IPL 2020 witnessed one of the closest races for the play-offs with as many as 3 spots remaining for grabs up until the penultimate match of the league stage. 7 teams were in contention for the top 4 spots until the final weekend of the round-robin fixtures.
For the first time in the history of the league, all 8 teams finished with at least 12 points and a team with 14 points did not even qualify for the play-offs. Tight!
In the end, it was Mumbai Indians who comfortably took the top spot while Delhi Capitals ended a 4-match losing streak to sneak into the top 2. Sunrisers Hyderabad, courtesy of a fine late run, finished 3rd while Royal Challengers Bangalore slipped to the 4th spot after losing steam towards the end of the league phase.
Too many holes in MS Dhoni's ship - CSK miss play-offs party
Courtesy of BCCI
There were quite a few shocks and surprises during the 56-match league stage but the biggest of them all was Chennai Super Kings' poor campaign. For the first time in the history of the league, MS Dhoni-led CSK have failed to reach the play-offs. There were a constant presence in the knockout stages from 2008 to 2015 and upon their return from a 2-year suspension, the Chennai-based franchise won the title in 2018 and reached the final in 2019.
MS Dhoni's men finished at the 7th spot with 12 points after languishing at the bottom of the table over the last 2-3 weeks. A late surge wherein they managed to win 3 matches on the trot helped them avoid the wooden spoon which went to the Rajasthan Royals.
Chennai Super Kings were a shadow of their former self after being hampered by player withdrawals, injuries and Covid-19 concerns. The aging side struggled to hit the straps straight away with several of their big players, including captain MS Dhoni, struggling for form.
Their inability to find impetus in the middle overs came as a big setback in the early stages of the tournament. At one point, MS Dhoni was forced to tell the team to move away from the 'Dhoni-model' of chasing and look at going big in the middle overs rather than putting pressure on the finishers. Nothing worked for CSK and their stubborn team selection was a cause for concern.
CSK manage to end season on a high
By the time CSK made some changes and brought in fresh faces who were warming the benches, it was too late. Ruturaj Gaikwad, Mitchell Santner, Lungi Ngidi and Imran Tahir played crucial roles in their last 3 wins but CSK were well out of the play-offs race by then.
CSK managed to finish on a high and with MS Dhoni confirming that he would return to lead the side in IPL 2021, their fans are looking forward to a better future. All eyes on next year's auction as Dhoni did not mince words when he said that CSK need a revamp with focus on building a younger core.
Sunrisers Hyderabad join elite list with successive play-offs appearances
Courtesy of BCCI
On the other hand, Sunrisers Hyderabad are emerging to be one of the most consistent sides in the IPL.
SRH have become only the 3rd side to reach the play-off in 5 successive seasons after Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings. David Warner's men finished with 14 points and a better Net Run Rate than RCB to seal the 3rd spot.
It was not all rosy for Sunrisers Hyderabad as they were plagued by injury concerns. They lost all-rounder Mitchell Marsh as early as their opening game. Their star pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar suffered a campaign-ending injury blow just 4 matches into their tournament. All-rounder Vijay Shankar played only 7 matches before being ruled out with an injury.
With David Warner not finding peak form, Sunrisers were also struggling to get their overseas combination right. An inexperienced middle-order put a lot of pressure on the team combination and top-ranked T20I all-rounder Mohammad Nabi had to warm the benches.
Sunrisers rewarded for bold calls, excellent resource management
However, Sunrisers Hyderabad were not afraid to take bold calls. They fiddled with one of the most successful opening combination in recent times -- David Warner and Jonny Bairstow as they dropped the England opener and brought in Wriddhiman Saha at the top. The move worked wonders as Saha not just came out all guns blazing but also helped them sort out the concerns over combination.
With Saha donning the opener and the wicketekeeper's role in the side, Sunrisers got the room to play Kane Williamson in the middle overs and also have a top-quality fast-bowling all-rounder in Jason Holder.
In the bowling front, the likes of Sandeep Sharma and T Natarjan have wonderfully risen up to the challenge in the absence of Bhuvneshwar Kumar. With Rashid Khan finding form and Shahbaz Nadeem providing the experience that the bowling attack needs, Sunrisers are looking like a well-oiled unit now.
They had to beat table-toppers MI, RCB and DC in their last three league games to reach the play-offs. Warner's men now have to repeat the feat in the play-offs to win their 2nd title in 4 years. Count them out at own peril!