As the Indian Premier League reaches its third week, so we reach the halfway point in the group stage of the competition. There’s been a little movement in the markets since we last looked at this competition, just as there have been a few changes in the group table itself.
The big stories of the week have been the implosion of the Mumbai Indians and the steady rise of our tips for the title, Royal Challengers Bangalore. For Mumbai, it has been an entirely forgettable seven days. They began by losing top spot to Rajasthan Royals in a match which they ought to have won, but then the wheels really came off as they suffered a massive nine-wicket defeat to the previously winless Delhi Daredevils.
The Indians’ collapse has called into question the practice of teams having an overseas player as captain in the IPL. Five of the nine teams are being led by non-Indians. Of those, two - Sri Lankans Kumar Sangakkara and Angelo Mathews - have dropped themselves from the team already, whilst another two in Punjab’s Adam Gilchrist and Mumbai’s Ricky Ponting, are struggling for any kind of form. At the same time, the fact that Bangalore are captained not only by an Indian - Virat Kohli - but one who was until Wednesday the leading runscorer in this competition, has not gone un-noticed.
Bangalore now top the table, with six wins from eight matches after winning a rain affected game against Pune Warriors India. With Kohli on top form, plus the world’s dominant T20 batsman Chris Gayle in the side and fresh from his record-breaking 175* against Pune, they looked strong contenders for the 2013 title anyway, but they were given an extra boost this week when Indian batsman Saurabh Tiwary was pronounced fit enough to return to the team after missing the first weeks with injury. At betting odds of 13/5 with Boylesports Bangalore are still reasonably priced for the title, but be wary of betting too much on them too soon. That 6-from-8 record looks impressive, but all of those wins came in home matches and they now embark upon a run of six away fixtures. That is going to be one heck of a road trip and, bearing in mind that they have lost both of their games away from the M Chinnaswamy Stadium this year, it might be wise to wait a game or two as the price is likely to lengthen.
Bangalore’s closest challengers at the moment are, remarkably, the new boys of Sunrisers Hyderabad and perennial fan favourites Chennai Super Kings. Both are two points behind, although they have played a game fewer. Now would be a good time to back either of them, as their schedules are more balanced than Bangalore’s and so they might not suffer the sudden drop off in results that the Royal Challengers could if their away form doesn’t improve. At 9/1 (Bet365) and 11/4 (Stan James) respectively they represent decent value at this stage of the tournament. And keep an eye on Kings XI Punjab at 14/1 (Sportingbet). The serial underachievers are just two points behind and unlike Mumbai and Rajasthan (the other sides on 8 points) they are on the rise, with Mandeep Singh and David Miller both in sparkling form with the bat.
Down at the bottom, Delhi continue to surprise, following up that cracking first win of the season over Mumbai with a painful loss to Punjab. The real shockers, though, are the defending champions Kolkata, who still have only two wins and who don’t look to be in any sort of form at all. At 12/1 they could be a decent bet to suffer the ignominy of finishing last just a year after winning the IPL.
Gayle’s massive innings not only broke two world records, it catapulted him to the top of the run making chart, where he now enjoys a massive 99 run lead over Kohli. You can probably disregard the Bangalore skipper in this market now, but lurking in third place, 127 runs back, is Chennai’s Michael Hussey, who averages just four runs per innings fewer than Gayle and who, potentially, has at least one more innings left than the West Indian. At 12/1 with Stan James he is certainly worth a look.
The top wicket taker race is a closer affair. Again, it is a Bangalorean leading the way, Vinay Kumar picking up another wicket against Pune to take his total to 13. Closing in on him and again having played a game less is another of Chennai’s overseas stars, Dwayne Bravo. He has 12 scalps and is closely followed by three bowlers with 11 - James Faulkner of Rajasthan, Amit Mishra of Hyderabad and the reigning champion Sunil Narine from Kolkata.
What makes this market particularly interesting is that the reasons not to back any of these are more compelling than the reasons to back them. In the case of Vinay Kumar, he has of course taken most of his wickets on his home pitch and will lose that advantage for the next three weeks. Bravo is famously injury prone and has already played seven games without a rest. Faulkner isn’t even a regular in the Rajasthan side, Mishra took four of his wickets in one remarkable over against Pune and Narine has been worked out by batsman in every form of cricket bar this one, so must be on borrowed time. On balance, I prefer Faulkner at 10/1 with Stan James on the basis that he is going to get more opportunities and has a better strike rate than any of the others, but have a cheeky look at Vinay Kumar at 9/2 and/or Narine at 7/2 just to hedge your sports picks a little.