Week five of the IPL, and the tussle for play-off places is getting very tasty indeed. Here's how England's representatives got on. Click here for week four's update.
Stokes ignites Rajasthan with brilliant hundred
Sometimes with Ben Stokes, you just know he's on a mission. When he's stepping to leg to open up the covers, and scything through the line with that combination of hawk-like eye and guillotine-straight blade. When the pressure is beginning to mount - both on his team and on his own role within that team - and when he's starting to sense that, if he doesn't see this job through, then no one will. In that respect, he's an unrivalled competitor - there are ongoing debates about his true worth as a T20 player, certainly when compared to his extraordinary recent triumphs in Test and ODI cricket, but it's hard to argue that any team would be stronger without him in their ranks. So it proved in a masterful display on Sunday, as Stokes roared back to form after a piecemeal start to his delayed campaign. With a formidable unbeaten 107 from 60 balls, he all but doubled his previous tournament tally of 110 runs in his first five matches, and finished as the first player in IPL history to score two matchwinning second-innings hundreds - which is a remarkable first, given how many extraordinary batting feats have been racked up in the tournament's 13 seasons. His bowling remains an optional extra - he's still averaging one over a match, and was rather taken to the cleaners by Sunrisers' Manish Pandey - but with Rajasthan needing to win all their remaining matches to edge into the play-offs, the return of such a consummate matchwinner is timely, to say the least.
Mixed week for Morgan, but KKR stay in contention
KKR are clinging on to the play-offs by their fingernails, and seemed to have lost the plot entirely in their first match this week, when they crumbled to 3 for 3 in 14 balls against RCB, and only partially recovered to post a grossly inadequate 84 for 8. In those circumstances, there wasn't a lot of magic that Eoin Morgan could wield in the field - although he did attempt a spirited rearguard in top-scoring with 30 from 34 balls after arriving to chaos at 14 for 4. Three days later, however, and it was a vastly improved story, as high-flying Delhi Capitals were brought low by Nitish Rana and a resurgent Sunil Narine. Morgan himself chipped in with 17 from 9 balls to complete an imposing innings of 194 for 6, and thereafter he had only to avoid a stinker in the field. Fortunately Pat Cummins was on target in each of his first two overs, and though Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant threatened to take the game deep, Morgan's timely introduction of Varun Chakravarthy extinguished any doubt.
Archer remains in a different realm
Another obscenely brilliant week from Jofra Archer, whose efforts with the ball have been grossly under-rewarded all tournament long, at least in terms of wins and losses, but whose liquid fury continues to rattle the world's best players day in, day out. He was reunited with a pair of familiar foes, and saw both off in a total of nine balls - David Warner, snaffled at slip by Stokes for a four-ball 4, for the sixth time in seven encounters with Archer in 2020, and Quinton de Kock, whose belligerent pull for six in Mumbai Indians' opening over seemed to have signalled that battle was joined, but whose flat-footed inside-edge one ball later changed the story emphatically. A lack of support, with the ball as much as the bat, has been Rajasthan's undoing this season, and not even Archer himself has been able to perform every role with unflinching excellence - Vijay Shankar and Saurabh Tiwary are among those to have plundered his comeback overs in recent games. Nevertheless, his 17 wickets are second only to Kagiso Rabada, and his economy rate of 6.71 is unparalleled among this year's quicks. And let's not forget his batting - another belligerent knock of 16 not out from seven balls against Sunrisers featured his tenth six of the tournament (as many as Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan, among others) - or his fielding. A shocker against Chennai gave way to a blinder against Mumbai, a back-pedalling, one-handed screamer at third man that evoked Stokes' world-beater on the opening day of last year's World Cup.
Sam Curran offers CSK promise for the future as golden era ends
Who knows what the most storied franchise in the IPL will look like next season, after their misfiring campaign spluttered to the most abject of denouements against Mumbai - a ten-wicket trouncing that confirmed they would fall short of the play-offs for the first time since the competition's inception in 2008. But one thing's for sure: Sam Curran has confirmed a thirst for action that deserves to be the cornerstone of any rebuilding side. He played a lone hand in hopeless circumstances against Mumbai - arriving with the innings in tatters at 21 for 5, and yet sparking the merest glimmer of optimism with an outstanding 52 from 47, an innings that balanced self-preservation with calculated risks, and finished with a volley of three fours in four balls in Trent Boult's final over. For some unfathomable reason, MS Dhoni then decided to overlook Curran's left-arm nuisances in a one-sided chase - but two days later against RCB, he proved his hot streak hadn't yet worn off. He did for Aaron Finch in his first over, the fourth of the innings, then returned for the troublesome 19th, outfoxing both Moeen Ali and Virat Kohli in a superb six-run effort that also included a bouncer that clonked Chris Morris flush on the badge. With 173 runs and 13 wickets to date, Curran is the only allrounder this year to complete the 150-10 double.
