Monday, May 9, 2011

It will be a Mumbai-Chennai final again at IPL....and Chennai could win it again.....

Mumbai leads the charts right now with a clear advantage in terms of matches played and matches won. It’s possible that they may retain this advantage till the very end of the league stages. And yet I think it will most likely be a Chennai win in the finals. Is this just the nervousness of an avid Mumbai supporter or is it borne out by some analysis? As usual, there is some degree of analysis that I have tried to arrive at the real truth!

Most people I speak to agree that Mumbai will enter the finals. It seems to have the best batting and bowling line up. But some others feel that there are at least three other strong contenders to the winner’s post.....Chennai, Bangalore and Kolkata (in no particular order). To filter out emotions and a bit of parochialism that invariably percolates through any discussion on IPL, I have based my conclusions on the following factors:

Win %: Sometimes in an IPL results table, one focuses only on the standings indicated in the table. But what one should look at instead is the win %. For Mumbai, the win % is 80% (10 games played. 8 won). On this basis, Chennai and Kolkata are both at 64% and Bangalore is at 60%. The other two fringe teams – Kochi and Rajasthan Royals are both at 45% or so and must count themselves out of the tournament. The win% could be one of the ways used to predict the outcome of the balance matches.....and if a linear approach was used, one would conclude that the final rankings would be the same as at present. So it would be Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Bangalore in that order in the final standings.

No. of players in form: This is a little bit of a subjective variable. It basically measures if a team’s success has been led by one or two individuals in the team or if its been a broader team performance. If its led by one or two charismatic players, then it increases the vulnerability of the team and I would normally tend to give it a lower chance of winning. Let’s see how the teams fare on this score. Mumbai Indians have Tendulkar, Pollard, Bhajji, Malinga, Rohit Sharma, Rayudu in solid form. That’s 6 players. I am not including Suman and Munaf Patel for now, but I will keep this consistency for the other teams also. For CSK, Dhoni, Raina, Murali Vijay, Albie Morkel, Hussey, Bollinger and Badrinath are in top form. That’s 7 players. I will keep Ashwin, Randiv and Kulasekara out for now. From KKR, Gambhir, Kallis, Eoin Morgan, Abdulla are in top form. That’s 4 players. Will keep Manoj Tewari, Balaji and Pathan out for now. From RCB, its largely been Gayle of late and Kohli. Honestly, I would keep AB, Tilakratne, Zaheer Khan and Vettori as not being yet in top form. On the basis of this form, its CSK in #1 place, followed by MI, KKR and finally RCB.

Captaincy record: This is very crucial factor in a team’s success. Clearly here, its Dhoni all the way. He’s won India the ICC T-20 tournament, the ICC ODI tournament. He’s won CSK the IPL as well as the Champion’s League. He’s taken India to #1 in the ICC test rankings as well. Clearly, he’s got the best record amongst all Indian captains till date. MSD is the reason why CSK is where it is. Another captain, and this team of high performers could well have dissipated by now. In contrast, Mumbai Indians has a real problem with Tendulkar. He’s simply not a good captain. I remember still with agony his decision to keep Pollard in the dug out till the very end in the IPL finals of last year. Even now, he’s not shown himself to be that savvy when it comes to bowling changes and team selection. Likewise, Gambhir and Vettori have not shown themselves to be of the same order as Dhoni. Clearly, on this factor, its CSK all the way with MI trailing quite behind.

Home advantage: The finals will be played at Chennai and this will be a huge advantage to CSK. At present, CSK has lost four of its “away” matches and built its position mainly playing at home. This factor will be critically in favor of CSK. However, MI have also had a very good Away record and maybe....just maybe....that won’t be such a big factor against MI. RCB and KKR also have advantageous Away results....both having 3 of the 5 away matches they have played so far. In toto, without the home advantage, CSK would have been in a weak spot.....but since the finals are in Chennai, they will be able to capitalize on it.

Basis the above four factors.....and I admit, this is still only very rudimentary analysis.....CSK should win the finals and MI should be the losing finalists. However, cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties.....more so in a T-20 format. No one can predict when Gayle will fire again and he alone could take RCB to a win this year. Likewise, individual players with terrific potential can swing the results for any team. But if I have to place my bets, its on CSK.

The real truth is that captaincy matters more than anything else. An astute captain can shield his team’s poor performers in a finals game. Form cannot be predicted.....but a good captain’s response can be. A good captain can decide whether to field first or bat; he can motivate his team to deliver the best; can keep a cool head under stress; and can personally lead from the front when required. Dhoni it is for me. Let me know what you think!

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