The biggest carnival of cricket The Indian Premier League (IPL) is about to begin from the 9th of April. It will be back to India after the last edition was held in the UAE due to covid-19 restrictions but without the fans. 6 grounds have been allocated for the event with no teams playing in their home stadium. There is a little concern about the bio bubble as few of the staffs in the ground have been tested positive but there seems to be no sign of a sudden panic yet and the tournament is about to go on as scheduled. Now that we are just days away from the fest to begin, let's do a short analysis on the strengths and the weaknesses of the eight teams participating and which ones, on paper, are looking the favorites to go the distance.
The defending champions and overall 5 time title holders will start this season as favorites as well. Their batting depth is something that strikes fear in the opposition camps. When you have so many explosive batsmen like De kock, Suryakumar Yadav, Kieron Pollard, Ishan Kishan, Hardik and Krunal Pandya and the captain himself Rohit Sharma, there really isn't any target that cannot be achieved. Their bowling is also sharp led by Jasprit Bumrah and the kiwi Trent boult with Nathan Coulter-nile, Rahul Chahar and the Pandya brothers providing good support. They have two fairly decent overseas reserve bowlers in Adam Milne and the South African Marco Jensen. The only thing right now that might likely be their weakness is they have to play 5 of their starting games at chennai and the low & slow wicket there might not be ideal for the defending champions power hitters.
Still I'll put them as the strongest side in the competition and it will surprise no one if they walk out with their sixth IPL trophy on the 30th of May.
Chennai Super Kings
If it was a disadvantage for Mumbai Indians to play in Chennai, it's an even bigger disadvantage for the 3 time champions to play on the batting friendly grounds of the wankhede, Mumbai. Although the second most decorated team in the competition have improved their squad from last year, it is still far from perfection in this format of the game. Faf du Plessis once again will be key man to take team yellow to big scores supported by a returning Suresh Raina, the young stalwart Rituraj Gaikwad who had an impressive showing last year and the captain cool MS Dhoni. The two all-rounders Ravi Jadeja and Sam Curran will be joined by Moeen Ali this year and his inclusion in the playing XI will give them a right balance with a lot of bowling options just as MS Dhoni prefers.
As of now, this CSK squad does not looks like a team which can bring the club's glory days back but you can't sleep on the team lead by MS Dhoni ever.
Royal Challengers Bangalore
Expensive buys, different coaches, two of the best batsman in the world in the same team… Nothing of those have worked for the Royal challengers Bangalore. It can be said that their weak bowling has always been a hindrance in their progress but the batting hasn't performed as per expectations as during crunch situations. Like the last 10 years, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers will be the key men again along with the new buy Glenn Maxwell whom RCB fans will be hoping can get some of his IPL form back and the young opener Devdutt Paddikal who was the top scorer for the Bengaluru side in last year's edition. Their weakened bowling will be led by the leg spinner Yuzvendra Chahal who had been one of the red team's top performers in recent years along with the young pace duo of Navdeep Saini and Mohammed Siraj. The 15.5 crore signee Kyle Jamieson can be a big bust or a big success although the chance of the former is a lot more unfortunately looking at his inexperience in this format and playing in India. Washington sundar should be used wisely by the skipper as he can play a very vital role by not giving away much in the power play overs.
All said and done, this year The Royal Challengers aren't looking as balanced as they should be and will rely heavily on their star players to be a threat to others.
The two time champions and consistent performers Sunrisers Hyderabad is a team that is always in the contention of a top four spot no matter how the team on paper looks like. Major credit for that goes to the coaching staff of Tom Moody - VVS Laxman - Muralidharan who have been able to bring the best out of their players since they took this task. With names like David Warner, Kane Williamson, Johnny Bairstow and the recently joined Jason Roy, the orange army have a good core of overseas batsmen but it's the Indian options where they are still lacking. Manish Pandey , Vijay Shankar and the young pair of Priyam Garg and Abdul Samad will have a task on their hands alongside the veteran Kedar Jadhav who would want to forget last year's disastrous run with CSK and prove his mettle in his new franchise. The return of Bhuvaneshwar kumar will give a solid boost to their bowling. He along with Rashid Khan, Shahbaz Nadeem, Jason Holder, T.Natarajan, Sandeep Sharma and Mujeeb ur Rahman will form a very suitable bowling unit at the ground of Chennai where they will be playing majority of their games.
As a team, sunrisers have always been an underdog and a worthy contenders to the title. I will put them up in the top 3 teams of this year and with a little luck on their side , the orange army can very well go the distance.
