The biggest Twenty20 cricket tournament is back with a bang. With the return of former Indian Premier League (IPL) champions Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals after two years in the wilderness, the tournament is on course to deliver its most exciting competition yet.
Whether it’s the likes of Chris Gayle viciously hammering sixes out of the ground or Imran Tahir bamboozling batsmen with his airy legspin, the IPL boasts players of both proven international quality and raw potential. Below is a look at some of the teams and players that fans of the tournament should be watching out for as we settle down for a bit of pre-summer cricket.
What better place to begin than with the defending champions? Mumbai have won the IPL three times in their history and boast the kind of winning mentality that other teams can only dream of. Led by captain Rohit Sharma and specialist death bowler Jasprit Bumrah, Mumbai have the basis for another long run this year.
Sharma averages 32.61 and a strike rate of 130.89 over his distinguished IPL career, whilst Bumrah has an economy rate of just over 8 despite being tasked with the responsibility of bowling in late game situations.
The combination of a solid starting XI and a nice mix of bowling options should see Mumbai make the playoffs for the 8th time in 11 years.
Chennai Super Kings
”No CSK, no IPL”. That was the chant of the South Indian side’s fans when their beloved team were banned for two years, after becoming embroiled in a match fixing and betting scandal. They were at the time the most successful team in IPL history with two titles and four runners up spots.
Now, they look to bring back the glory days to Chepauk and their fanatical fans. Having retained Indian superstars MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja, the Super Kings wisely retained the core that has delivered them such great success.
Their depth of batting is arguably the strongest in the competition and should be formidable at their spin friendly home ground. Expect them to once again keep up a wonderful track record in the IPL under the cool and calm leadership of Dhoni.
Royal Challengers Bangalore
On paper, RCB have the most enviable starting XI of the sides in the IPL. From having possibly the two best batsmen in the world in Indian megastar Virat Kohli and South African dynamo AB de Villiers, to off spin starlet Washington Sundar, RCB should be seen as one of the big favourites.
However, despite all the big names, RCB have flattered to deceive when the pressure has been at its most intense. They have never won the trophy and fallen short at the final hurdle on three separate occasions. This year, the hope will be that Kohli finally has the ammunition around him to drag RCB to a maiden success.
Ben Stokes & Jos Buttler
Rajasthan Royals’ English duo will be hoping to light up their side’s return to the competition.
After all his off the field issues, Stokes returns to the IPL as the most expensive player bought at the auction at £1.4 million, and hoping to deliver performances that shine a light on his actual cricketing ability.
His hundred last year for the Rising Pune Supergiants was evidence of the destructive batting ability the Englishman possesses and more of the same will be needed this year.
Buttler meanwhile was picked up for a relatively modest £490k with Nasser Hussain labelling him ”the most exciting white-ball finisher.”
The two, who were rivals last year in the tournament, will seek to combine together to bring an explosive middle order partnership to the Royals.
The most expensive player in the IPL, Kohli carries the weight of his team once more hoping the burden is not too wearisome this time.
His exploits for India have been well documented and it will be up to him as the captain to get the most out of a quality-filled squad.
Ranked as the No.1 T20 bowler in the world, Khan had a promising first year at Sunrisers Hyderabad and will look to dig deep into his magic box of spin to continue to fool batsmen this year.
His 17 wickets in last year’s edition came with an incredible economy rate of just 6.62; a figure unheard of in the shortest format of the game.
Teams like Kings XI Punjab and Delhi Daredevils look on course to follow previous form and finish outside the top four spots, with both sides paying for their eyebrow-raising strategies in the auction.
As for the playoffs, expect Mumbai, Chennai and Rajasthan to come through as expected with the latter two hoping that their couple of years away has little effect on their chances. For the fourth and final spot in the semi-finals, perhaps this is the year where RCB finally satisfy expectations.
After that, it’s anyone’s game, but this year’s IPL should live up to its billing as the most exciting tournament cricket has to offer today.