Right, time for our look at the nine franchises and our predictions as to who will qualify for the last four.
IPL 2013, the sixth edition of the glitzy Indian T20 tournament, commences on April 3 as defending champions Kolkata Knight Riders take on Delhi Daredevils at Eden Gardens, the same stadium that will host the final on May 26.
Each franchise faces the others home and away, leaving us with 72 group games to get through before Qualifier 1, first Vs second in the final table. The winner of this fixture heads straight to the final; the loser gets another opportunity to make the final in Qualifier 2, which is made up of the defeated franchise from Qualifier 1 and the winner of the Eliminator, which is contested between the third and fourth placed franchises…
Got it? In short, you want to be finishing in the top two places of the final table to increase your chances of making the final. It means that no one can really relax in the final group games.
We preview the nine franchises and make our predictions for the final four, and the winner, at the end. Please feel free to chip in with your predictions below!
Chennai Super Kings – The only franchise to have won two IPL titles, they will be there or thereabouts again this year. A strong contingent of Indian players is led by skipper MS Dhoni and supported by the likes of Ravindra Jadja, Murali Vijay, R Ashwin and the top run scorer in IPL history, Suresh Raina.
The foreign contingent at CSK isn’t the strongest at the tournament, but Ben Hilfenhaus, Mike Hussey, Albie Morkel, Dirk Nannes and Dwayne Bravo are all seasoned pros who know there way around a T20 fixture.
Watch out for… Suresh Raina. He’s slipped off the Indian selectors’ radar a bit of late, so where better to showcase his talents than here?
Kings XI Punjab – You’d have to pencil this lot down as the weakest side at the tournament. Only Piyush Chawla and Praveen Kumar stand out from the Indian players, so they will be relying on one or two youngsters making a name for themselves here.
Adam Gilchrist, Azhar Mahmood, David Hussey, Ryan Harris, Shaun Marsh and David Miller are their leading imports, but remember, only four can play at one time. It could be a long tournament for Kings XI.
Watch out for… Adam Gilchrist. Can a 70 year old man who hasn’t played any cricket since last year still perform a capable job as leader of this lot? I doubt it…
Kolkata Knight Riders – The defending champions don’t look quite as strong as last year. Captain Gautam Gambhir has recently been dropped from the Indian team and has only just recovered from a bout of jaundice. Yusuf Pathan and Manoj Tiwary are the other stand out home growns.
Brad Haddin, Jacques Kallis, Brendan McCullum, Eoin Morgan, Sunil Narine, James Pattinson, Shakib Al Hasan and Ryan ten Doeschate make up a strong foreign contingent.
Watch out for… Sunil Narine. The West Indian ‘mystery’ spinner span KKR to glory last year and there will be a lot of pressure on him to repeat the trick in 2013.
Mumbai Indians – Another traditionally strong outfit, MI haven’t yet won an IPL title despite some very narrow misses. Sachin Tendulkar leads the home players with Harbhajan Singh, Pragyan Ojha, Dinesh Karthik, Munaf Patel and Rohit Sharma in support. That’s arguably the strongest Indian contingent amongst any of the squads.
MI also benefit from a stellar foreign support cast. Kieron Pollard, Lasith Malinga (top wicket taker in IPL history), new captain Ricky Ponting, Mitchell Johnson, Dwayne Smith, James Franklin, Phil Hughes, Jacob Oram and $1m man Glenn Maxwell.
Watch out for… Glenn Maxwell. Whilst Pollard, Tendulkar and Malinga will be grabbing the headlines, it will be interesting to see how the young Aussie lives up to the hype of such a price tag, especially in the wake of a chastening introduction to Test cricket in India…
Rajasthan Royals – The winners of the first ever IPL tournament have found life a little tougher evr since. Skipper Rahul Dravid will be reliant upon Ajinkya Rahane repeating last year’s batting heroics and hoping that Sreesanth doesn’t go completely mental mid tournament. Dravid will also need a couple of the youngsters in his squad to step forward.