Kolkata Knight Riders
The 2012 and 2014 champions haven't been at their best in recent years. Missing out on the top 4 spot narrowly in back to back years, the Knights will look to break the streak this time. Good thing for them this year is there is no confusion over the captaincy as the World Cup winning skipper Eoin Morgan is set to lead the side with the previous captain Dinesh Karthik as his deputy. The batting will be led by the young rising star Shubman Gill who is one of the contenders to win the orange cap given his recent run of form along with Nitish Rana, Rahul Tripathy and the skipper and his deputy. Shakib Al-Hasan is a very good signing who will bring the required balance in the team for which they struggled last year and there were times they had Pat Cummins playing as high as no. 7. Talking about Cummins, he would want to improve from his last year's form and justify his huge price tag. With Sunil Narine, Lockie Ferguson and the young Indian bowling core of Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi, Prasiddh Krishna and Varun Chakravarthy the Knight's bowling attack is good enough to trouble the oppositions. Now the man who can make or break the season for them… Andre Russell. The Jamaican is one of the most destructive forces in T20 cricket but his lack of fitness and mis-analysis of the game situations have come back to haunt his team. KKR would be hoping he comes back to his 2019 form where he won the Most Valuable player of the year award with his all round display.
The Knights have built a tendency of losing games from winning positions this year. If they can solve that, there's no stopping them to get the top 4 spot and put a good challenge to the top favorite teams like Mumbai Indians.
Delhi are on their best run in the tournament. They reached finals last year and were easily the second best after a mighty mumbai Indians who were probably the greatest IPL squad of all time. There's a little change in their fortunes this year as the captain and backbone of middle order Shreyas Iyer isn't available due to an injury. Rishabh Pant has been given the captaincy responsibilities and considering the form he is in, he'll also be the most important batsman in the team. Prithvi Shaw was another one who didn't had a good last season but with regaining some form in domestics, he is looking to turn it around this time. A big overseas signee has been Steve Smith but will he be included in a top heavy batting order is something to be seen yet. Bowling will once again be in the hands of the Protea pace duo of Rabada and Nortje who terrorized every batsman with their speeds last year. Rabada is a genuine wicket taker which makes him the key to this lineup. Ashwin and Axar Patel will have spin responsibilities and the duo that got the better of English batsmen in the recently concluded test series will hope their great form continues in this format as well. A disadvantage for the capitals is the lack of good reserves in the pace department as Ishant and Umesh aren't considered great T20 bowlers and Avesh Khan isn't quite up to the level of others. Their lack of finishing touches in batting was also a weak point which the teams can explore.
Delhi Capitals are on the rise and would want to build on the team foundation they have led since 2018. A trophy this season seems unlikely but steps are being taken in right direction.
Will the new name bring a change in fortunes??? If there was any team that suffered the most from fortune and lack of killer instinct in the previous season , it was Kings XI of Punjab now known as the Punjab Kings. KL Rahul and Anil Kumble must keep this in mind in the build up for this season. Speaking of KL Rahul, he was the highest run getter last year but also faced some criticism for not scoring runs at the rate he should. His current form doesn't look that good so Punjab fans should hope he regains some touch as the tournament begins. His opening partner, Mayank Agarwal was impressive last year and would like to continue on the same run. Their middle order is filed with T20 specialists such as Chris Gayle, Dawid Malan and Nicholas Pooran who in my opinion can be the star of the tournament. How many of these can play is a big question for now. They also have a domestic power hitter named Shahrukh khan who should be in their starting XI plans. Their bowling needed an overhaul from last year which saw them getting the Aussie pacer Jhye Richardson at a heavy price. Another inexperienced guy like Jamieson but Jhye has the experience of playing in India. Mohammed Shami will once again lead the attack with Chris Jordan and spin youngsters Ravi Bishnoi and M.Ashwin will be their prime supporters. Other than finishing, their bowling still looks a weak factor which might come to cost them like last year.
Punjab Kings is a batting heavy side and will expect their power hitters to get them near the top four spot at the very least, a place where they haven't reached since 2014.
The winners of the very first edition, the Rajasthan Royals have not gone to the same level ever again. They have reached the top four only once after 2008 which shows how poor they had been all these years. With the exclusion of captain Steve Smith from the team, it's Sanju Samson who will take up the responsibility of captain with the two senior Englishmen Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler likely forming a leadership group with him. The three will also be very vital to their batting as seen last year along with the youngsters Yashasvi Jaiswal, Riyan Parag , Shivam Dube and Rahul Tewatia. The pink squad also has the explosive David Millet up their ranks and he should get more games this year than the solidarity one he got in 2020. Their bowling will miss a lot of fizz in Jofra Archer's absence and the new marquee signee Chris Morris will have some task on his hands. Jaydev Unadkat has been disappointing more than often which he would want to change with Mayank Markende probably their top spinner. As we can see this is another heavy batting side which will find it difficult to defend sub par totals.
The Royals are the ultimate dark horses again this season and should hope to get a good run of wins to up their stakes. A top four finish for them would mean they had a successful campaign.
© 2021 Sid S