IPL 2016: The Preview
Since January 26th, India have played no form of cricket other than T20s. The appetite of the Indian fan will be tested to the hilt as the IPL begins on Saturday to commence a further seven weeks of T20 cricket.
The IPL has been through its fair share of controversies – the biggest of which sees it going into its 9th season without two former champions, Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals, both of whom have been suspended for two years.
The Gujarat Lions and Rising Pune Supergiants replace Chennai and Rajasthan, and come Saturday, the organizers will be hoping that the cricket is the only thing that makes the news.
And there is potential for that to happen. All the eight sides are stacked with superstars, and at the beginning of the tournament, it seems almost impossible to pick a clear favourite. Here, I preview each of the teams and analyse their strengths and weaknesses.
The defending champions have retained the core of the team that won them the title last year, and the additions of Jos Buttler and Tim Southee only make the Rohit Sharma-led side stronger. Jasprit Bumrah was an integral part of India’s fantastic recent T20 run, and if he manages to keep up that form, Mumbai would not necessarily require the services of the talismanic Lasith Malinga. Harbhajan Singh will be looking to show the Indian think-tank that it was a mistake to not pick him for a single game in the World Cup, as he goes into a ninth IPL edition as Mumbai’s lead spinner.
Best XI: Lendl Simmons, Rohit Sharma, Ambati Rayudu, Jos Buttler, Kieron Pollard, Hardik Pandya, Harbhajan Singh, Jagadeesha Suchith, Nathu Singh, Jasprit Bumrah, Mitchell McClenaghan
Watch out for: Nathu Singh. The man from Rajasthan was fast-tracked into the India A side last year. He possesses the gift of pace, consistently touching speeds of around 145 km/h. With Lasith Malinga around, there could be no one better for Nathu to learn from.
Royal Challengers Bangalore
They have strengthened their already fearsome top order with the addition of Shane Watson. Alongside Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers, the burly Australian will form the crux for Bangalore. The Chinnaswamy Stadium, where Bangalore play their home games, had uncharacteristically slow wickets in the World T20. That could well play to Bangalore’s advantage with their bowling being the weak suit. They have the no. 1 batsman, bowler and all-rounder from the ICC T20 rankings in Kohli, Samuel Badree and Watson. But, I don’t see Badree being a fixed starter with the restriction on the number of foreign players in the team.
Best XI: Shane Watson, Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, Mandeep Singh, Sarfaraz Khan, Stuart Binny, Yuzvendra Chahal, Varun Aaron, Samuel Badree, Sreenath Aravind
Watch out for: Sarfaraz Khan. He was India’s star at the recent U19 World Cup, in which they were runners-up. Sarfaraz impressed in the few games that he played last year, and Bangalore will expect more of the same from the stocky youngster.
Kolkata Knight Riders
The two-time champions will look to get over the disappointment of not even making the playoffs last year. They added Colin Munro, Jason Holder and John Hastings to the squad in the auction, to back up Morne Morkel and Umesh Yadav in the pace bowling department. But as usual, Kolkata’s strength will be their spinners. Sunil Narine, Shakib Al Hasan and Piyush Chawla will once again look to make an impact for Gautam Gambhir, whose strength has always been the way he has used the spinners. The batting has no lack of firepower with Gambhir himself being accompanied by Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Yusuf Pathan and Andre Russell.
Best XI: Gautam Gambhir, Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Suryakumar Yadav, Yusuf Pathan, Andre Russell, Shakib Al Hasan, Piyush Chawla, Morne Morkel, Sunil Narine, Umesh Yadav
Watch out for: Kuldeep Yadav. Another left arm chinaman bowler who has been impressive in the Indian domestic circuit. An added advantage for Kuldeep is that he has the old warhorse to learn from. The 45-year old Brad Hogg is still going strong, and for Indian cricket’s sake, many people will be hoping that Hogg can positively mentor Kuldeep.
For me, Hyderabad performed the best at the auction. The additions of Yuvraj Singh, Ashish Nehra and Mustafizur Rahman have considerably strengthened the side. Trent Boult has found himself warming the bench for New Zealand in T20 cricket, and with the resources Hyderabad have, it seems like that will continue. In the batting department, a lot will depend on Shikhar Dhawan, David Warner and Yuvraj. If anything, the Hyderabad batting looks to be slightly top-heavy. Given that, it is imperative that one of the three southpaws fire. Eoin Morgan could strengthen the middle order, but his recent form has been so dismal, it would be difficult for Hyderabad to consider him.