Fidel Edwards and Owais Shah led to the slightly mental theme in this squad, but Brads Hogg and Hodge, Shane Watson, Kevon Cooper and Shaun Tait are talented and experienced additions.
Watch out for… Ajinkya Rahane. He was superb in 2012 ad needs to be so again in 2013. Coming into the tournament on the back of a disappointing Test debut against Australia.
Royal Challengers Bangalore – Another IPL heavyweight franchise, RCB have never won it, but are always in with a sniff. Virat Kohli leads the side and an experienced base of Indian players: Murali Karthik, Abhinav Makund, Cheteshwar Pujara, Saurabh Tiwary, Zaheer Khan, RP Singh, Jaydev Unadkat and Vinay Kumar.
The foreigners ain’t half bad, either: Tillakaratne Dilshan, Moises Henriques, Dan Christian, Andrew McDonald, Daniel Vettori, AB de Villiers, Muttiah Muralitharan and a certain Christopher Gayle…
Watch out for… Chris Gayle.An obvious choice, but you just can’t take your eyes off the man whether he’s batting, bowling or fielding in ludicrous sunglasses. The man is the definition of blockbuster!
Sunrisers Hyderabad – Formerly Deccan Chargers, winners of the second IPL tournament, SH have a well assembled squad. Amit Mishra, Shikhar Dhawan, Parthiv Patel and Ishant Sharma lead the home players.
Kumar Sangakkara is captain and SH can also call upon JP Duminy, Nathan McCullum, Thisara Parera, Darren Sammy, Clint McKay, Dale Steyn and Cameron White.
Watch out for… Shikar Dhawan. Had an impressive Test debut recently against Australia but is recovering from a broken hand. His magic in Mohali will create expectancy around him here and it will be interesting to see how he fares.
Delhi Daredevils – Another ensemble of nearly men. Virender Sehwag, Ajit Agarkar, Ashish Nehra, Irfan Pathan and Umesh Yadav lead the Indian players.
Mahela Jayawardene skippers, Morne Morkel, Andre Russell, Roelof van der Merwe, David Warner, Johan Botha and Jeevan Mendis make up the foreigners in the squad.
Delhi are without Kevin Pietersen this year and, sadly, Jesse Ryder. I was looking forward to seeing the Kiwi’s continued cricketing rehabilitation after a successful first half of last season with Pune Warriors. We wish Jesse all the best as he recovers from a fractured skull and a punctured lung following a vicious assault in Christchurch.
Watch out for… Virender Sehwag. Is he finished for India? He needs to showcase his expansive talents here to prove a few wrong.
Pune Warriors – Still a relatively new franchise, PW will be more confident this year with a strong cast of home grown and foreign players. Of the Indians in the squad, Yuvraj Singh is the leading light. Ahok Dinda, Bhuveneshwar Kumar, Manish Pandey, Robin Uthappa and Rahul Sharma support.
Angelo Matthews captains the side, with Wayne Parnell, Marlon Samuels, Steve Smith, Tamim Iqbal, Ajantha Mendis, Ross Taylor and Luke Wright making up the foreign playing staff.
Watch out for… Marlon Samuels. Had a brilliant 2012 and will be expected to be a key component of this side.
We fancy the top four to consist of Kolkata Knight Riders, Mumbai Indians, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Pune Warriors – our top betting tips!
Controversial? Chennai Super Kings will be there or thereabouts but we can see them slipping a little further down the pecking order this year.
Pune have assembled a very strong all round squad and this could be their year for breaking into the knock out rounds f the tournament.
We also feel that this will be the year that RCB claim their first ever IPL title. We fully expect to see them in the final at Eden Gardens on May 29, against Mumbai Indians.
Whatever happens, we’re expecting a very close tournament. Only Kings XI can be written off with any confidence, although it would also be a surprise to see Rajasthan Royals pushing for a top four spot.
Sunrisers Hyderabad are likely to struggle, but can’t be dismissed out of hand. We also fancy Delhi will struggle to compete consistently this season, although, again, they are very capable of pushing the teams at the top very hard.
It promises to be a fascinating tournament, but we’re backing Royal Challengers Banglaore…
By Miles Reucroft