We're halfway into the 2021 IPL. About four weeks ago, we identified ten Indian players for whom the tournament was going to be particularly important, given the T20 World Cup is slated for October-November this year. It's time to take stock of how these players have fared.
The 618 runs Dhawan made in last year's tournament are the most he has ever made in a single IPL season. Little past halfway into the 2021 edition, he has already made 380 and looks set to surpass his previous season's tally comfortably. He opened the season with a bruising 85 in a match-winning innings against the Chennai Super Kings, and then went one better against the Punjab Kings, hammering a 49-ball 92 in a chase of 196. He has since alternated between playing aggressor and being second fiddle to the marauding Prithvi Shaw. This possibly explains his powerplay strike rate of 116.52 so far this season. But don't let that fool you, this is Dhawan 2.0 in T20s.
Samson began this season with a breathtaking 119 that nearly helped Rajasthan Royals chase down 222. He turned down a single off the penultimate delivery, backing himself to hit a six off the final ball to win, which didn't come off. A small blip followed but Samson has recovered to come up with three forties, where he has looked to spend time at the crease instead of striking from the get-go. Whether it's captaincy or the quest for consistency that has made him temper his game - mind you, he still strikes at 145 - only time will tell. With three wins in seven matches, the Royals are in the middle of the table, though Samson is on top of his team's run charts and in the top five for the tournament overall.
Both players came into the IPL on the back of roaring starts to their international careers earlier this season, but things haven't quite gone to plan so far. Yadav struggled to up the tempo on sluggish surfaces in Chennai, where the Mumbai Indians managed just two wins in five games. Since his half-century in his second match this season, he has managed a best of 33 in his five knocks since, but the move to a more batting-friendly surface in Delhi has promised signs of change.
Kishan, the leading six-hitter at the last IPL, has hit just two so far in six innings. Worryingly, he seems to have lost the No. 4 position in the line-up to Krunal Pandya, with the team management choosing to play an extra bowler during the Delhi leg.
Ashwin has had a tough time on and off the field. He managed just one wicket in five games - though his economy was an acceptable 7.73. This lack of strike power didn't particularly hurt the Capitals, who have had others - Amit Mishra, Lalit Yadav and Axar Patel - chipping in. Ashwin won't have an opportunity to turn things around, though, as he has left the IPL bio-bubble to be with his family, of whom multiple members are affected by Covid-19.
The cousins have made quite a splash in the first half of the tournament. Two of Mumbai's four wins have been single-handedly orchestrated by Rahul, the 21-year-old legspinner. The secret has been his reliance on his stock ball and clever changes of angles and lengths to batters based on match-ups. A no-fear attitude has complemented this consistency. Such has been his impact that Rahul has stolen the limelight from Jasprit Bumrah; he sits atop Mumbai's wicket-takers' chart currently. With Yuzvendra Chahal seeming to have lost his wicket-taking bite - he has taken wickets in only three of seven games so far - while also proving expensive, and Kuldeep Yadav deemed surplus to the Kolkata Knight Riders' requirements, Rahul will fancy his chances of making it to the World Cup squad.
Meanwhile, Deepak has continued to be MS Dhoni's main man in the powerplay, a role he has been performing admirably for the Chennai Super Kings since 2018. He has swung the ball both ways and has given the side a fair degree of control upfront. He has taken wickets in only two games, but both times he took four apiece, turning the games around. All this even as Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who is a like-for-like as far as positions in the Indian team go, has struggled for swing, been down on pace and has been troubled by persistent niggles.
Saini has had just one game for the Royal Challengers Bangalore. Virat Kohli has preferred either batting insurance or the all-round abilities of Shahbaz Ahmed. Tewatia hasn't made an impact yet in the Rajasthan Royals' lower-middle order. His legspin hasn't been as effective as it was last year either, and while he has managed to keep Shreyas Gopal out of the side with his batting potential, time may be running out for last season's wonder man.
Two who have forced their way into contention
Shaw has batted with swagger and the supreme confidence that came from having scored heavily in the build-up to the IPL. He set records on fire in the Vijay Hazare Trophy and has brought the same intensity to his batting for the Capitals. Among batters to have made over 100 runs in the powerplay this season, Shaw's strike rate of 187.39 is by far the highest. He has brought a destructive aura to his batting without really looking to muscle the ball, simply by relying on his timing and hand-eye coordination. Such has been his impact that his troubles in Australia seem a thing of the distant past.
A smart off-season trade from the Capitals, Patel has been RCB's go-to death bowler so far and holds the purple cap with 17 wickets at the halfway mark. The secret to his success has been the use of an excellent wide yorker and an assortment of slower variations, including a superb back-of-the-hand delivery. Two of RCB's losses so far have coincided with off days for Patel. He also showed glimpses of batting potential in helping the side narrow their margin of defeat against the Punjab Kings with 31 runs off 13 balls.