsmen who faced at least 100 balls in that period. Typical Williamson: little flash, lots of substance.
And he led Sunrisers to the top of the table in David Warner's absence.
4 Ambati Rayudu (586 runs, average 45, Smart Runs Index 16.10)
He's the fourth highest run-scorer of the season, but why is the CSK opener at No. 4 in this team? Rayudu's shown the ability to bat long after opening and succeed in different phases of the innings. He's scored 141 runs off 78 balls when batting at No. 4 this season, and his overall Smart Strike Rate is 163.24, the fifth best among top order batsmen to make at least 200 runs.
Rayudu has a middle-overs Smart Strike Rate of 149.98, while Rahul's is 123.17, which is why he's more suited to the middle order than Rahul. Rayudu also strikes at 140 off his first ten balls when coming in to bat in the middle overs, while Williamson's is 121.87, so he starts much faster than his team-mates.
5 Rishabh Pant (684 runs, average 52.61, Smart Runs Index 32.09)
Top-scorer of the league phase, and at a devastating pace. How on earth did Delhi Daredevils finish last with 20-year old Pant in their ranks?
His Smart Runs Index was the best of the season - 32.09; his Smart Strike Rate of 207.09 was fourth best among batsmen with at least 200 runs; his Smart Strike Rate at the death (339.56) was far ahead of the next best Andre Russell (241.62) among batsmen who faced at least 50 balls in this period.
Pant was a monstrous boundary-hitter at the death. Of the 68 balls he faced in this period, he hit 15 for four and 15 for six. That's a boundary every 2.26 balls. His runs per scoring shot in this period is 3.88, easily the highest.
6 Dinesh Karthik (438 runs, average 54.75)
That match-winning innings in the Nidahas Trophy final was no flash in the pan. Karthik has been a terrific finisher for KKR this season. Of his 438 runs this season, he made 412 in 13 innings at No. 5 or lower; only Kieron Pollard's 419 in 17 innings in 2013 is higher.
Karthik hit the ground running during the death overs, when he has a first-five-ball strike rate of 260, the best for any batsman. He made scores of 35* (29), 42* (23), 23 (10), 45*(18) and 41* (31) in wins while chasing this season.
7 MS Dhoni (wk) (446 runs, average 89.20, Smart Runs Index 15.67)
The 36-year old celebrated his return to CSK by having his best batting season yet in the IPL. Dhoni is only 15 runs short of matching his most prolific season (461 runs in 16 innings in 2013) and his strike rate of 157 this season is second behind his 162.89 in 2013.
He's shown tremendous improvement in two key areas. In 2016 and 2017, Dhoni played a lot of dot balls (34.28% of his deliveries in 2016, and 42% in 2017), but this year his dot-ball % of 27.46 is the second best among 43 batsmen to have faced at least 100 balls. His Smart Strike Rate has also increased dramatically: 103.34 in 2016, 138.22 in 2017, and 170.17 this year.
And Dhoni the finisher is back. He's scored 297 of his 446 runs in the death overs; he has a first-ten-ball strike rate of 205.40 when coming into bat in the death overs; and his Smart Strike Rate of 228.03 is the third best after Pant and Russell among batsmen who have faced at least 50 balls in the death overs.
8 Rashid Khan (16 wickets, strike rate 21, Smart Economy 6.65)
The Afghanistan legspinner faced stiff competition from his countryman Mujeeb Ur Rahman for a spot in this XI, but being a wristspinner and Mujeeb missing crucial games for Kings XI towards the end of the league worked in Rashid's favour. As did the fact that no Indian spinner had a strong claim to a place in the team.
Rashid's smart economy rate of 6.65 was the sixth best among 20 bowlers who have bowled at least 40 overs this season, and this despite him bowling nearly a third of his overs at the death. His smart economy rate in the death overs was 8.55, better than Narine's 8.99, and his dot-ball % of 36.27 was the fifth best among bowlers with at least 10 overs in the death.
9 Andrew Tye (24 wickets, strike rate 14, Smart Economy 6.96)
The Kings XI fast bowler was the top wicket-taker in the league phase, and he was awesome for more than just that.
Tye mostly bowled in difficult periods: 71.46% of his deliveries were in the Powerplay and death overs. And despite that, he had an overall Smart Economy Rate of 6.96, the seventh best among bowlers to bowl at least 240 balls. He's the only bowler to feature in the top five for best Smart Economy Rates in both the Powerplay and the death.
He also took four or more wickets in a match three times this season. No one has ever done that before in an IPL.
10 Umesh Yadav (20 wickets, strike rate 15.9)
RCB's bowling attack improved significantly as a whole once Tim Southee was included in the XI, but Umesh Yadav was a star all through the season.
He was outstanding in the Powerplay, taking 14 wickets in the first six overs this season. Only Mitchell Johnson has taken more in a season - 15 in 2013.
Umesh was also economical in the first six overs: his smart economy (5.83) was the seventh best, and his dot-ball % (56.98) was the second best among bowlers with at least ten overs in the Powerplay.
11 Jasprit Bumrah (17 wickets, strike rate 19, Smart Economy 5.48)
The Mumbai Indians quick has bowled when batsmen are looking at attack - 72.22% of his overs have been in the Powerplay and at the death - and yet Bumrah has the best smart economy rate (5.48) of the season. His smart economy in the first six overs (5.72) is sixth best, and his smart economy in the last five (5.69) is third best among bowlers who have bowled at least ten overs in this period.
Bumrah's 13 wickets at the death is the joint highest this season, along with Tye. If you're looking to prevent a big finish from the batsman, Bumrah is often the answer.
Bumrah's not shabby at all in the middle overs either. His smart economy between the Powerplay and the last five overs is 4.40, the best among 36 bowlers to have bowled at least 10 overs in this phase. He concedes a boundary once every 2.3 overs on average in the middle overs, and considering how little he bowls in the middle overs, that's probably one boundary every three matches in this phase.