Pride, Prejudice & Misfortune: A Look at IPL’s Unlucky XI

IPL gives us glimpses of how cruel the sport can be, as individual heroics go down the drain, in-form players are left out, deserving individuals are sidelined and injuries frustrate both the infirmed and their fans. Hard done by sheer bad luck, these players are left to rue missed opportunities. Since luck is as oblivious to borders as CK Nandan to inside edges, we had no option but to dump the four overseas players policy.

1. Hashim Amla:
Amla made at least one point certain this season: if he needs to chase at a rate of 10.4 in ten overs, he can do it with Amla-esque precision while the rest of his teammates try to subdue his efforts. It was unfortunate that both of Amla’s centuries came while batting first for KXIP, and the task to defend these totals were left with the inexperienced bowlers. A part of our cricketing brains are relieved that Amla had to leave the tournament midway, because a third century in a losing cause by Amla might have just made us question the very concept of justice in sport.

2. Manan Vohra:
 This was Vohra’s best season with the bat since 2014, as he scored 229 runs at a strike rate of 144, also his best strike-rate in an IPL season ever. It also included an epic 95 in a losing cause against SRH, where his clean hitting prowess was ceased only by a rampaging Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the penultimate over of the chase. The Amla-Vohra combination seemed to be working well for Punjab. But, problems loomed over the opening spot in the second half of the season for Punjab. With a fit Martin Guptill, it was almost impossible for Virender Sehwag to leave him out. They tried replacing an in-form Amla with Guptill, but Amla was brought back in the next match, which meant Manan had to vacate a spot which he had held on to ever since he had been given the chance. He was moved around the batting order, but was soon shown the door to allow Wriddhiman Saha a shot at the top. It was a sorrowful end to a campaign which had begun with such promise for the youngster, as Vohra ended the season on the bench.

3. Faf du Plessis:
South Africa’s limited overs captain played just two games, as the timely inclusion of Rahul Tripathi allowed Pune SuperGiant a stable top-order that set them up for the season. Such has been the form of the batsmen of RPS that Faf did not even bat in one of the two matches that he did feature in, as a lengthy opening partnership needed big strikers to capitalise on the start. In a parallel universe, Faf would be the mainstay of a batting unit in T20s, here, he was a mute spectator when not involved in on-field mic interviews.

4. Naman Ojha:
Another season of a batting powerhouse snubbed in a suffocating box. Naman Ojha is a fine wicket-keeper, and can keep to both searing pace and the turning googlies. The Sunrisers Hyderabad bowling attack has often allowed us to see that behind the wicket. Sunrisers’ love-hate affair with Deepak Hooda meant that Hooda was either not in the playing XI, or was batting at 4 or 5, above Ojha. This season was no different, as Ojha never had the opportunity to bat in the first twelve overs. This prolonged exclusion might have also hurt his chances of being on the fringes of the Indian team, as he has been now overlooked for the likes of Rishabh Pant and Parthiv Patel in limited overs and Tests respectively.

5. Chirag Suri:
We do not know much about this man from UAE, which is the reason why we wanted to see why he was picked by Gujarat Lions at all. The timing to introduce him was right as well. Brendon McCullum’s injury in the latter part of the season meant that Gujarat were left with the services of just four overseas players, Suri included. Also, since the Lions were no longer eligible for playoffs, that should have allowed them to tinker around and test their bench strength to brush some rust off the fringe players. Instead, we saw Gujarat taking the field with just three overseas players for their last three matches of the season, meaning Suri was just an overseas benchwarmer for the season. A real pity indeed.

6. Mohammad Nabi:
Nabi is the finisher that Sunrisers needed, but did not make full use of. He was left out in favour of the all-rounder Moises Henriques who leaked runs at more than 10 runs per over this season. His bowling alone merited a selection in the playing XI, as he conceded less than six an over in the eleven overs that he bowled in three matches. No amateur with the bat either, Nabi is a trusty all-rounder who is one of the better readers of the game today. He can play the wild basher, and can also arrest a mini-batting collapse that teams often encounter in T20s. Nabi still had much to rejoice in, with his Afghan teammate Rashid Khan a constant feature in the XI.

