It’s back – the glitziest, most glamorous, most over hyped T20 tournament on the planet is back! The Indian Premier League (IPL) is loved by some, loathed by others, but compelling viewing for all cricket fans. We take a look at the runners and riders this season and dip a toe into the murky waters of prediction…
Chennai Super Kings
MS Dhoni and his golden oldies return once more. It’s easy to write them off based on age (I did last year!) but there is no substitute for experience, or so it seems. Murali Vijay, Faf du Plessis, Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni make an experienced top order, with effervescent all rounders Shane Watson and Dwayne Bravo providing further batting and bowling ballast. Kedhar Jadhav and Ravi Jadeja provide further all-round options to supplement the still-going Harbhajan Singh.
Seam appears to be the obvious weakness and the all-rounders will need to perform. Lungi Ngidi has been ruled out of the entire tournament and he is a massive loss to CSK, such was his prowess with the ball in 2018. He’s irreplaceable and makes it tempting to write this old boys club off once again.
The Daredevils have rebranded, but the impressive Shreyas Iyer retains the captaincy. Shikhar Dhawan looks a shrewd acquisition and a top order of Colin Munro, Prithvi Shaw, Dhawan and Iyer is a fearsome one. Colin Ingram should start at five, with Rishabh Pant taking the gloves and smashing sixes at six. The two Kiwis in the batting mean space for only one of Kagiso Rabada or Trent Boult with the ball, assuming Sandeep Lamichhane, the star of Nepalese cricket, fires up his leggies again. Ishant Sharma and Avesh Khan make up the seam option with some bits and pieces all-round options.
This looks a well balanced side and Delhi could surprise a few people and feature prominently this year.
Kings XI Punjab
Chris Gayle has reminded the world of his talents and his international career as in its final throes, so he’ll be keen to have a big 2019, continuing at the IPL. Partnered by KL Rahul, this is a dangerous opening combo but the pressure is on them to succeed regularly. Karun Nair and David Miller offer middle order prowess, but R Ashwin probably coming in at seven, this is a long and none too powerful tail that could prove Kings XI’s Achilles heel.
Ashwin, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Varun Chakravarthy make the most interesting spin attack at the tournament, and Andrew Tye and Mohammad Shami are very good seam options. If the top order batting fails to fire, this lot are bang in trouble though.
Kolkata Knight Riders
With Chris Lynn, Sunil Narine and Robin Uthappa as the top three, KKR can blitz anyone on their day. Narine, Kuldeep Yadav and Piyush Chawla also make up the strongest spin attack at the tournament, with Narine’s latterly found all-rounder status freeing up an extra bowling spot. There are, however, pace bowling options. Anrich Nortje was going to provide an express option but has done his shoulder so won’t be in India. Suddenly, Harry Gurney looks like a starter for KKR. Andre Russell isn’t what he was with the ball, but Sandeep Warrier looks an exciting prospect.
This is a good looking side, but the pace concerns could swamp them if it goes wrong.
Surprise failure to find a top four finish in 2018 will spur Mumbai on this year. They are used to being involved in the business end of the tournament. Skipper, Rohit Sharma says he will open, probably with Quinton de Kock. Hardik and Krunal Pandya, along with Kieron Pollard, provide all-round ballast in the middle order with Mitchell McClenaghan, Jason Beherendorf, Lasith Malinga and Adam Milne vying for two seam options alongside the star turn, Jasprit Bumrah. Possibly the weakest spin attack at the tournament, though.
There is experience and balance here, although it’s not impossible to envisage another season of struggle in Mumbai. The middle order could be perceived to be a bit flaky the spin options a bit rubbish…
Welcome back ye disgraced former Australian captain! Can Steve Smith hit the ground running at the IPL? It’s been a while. A year, to be precise. Because, you remember, he used sandpaper on a cricket ball and lied about. Three times. Then cried. A lot. Anyway, he’s back. Rajasthan’s own skipper, Ajinkya Rahane, has also been out of form and has a point to prove. Jos Buttler will likely pick up where he left off in 2018, opening the batting. Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer provide strong all-round options and there is a plethora of well-sourced local lads vying for bowling spots.
It’s hard to rule the Royals out, but they do lack a bit of stardust that their competitors have and Smith could prove to be a really big early distraction, especially if he finds a couple of failures early on.
Royal Challengers Bangalore
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, RCB have never won this tournament and questions are being asked of Virat Kohli’s continued leadership of the franchise. With Marcus Stoinis, Parthiv Patel, Kohli, AB de Villiers and Shimron Heymyer as the frontline batsmen, this is unquestionably the finest batting line up at the tournament. However, this comes at the expense of their bowling once more, a lesson they just seem unwilling to learn to Bangalore. There is no reliable fifth bowling option and Stoinis, as a result, looks to be their key player.
The batsmen, simply put, have to fire. If they fail, another season of disappointment awaits. If you were to back one batting unit, though, it would be this one.
How to accommodate the overseas talent? Dave Warner returns to competitive action and, like Steve Smith, could prove a distraction. Will his hands be taped up? What messages will he have on them for Candice? Jonny Bairstow provides adequate cover if Dave struggles to rediscover his mojo. So does Martin Guptill. Shakib Al Hasan looks set to start with his all-round prowess, as does Rashid Khan, the star of Afghan cricket. Billy Stanlake, the gigantic Aussie quick, will surely start if fit, too. So, is there room for Kane Williamson at all? Strong Indian options run through this squad, with Saha, Hooda, Manish Pandey, Vijay Shankar, Buhvneshwar Kumar and Sandeep Singh.
The local talent make SRH look a very solid pick for a top four berth and there is cover for every position, a balance the rest can only dream of.
Predictions – top four
SRH are the easiest name to pick here. At the other end, I fancy Delhi Capitals to feature here. Expectations aren’t as sky high as they are at some of the other franchises and they look to have a strong and well balanced team.
KKR should also make it this far. The batting should fire often enough and Harry Gurney has been in great form on the cricket field, if a wee bit argumentative on social media. He’s been handed an amazing opportunity by circumstance and it’s one I fancy he’ll take. The spin options cover a multitude of seam sins, too.
Finally, I’m backing the Rajasthan Royals. They have a nice blend of explosive overseas options, players with a point to prove and youngsters looking to make a name for themselves. Plus, with Shane Warne in the dugout, a man who won the first ever IPL with a similarly composed side, there is a good tactical unit in place.
Predictions – missing out
RCB have the batting, but too much star dust and not enough in the bowling department for my liking. Likewise, Mumbai Indians look a little imbalanced with much of a muchness seam options, Bumrah aside, and no notable spinners to twirl them out of tight spots.
CSK are, surely, this year, just a bit too old. Surely Shane Watson can’t keep on being brilliant into his 50s?! The loss of Ngidi is absolutely massive, too. They just do not have the cover for his excellence and he was the last player they could afford to lose. I just can’t see how they make up for that.
Kings XI just look like the weakest team at the tournament. It’s too much to expect Gayle and Rahul to put on 100 every innings – and even that might be insufficient to their cause. Their bowling options are strong, but their tail looks far too long and Miller is the last of the big hitters at five. It would be a massive surprise if they muscle into the top four at IPL 2019.
Predictions – IPL 2019 winners
KKR. Lynn and Narine won’t be departing for the World Cup, so they will keep their potent attacking weapons in the play-offs, a luxury not afforded to many others. Likewise, Gurney will be available the whole time and they might not miss Russell that much. Once it gets to the business end, this should be the strongest squad available. It could be another season of glory in Kolkata.
Agree with our preview and predictions? Leave your comments below!
By Miles Reucroft