If you happen to be superstitious, this is the 13th edition of the Indian Premier League, very appropriate given it’s 2020!.
But if there’s any league that seems to buck these odds every time around, it’s the IPL. And this year, the league seems to have as balanced a set of teams as ever.
And a key reason is the venues.
The IPL used to be played in eight stadiums, one home ground for each franchise. Over the years, there have been seasons with 11-12 stadiums. This time there are just three — Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi — to be shared among the eight teams. The luxury of captains getting tailored pitches will be a distant memory. The pitches will be low and slow to start with and likely to get lower and slower going forward.
That’s perhaps why Mumbai Indians will still start favourites, but not overwhelming favourites, which would’ve been the case in Mumbai where their fast bowlers would’ve been a handful. Here, leg-spinner Rahul Chahar could have a larger part to play. Their batting remains extremely potent. And no other team has three quality all-rounders in the Pandya brothers and Kieron Pollard. If it’s any consolation for the rest MI seems to have made a habit of winning in odd numbered years, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019.
Perennial contenders Chennai Super Kings have been in the news for all the wrong reasons.
MS Dhoni probably wanted to end the speculations by announcing his international retirement early. The departure of Suresh Raina and the absence of Harbhajan are serious blows.
But Dhoni always seems to find a new weapon, and he has a few interesting ones this year, in Mitchell Santner and Sam Curran. And the conditions in the UAE will suit the array of quality spinners they have.
Slightly down, but certainly not out, and don’t be surprised to see Raina back sometime later. Delhi Capitals look good to repeat their playoffs appearance. Lots of Indian batting talent and a packed spin attack. They need one of Shimron Hetmyer or Marcus Stoinis to finish consistently unless they bat Rishabh Pant lower down the order.
In Andre Russell and Sunil Narine, Kolkata Knight Riders have two of the most impactful T20 players. If Shubman Gill has his breakout season, and Eoin Morgan and Pat Cummins come to the party, they could be a handful. Beyond the top 3, bowling looks a bit inexperienced, but they can overcome.
Royal Challengers Bangalore have done a good job of balancing their squad, adding Aaron Finch, all-rounder Chris Morris and spinner Adam Zampa. And AB de Villiers is willing to keep, making selection easier. Could this be the year when Virat Kohli’s IPL-win record starts catching up with his stellar international record? Rajasthan Royals gained U19 star Yashasvi Jaiswal, Robin Uthappa and David Miller while retaining the core of the 2019 squad and will definitely contend. Sunrisers Hyderabad will be hoping World Cup-winning coach Trevor Bayliss gets value from their international talent and more consistent output from Indian players.
Kings XI Punjab are the most difficult team to classify. Coach Anil Kumble has a potentially explosive batting outfit with Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul and Karun Nair joining Nicholas Pooran, Glenn Maxwell and Jimmy Neesham. And if there’s one truth in the IPL, it’s never to count out Chris Gayle!
The writer is former team director, KKR