7. Pawan Negi:
In another team, with an in-form top order, Negi’s contributions would have been the wildcard that would often mean the difference in the end. Instead, Negi was the only positive constant in RCB, a team of non-performing individuals otherwise. 16 wickets at an economy of 6.12 for this wily left arm spinner would have been hailed as one of the better performances this season, had his team at least stayed in contention for the playoffs for a longer period of time. The brittle top order also allowed Negi to bat as well. But it was too frequently a rescue mission on offer, and not the ones where he could feed off the momentum of his predecessors’ batting exploits that would allow him to go all guns blazing. It could have been another breakthrough season for Negi, but it will be grimly remembered as a series of what-ifs by him.

8. Trent Boult:
If we were to name one player who has been the most unlucky over the past three seasons, Trent Boult would be second to none. Stuck in a pace-heavy attack of Sunrisers Hyderabad in both 2015 and 2016, Trent Boult finally had an opportunity to break free and leave a long-lasting imprint in the IPL. Instead, he had to bear the frustrations of dropped catches and sloppy fielding that not only meant poor bowling figures, but also decided the fate of the match. It has been an unfortunate third successive season for a bowler of Boult’s calibre, who saw as many as three dropped catches off his bowling at the start of the season, the most painful being the one of Hardik Pandya by Rishi Dhawan at Wankhede. Hardik went on to score the winning runs in a nail-biter.

9. Avesh Khan:
It was a procession of in-seaming bouncers into the rib-cage against Delhi Daredevils in the last match of the group stage by Avesh Khan. The 20-year old lad from Madhya Pradesh gave us reason to sit up and enjoy a match which held little significance. Avesh choked the DD batsmen for room with his awkward length, and only left us searching for answers for why was this speedster never introduced before, especially with the kind of campaign that RCB had. The youngster might have asked the same question to himself over the last two weeks of the RCB campaign, and after the show he put on at the Feroz Shah Kotla, we do side with him by having him here with us as our pacer in Unlucky XI.

10. Shahbaz Nadeem:
Delhi Daredevils’ bizarre tactics shadowed them throughout the season, as they dropped their new ball spinner Shahbaz Nadeem after an impressive first match of the season. His intermittent exclusion from the team throughout the tournament baffled us all, as he played just seven matches. The constant varying of squad had already taken a toll on the momentum of the team. But Nadeem stood up to perform almost every time when given the chance to. It is a real shame that Shahbaz Nadeem continues to fly under the radar despite consistent performances over the past few seasons. But he’ll always find a place in our Unlucky XI.

11. Andrew Tye:
Tye kept count: after 34 matches on the bench in the IPL, Tye was finally given the cap to play his first IPL match this season, and he delivered immediately with a hat-trick and 5/17, that was instrumental in Gujarat Lions’ first win this season. Andrew Tye was most certainly one of the stars of the season, and he was a major link in an otherwise bland bowling line-up of Gujarat Lions, until his shoulder dislocated in the match against Mumbai Indians. It was one of the greatest misfortunes to lose out on a bowler who was at the peak of his form and provided balance in a batting heavy side.

12th man – Karun Nair:
He is not in this team because he was left out of the squad for someone fancier, or younger in Delhi Daredevils’ case. But he deserves to be mentioned just because of the nightmarish run that he endured this IPL, for a major part of it. Karun suffered a horrid time whenever he tried to bat, and one could not feel any more sympathy for a Test match triple centurion. To make matters worse, he was even made the captain in Zaheer’s absence. The captaincy had no effect on his batting, but thankfully for him, the results went his way. Karun was unlucky because he was not dropped for any of the matches to collect himself together and find some form by staying off the field for some time, and is therefore our ideal 12th man.