Not even a week after West Indies lifted their second World T20 title, another T20 tournament beckons the world of cricket. This time though, the glamour quotient returns. Under a new sponsor and with two new teams, the ninth edition of the Indian Premier League gets underway Saturday with eight teams, 60 matches and over 120 players from eight different countries involved. Defending champions Mumbai Indians take on debutants Rising Pune Supergiants in the opener, where for the first time in nine years, MS Dhoni will lead a new team at the Wankhede Stadium.
He will once again have the task of containing Lendl Simmons, the man responsible for India’s ouster from the event after the national team failed to defend 192 at the same venue over a week ago. However, this year he’ll be leading a set of different troupes, some who have played under him and some who haven’t. But Dhoni, as he’s proven in the past, is the man for all occasions. In the inaugural edition, he led Chennai Super Kings in the final of the tournament before winning it twice and making CSK one of the three sides to have lifted the title on two separate occasions. Overall, CSK has remained the most consistent team, and Dhoni will be keen on replicating the same success with the Supergiants. They have some high-profile names such as Ajinkya Rahane, Australia captain Steve Smith, offspinner R Ashwin and England veteran Kevin Pietersen, all of whom are proven match-winners.
On one hand, while Dhoni is in charge of one of the replacement sides, Suresh Raina, the other face of CSK will be heading the other. The most capped IPL player, Raina will take command of the Gujarat Lions, a team that has assembled the core of CSK with the likes of Dwayne Bravo, Ravindra Jadeja and Brendon McCullum present in the ranks. Raina and Dhoni have been known for their well-documented camaraderie and for the first time in nine years, they’ll be up against each other. The left-hander is the most-capped player in IPL and his experience of watching Dhoni leading the close proximity promises to rub on him.
While the players’ auction held in February was focused on Lions and Supergiants, it was also able to rejig the long-existent teams as well. Delhi Daredevils have shaken things up the most. They retained only four players, and one of them, Zaheer Khan has been appointed captain. Under a new mentor in Rahul Dravid and comprising a good blend of youth and experience, the Daredevils will be eager for a fresh beginning, keeping aside the disappointment of the previous three seasons. They start their campaign against two-time champions Kolkata Knight Riders on Sunday, who have more or less retained their core side, with hard-hitting batsman Colin Munro and West Indies’ ODI captain Jason Holder having made their way into the team.
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One of the biggest moves from the Daredevils was to let go Yuvraj Singh, who they’d brought for 16 crore the previous year, to Sunrisers Hyderabad. Amidst all the expectations and predictions, the Sunrisers did cunning business during the auction and mostly worked on areas where they struggled in the last two seasons. They invested more in domestic talents and acquired the services of Aditya Tare and Deepak Hooda. In-form Ashish Nehra will give them an experienced hand, and along with the variations of young Mustafizur Rahman, a lot should be expected of Sunrisers’ fast-bowling combination.
When it comes on balancing a side in paper and the performance it dishes out, no team has been as unlucky as the Royal Challengers Bangalore. It’s quite surprising to not see RCB win the trophy. In Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Chris Gayle, they have retained the crux of their batting, and adding further firepower will be Australian allrounder Shane Watson, who recently retired from international cricket a couple of weeks back. RCB have been able to keep distance from the controversy surrounding former team-owner Vijay Mallya, and continue to possess a batting order that inspires awe. But whether they are able to culminate it into their maiden IPL title or not remains to be seen.
Barring RCB, Kings XI Punjab is the only side from the inaugural edition to have never won the IPL. The closest they came was in 2014. This year, they have a new captain in South Africa’s David Miller. During the auction, like Sunrisers, KXIP also focussed on getting young domestic talent rather than the high-selling international names – they have only seven overseas players in their squad. George Bailey, instrumental in their success in 2014 endured a horror run last year and was released. Australian Shaun Marsh has been with the franchise ever since 2008, and Glenn Maxwell and Mitchell Johnson are the only foreign players to have been retained by them.
Come Saturday evening, it all gets underway. IPL has come under the hammer for not doing the right things for the spirit of cricket, spot-fixing and betting controversy being its lowest point. But at the end of the day, it has managed to survive nine years. Here’s hoping for a healthy and cleaner season.