Bairstow mislays best form as Sunrisers stumble
All of a sudden, Sunrisers Hyderabad are in a bit of a play-off panic. Four defeats in five have left them adrift of the pack, having at one stage been lurking dangerously in mid-table, and while many other players are more culpable in that slump, the fact that Jonny Bairstow has been unable to kick on from his magisterial 97 against Kings XI in week three is undeniably a factor. His most recent innings were of 10 and 19, the former ending by a stump-shattering missile from Archer (as already mentioned, he's in a bit of a groove); the latter coming from a miscalculated piece of improvisation against M Ashwin, one over after his opening partner Warner had fallen for a fluent 35. And what happened thereafter was shocking. A collapse of 7 for 14 in 23 balls, when the stage had been set for a stroll across the line. And suddenly it is Sunrisers' conquerors, Kings XI, who are surging towards the top four…
From zero to hero as Jordan leads the late charge
We've had some remarkable redemption tales already in this tournament - most notably, Rahul Tewatia's in-game explosion for Rajasthan against CSK. But if Kings XI keep up their current late surge, then that incredible comeback against Sunrisers may come to be seen as a microcosm of their entire campaign. They were utterly dead and buried when Chris Jordan was thrown the ball for his third over in Dubai - just 28 needed from 24 balls, with seven wickets in hand. But he'd already found his range, and his confidence, in conceding six runs from his first two overs of the evening, and when the anchorman Pandey holed out to long-off, it triggered a remarkable turn of events. Jordan struck twice more in his final over, the 19th, as Jason Holder and Rashid Khan hacked into the covers off consecutive balls, and by closing it out with just one more single from two balls, he gave Arshdeep Singh a priceless 14 runs to defend - he conceded just one of them, as three more wickets tumbled to a rash of guileless swipes from Sunrisers. Jordan himself settled under the second of those to pocket a very cool chance at long-on. What a resurgence, from the man, and the team.
Middle-order mastery as Buttler comes good at the death
No less an authority than Shane Warne, Rajasthan's official mentor, thinks that Jos Buttler is batting out of position, but there's no doubt that he was the right man at the right moment in his side's vital victory over Chennai in Abu Dhabi. After weeks of squandering winning positions with a lack of gumption in their middle- to lower-order, here finally was the touch of mid-innings class that Rajasthan needed to stave off another crisis. On a tricky, sticky pitch, Chennai's painstaking 125 for 5 was in danger of looking quite competitive, especially after three early wickets had ramped up Rajasthan's anxiety levels. But Buttler has an ability to transcend the conditions with the purity of his timing and the power of his wrists, and here he left his team-mates and rivals for dead with an innings of exquisite acceleration - 70 not out from 48 balls all told, with Steve Smith's 26 from 34 at the other end telling its own story. Buttler wasn't required on Rajasthan's return to the same venue on Sunday, thanks to an innings of not-dissimilar mastery from his England team-mate (and World Cup Super Over partner) Stokes. What price these two opening for England (maybe even on these same pitches) in next year's T20 World Cup? Somewhat shorter than they would have been 12 months ago, that's for sure.
Ali cuts forlorn figure as form continues to elude him
Bangalore's brains trust, rather like those of England, desperately want Moeen Ali to succeed, but it's becoming increasingly apparent that something is no longer clicking in that mellifluous batting technique. His first outing for three weeks was a sorry affair - a two-ball 1 in the closing throes of an under-cooked RCB innings, and two tidy but broadly unremarkable overs in CSK's one-sided run-chase. The most notable aspect of his innings, in fact, was the identity of the man who got him out. Sam Curran induced a skied slog to long-off from the first ball of the 19th over, and as the two men crossed in the middle of the pitch, it was permissible to wonder whether that moment marked the official passing of the No.7 baton in England's T20 World Cup plans.
Banton flexes his muscles, but all too briefly
It might, in theory have been the perfect stage for Tom Banton. A recall in KKR's middle-order, and a scoreline of 3 for 3 that both enabled him to get a good sighter in his favoured Powerplay, and also to take the pressure off to a certain degree. After all, what's the worst that can happen from that sort of grounding? He did crunch Navdeep Saini over square leg for six, three balls after drilling a half-volley for four. But then Mohammad Siraj stuffed him with a cross-seamer, and that was the end of that.
Tom Curran waits in the wings some more
Another week on the sidelines for Tom Curran, who is not alone in discovering that the use of variations in this tournament is no recipe for success. Even his team-mate Archer has shelved the slower balls of late, but then he does have an average speed in excess of 90mph to fall back on. Still, the adversity will doubtless make Curran stronger for more hospitable conditions.