Best XI: Shikhar Dhawan, David Warner, Yuvraj Singh, Naman Ojha, Deepak Hooda, Moises Henriques, Karn Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mustafizur Rahman, Ashish Nehra, Barinder Sran
Watch out for: Deepak Hooda. The all-rounder from Baroda impressed for the Rajasthan Royals last season. He is a hard hitter of the ball and bowls useful off-spin. Hooda was set aside for high praise from Rahul Dravid last year, and this year, Dravid’s good friend VVS Laxman will be looking to get the best out of Hooda.
A new season and as has been the norm, Delhi have a largely changed squad. They splurged on Pawan Negi, Carlos Brathwaite and Chris Morris, and the three all-rounders will be crucial for captain Zaheer Khan. Paddy Upton and Rahul Dravid have taken over the reins at Delhi, and there is an exciting bunch of youngsters for them to work with. Rishabh Pant, Khaleel Ahmed and Mahipal Lomror were all part of India’s U19 World Cup squad. But undoubtedly the biggest draw is Brathwaite. His heroics in the World T20 final have ensured that there are huge expectations from him.
Best XI: Shreyas Iyer, Quinton de Kock, Karun Nair, Sanju Samson, Pawan Negi, Chris Morris, Carlos Brathwaite, Amit Mishra, Zaheer Khan, Mohammad Shami, Imran Tahir
Watch out for: Shreyas Iyer. The man from Mumbai was the highest run-scorer in Mumbai’s run to the Ranji Trophy title. He was the best young player at last year’s IPL, and was the lone bright spark in Delhi’s dismal campaign last year.
Kings XI Punjab
Punjab have a new captain this year. George Bailey has not been retained, and David Miller has taken over the reins. The additions of Kyle Abbott and Mohit Sharma have strengthened the bowling. The team is blessed with all-rounders, in the form of Glenn Maxwell, Rishi Dhawan, Axar Patel and Marcus Stoinis. The biggest need for Punjab is for their batting to fire. They seem to have a well-rounded bowling attack capable of performing in all conditions. So, if the batting does click, Punjab have a team to beat.
Best XI: Murali Vijay, Manan Vohra, Glenn Maxwell, David Miller, Wriddhiman Saha, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Rishi Dhawan, Axar Patel, Mitchell Johnson, Kyle Abbott, Mohit Sharma
Watch out for: Manan Vohra. Like Iyer for Delhi, Vohra has been one of the young stars for Punjab. Fearless in his approach, Vohra will get a lot of love from the team management – especially with Virender Sehwag being a part of it. But, it is time for Vohra to push on from the attractive 20s and 30s and play big knocks.
One of the two new franchises, the Lions will be based in Rajkot. Traditionally, Rajkot has been a featherbed full of runs. With Brendon McCullum, Aaron Finch, Dwayne Smith and Suresh Raina part of a fearsome batting lineup, there is enough reason for Gujarat to be optimistic. Dale Steyn has had a difficult time in T20s recently, and he will probably not make the starting eleven too often. The incredible story of Pravin Tambe will have a fresh chapter in it, as he will be the one accompanying Ravindra Jadeja in the spin department.
Best XI: Aaron Finch, Brendon McCullum, Suresh Raina, Dinesh Karthik, Dwayne Bravo, James Faulkner, Ravindra Jadeja, Praveen Kumar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Pravin Tambe, Shadab Jakati
Watch out for: Shivil Kaushik. He is a left arm chinaman bowler with a Paul Adams-esque action. He made a name for himself in the Karnataka Premier League last year, and Gujarat could look to use the surprise factor to their advantage.
Rising Pune Supergiants
After a gap of three years, Pune makes a return to the IPL fold. This time, the team will be led by MS Dhoni, and the batting department possesses a plethora of superstars. The combination of Dhoni and Stephen Fleming has moved from the suspended Chennai Super Kings to Pune, and they will be looking to recreate the environment that served them so well at Chennai. Kevin Pietersen, Ajinkya Rahane, Steve Smith and Faf du Plessis form a top four as fearsome as any other in the tournament. The bowling is a worry for Pune. Ravi Ashwin will be the leader of the pack, but the fast bowlers need to step up. Ishant Sharma, Ashoke Dinda, RP Singh, Ishwar Pandey and Irfan Pathan will all be available but none of them has been able to set the T20 stage on fire.
Best XI: Ajinkya Rahane, Kevin Pietersen, Steve Smith, Faf du Plessis, MS Dhoni, Mitchell Marsh, Irfan Pathan, Rajat Bhatia, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Ishwar Pandey
Watch out for: Irfan Pathan. Pathan had a fabulous run in the Syed Mushtaq Ali domestic T20 tournament. He got the ball to swing back into the right handers, and he did bowl at a reasonable pace. Pathan’s batting could be useful as well, but it is his bowling that Dhoni will be more desperate for, to come good.
With these eight sides, it promises to be a proper feast of cricket. If the last eight years are anything to go by, we are in for one hell of a ride.