It’s that time of year again, folks. The fifth edition of cricket’s glitziest tournament gets under way this Wednesday when two time Indian Premier League champions Cheannai Super Kings face the Mumbai Indians franchise in Chennai.
76 games await us; 72 in the group stage as the nine franchises face up to one another before Qualifier 1, the Eliminator, Qualifier 2 and then the final, in Chennai, on Sunday May 27. The tournament is organised to offer the top two sides from the group stage the best chance of reaching the final.
Who will win? Who should you be watching? Well, we’ve reached for the crystal ball once again (it has been letting us down recently, but we’re usually okay with the IPL – click here for evidence!) and brought you our preview, predictions and players to watch. Get involved with your own predictions below. Enjoy!
Players to watch
Brendon McCullum – the Kiwi keeper is available for the entire tournament this time around and a good run in the Kolkata Knight Riders side might be enough for him to rediscover the form that lit up the IPL’s opening fixture between KKR and Royal Challengers Bangalore back in 2008. That evening he blasted 158* off 73 balls. It remains the IPL record top score.
Shakib Al Hasan – a wonderfully talented all rounder, the star of Bangladeshi cricket could carry his recent good form into this tournament. As well as leading KKR’s spin attack, he should provide valuable middle order runs.
Predictions – the final four
Chennai Super Kings – searching for an unprecedented third straight crown, MS Dhoni’s charges start as favourites. A strong Indian contingent (Dhoni, Ravichandran Ashwin, Suresh Raina, Murali Vijay, Abhinav Makund and Ravindra Jadeja) is supported by solid, if largely unspectacular, overseas players in Dwayne Bravo, Ben Hilfenhaus, Suraj Randiv, Nuwan Kulasekara, Albie Morkel, Doug Bollinger, Mike Hussey, Faf du Plessis, George Bailey and Scott Styris.
There are enough fireworks within the squad, married to experience and professionalism, to ensure that CSK will be there or thereabouts come the final reckoning.
Mumbai Indians – Led by Indian outcast Harbhajan Singh and featuring a certain Sachin Tendulkar, MI are always contenders. This is a well balanced squad that won the Champions League last year, too. Alongside Harbhajan and Tendulkar, Pragyan Ojha, RP Singh, Munaf Patel and Rohit Sharma are the stand out Indian names. Add to that Herschelle Gibbs, Clint McKay, Mitchell Johnson Richard Levi, Lasith Malinga and Kieron Pollard and you have a really well rounded outfit. They will be very tough to beat at every turn.
Royal Challengers Bangalore – 2011’s runners up retain Daniel Vettori as skipper in a squad that oozes class. If only they could pick more than four foreigners in the starting XI… With Tillakaratne Dilshan and Chris Gayle opening, pyrotechnics are assured. The on fire Virat Kohli adds depth to the batting but the likes of Mohammad Kaif, Zaheer Khan, Abhimanya Mithun, Surabh Tiwary and Vinay Kumar will need to perform if RCB are to go one step further in 2012.
Assuming Vettori, Dilshan and Gayle are automatic picks, only one of AB de Villiers, Charl Langeveldt, Andrew McDonald, Muttiah Muralitharan, Dirk Nannes and Luke Pomersbach will play. Choices, choices. It seems likely that de Villiers could wicket keep with Nannes and Vettori rotating depending upon the playing conditions.
Kolkata Knight Riders – Gautam Gambhir’s charges should pip Delhi Daredevils to fourth spot. With only Gambhir, Manoj Tiwary, Yusuf Pathan and the young Jaydev Undakat as ‘big’ Indian names, however, KKR will need a couple of the lesser lights in the squad to step up. The squad is furnished with some illustrious overseas talent, though.
Second IPL top scorer of all time Jacques Kallis, Brendon McCullum, Eoin Morgan, Brett Lee and Shakib Al Hasan are supported by James Pattinson, Merchant de Lange, Brad Haddin and Ryan ten Doeschate. They have the talent to be there until the end.
And the winners…
It’s hard to look beyond CSK and MI reaching the final (as in 2010) with CSK coming out on top (as in 2010). These are the two to beat without doubt, although RCB look best placed behind MI to break CSK’s recent dominance. I’m backing a third straight CSK win.
By Miles Reucroft