Arun Gopalakrishnan in Mumbai 26 May 2014 - 05:38pm IST
IPL 2014: Best Batsmen
These talented willow-wielders were on fire during the league stage
Robin Uthappa is perched right on top of the run-scorers charts with 613 runs. But that is not the reason why the Kolkata Knight Riders batsman finds a place in this list. A specialist opening batsman, Uthappa was used in the lower-middle order in the UAE leg of Pepsi IPL 2014 and didn’t have the greatest of times, scoring only 97 runs in five innings at a strike-rate just over 100. But since the competition returned to India, the 28-year-old has looked a different batsman altogether, scoring at least 40 in each of his team’s nine matches. On the basis of the quantum of runs scored, this has been Robin Uthappa’s best season in the IPL. But what has been most impressive has been the way he has accumulated the runs. There have been the occasional slog sweeps and the reverse sweeps, but the majority of his 516 runs in the India leg have been scored playing orthodox cricket strokes. The KKR opening batsman has been patient upfront, preferring to spend some time in the middle understanding the pace and bounce of the pitch before opening up. Even then, he has not been too flashy, has played mostly with a straight bat, has not chased deliveries, and quoting him “has held his shape and balance”. That he’s scored close to 30% of his runs in the ‘V’ and that the long-on region has been his second-most productive area speaks volumes of how he has concentrated on playing the copy-book way.
If one were to identify one batsman who took Pepsi IPL 2014 by storm, it would have to be Kings XI Punjab’s Glenn Maxwell. The Australian set the tournament on fire, especially in the UAE Leg, when he was an unstoppable force. In his first three innings, the KXIP batsman unleashed himself against the Chennai Super Kings, Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad, posting scores of 95, 89 and 95 – each one scored at a strike-rate in excess of 195. He was fairly one-dimensional – if one may say so. He often muscled the ball to the boundaries at square-leg and mid-wicket, and once in a while – when the leg-side was packed - pulled out the outrageous reverse-sweep and switch hit (which were hit with just as much power as his other strokes). Yet bowlers from most teams had no ideas on how to keep him quiet. The Maxwell onslaught continued when the tournament arrived in India; he scored 45 off 27 balls against the Mumbai Indians, and got stuck into the Chennai Super Kings for the second time this season scoring 90 from 38 balls.
The 25-year-old, who held the Orange Cap for most part of the league season, has had a couple of poor outings in recent times. There have been murmurs doing the rounds that he is suspect against leg-spinners – after bowlers of that tribe brought about his downfall five innings in a row. With his team having a possible three more outings this season, it will be interesting to see if he can force his way back to the top of the Orange Cap standings.
The most successful batsmen in the Twenty20 format are generally players who open the innings or the ones who bat one-drop. This season too, there have been several such players who have won matches for their teams while batting up top– Robin Uthappa, Glenn Maxwell, Dwayne Smith, to name a few.
But there are very few players in the world who bat down the order, yet have the ability to blow away the opposition singlehandedly. One such player, who has excelled batting in the death overs, is Rajasthan Royals’ James Faulkner. In 12 innings in Pepsi IPL 2014, the Australian has scored 181 runs at a mind-blowing strike-rate of 192.55. The number of runs may not be too many, but it is the circumstances and the impact of the runs that leaves one stunned. The 24-year-old has walked out to bat with four overs or less remaining in the innings in six of his 12 outings this season, yet has been able to turn on the heat almost immediately. Given he had little time to get his eye in, it is incredible that he found the boundary with alarming regularity –less than once every four deliveries. That he hit more sixes (16) than fours (8) also illustrates how he was very destructive with the bat. His 17-ball 41 against the Royal Challengers Bangalore and the 85-run partnership he forged with Steve Smith (which came off 5.2 overs) should rank as his best performance of the season.
From the day David Warner smashed 89 against South Africa on his T20 debut, he was considered one of the most destructive opening batsmen in the world. However, given how their team had taken shape, the Sunrisers Hyderabad needed the diminutive Australian to slip down and shore up the middle order. Despite being taken out of his comfort zone, the 27-year-old adapted brilliantly to the challenges of batting in a position he was not used to, and finished the season as the team’s highest run-getter. He would take a little time early on, and that was quite understandable given the role he was expected to play. He scored at just over a run-a-ball until the end of the 14th over. But come the 15th over, he’d cut loose, and how. His strike-rate would shoot up to 208 when batting in the final stretch of the innings. They say “Champions are not always the best at what they do. They're the ones who work hardest and persevere when it is time to be counted.” David Warner certainly stood out when it was time to be counted!
Karun Nair is yet another example of how the Rajasthan Royals make champions out of budding cricketers. For most part of his brief career, Karun has been known for his sound technique, good temperament and for playing orthodox cricket. The 22-year-old has scored plenty of runs in age-group cricket and in representative cricket at the senior levels, but batting mostly in the middle order. In Pepsi IPL 2014, one got to see him in a new avatar – that of an opener. He had the basic ingredients that go into the making of a good batsman and was expected to score runs. But what was impressive was the ease with which he took to the role. The urgency and application he showed in his role of opener was a facet one had not seen before. In the nine innings he opened, he scored 272 runs at an impressive strike-rate of 140.21. His ability to switch and adapt to new roles came to the fore once again in RR’s final league match against the Mumbai Indians when he was required to bat at No.3; he delivered the goods yet again, scoring 50 from 27 balls.