Sport Writer Will Rogers previews the 2021 IPL season, with cricket’s superstars returning to India for the biggest T20 franchise tournament on the planet
The Indian Premier League, the biggest, richest and (to some) best T20 league in the world, is back in India after a COVID-induced exile to the UAE. With the auction completed and the draw released, the first ball is just days away. Each team has changed during the offseason and the IPL remains as competitive as ever.
Chennai Super Kings
Following their least successful season ever last year (excluding the two that they were suspended), CSK will be looking to bounce back and win a fourth title. Chennai’s team was perhaps too old last season, yet surprisingly their only major acquisitions in this year’s auction were Moeen Ali, Cheteshwar Pujara and the young all-rounder Krishnappa Gowtham. Their Indian stars, including MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina, are not the force that they once were, and their overseas line-up does not contain the firepower to win the tournament. Overall, I cannot see this team being successful and they may require a complete rebuild before next season.
One to watch: Sam Curran
The Capitals may once again pose the greatest challenge to the Mumbai Indians, with many of their stars returning and a few exciting signings. Steve Smith and Umesh Yadav arrive to provide experience, whilst they have a strong English representation with Tom Curran, Sam Billings and the returning Chris Woakes. However, there are question marks about how much game time this trio will get, as Shimron Hetmyer, Marcus Stoinis, Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje represent one of the strongest overseas groups (only four overseas players can be selected per game). With arguably the best Indian players of any team, including Ravi Ashwin, Axar Patel and the destructive Rishabh Pant, Delhi will produce fireworks throughout the season.
One to watch: Rishabh Pant
Kolkata Knight Riders
IPL champions in 2012 and 2014, KKR remain a team that can never be ruled out, despite significant changes. They possess Eoin Morgan, one of the game’s greatest leaders, and also boast the West Indians Sunil Narine and Andre Russell. Moreover, star all-rounder Shakib al-Hasan will return this year; the former Bangladesh captain is particularly dangerous when bowling on low, turning wickets. As for the Indian contingent, Karun Nair, Shubman Gill and Kuldeep Yadav are talented, if not spectacular, whilst Harbhajan Singh is coming towards retirement, meaning that their Indian players are amongst the weakest. The overseas talent for the Knight Riders may carry them to the playoffs, yet I cannot see them emerging victorious this season.
One to watch: Andre Russell
Reigning champions and the most successful team in IPL history, Mumbai come into the 2021 edition as the favourites. Despite no English players, Quinton de Kock, Trent Boult and Kieron Pollard, fresh off hitting six sixes in an over in a T20 international, present a formidable attack. They have one of the best Indian selections, led by Rohit Sharma and supported by Jasprit Bumrah, Ishan Kishan and the Pandya brothers, Hardik and Krunal. Likewise, the acquisition of Piyush Chawla may prove to be a shrewd move, while the arrival of Arjun Tendulkar, son of the legendary Sachin, is intriguing. Despite challenges from other strong teams, bet against the Indians at your peril.
One to watch: Arjun Tendulkar
The newly named Kings seem destined for mid-table again, having finished sixth in the previous two IPL seasons. Led by ‘The Universe Boss’ Chris Gayle and Nicholas Pooran, the Kings will be one of the most exciting teams to watch, especially with the addition of the top-ranked T20 batsman in the world, Dawid Malan. Their problems lie in the bowling attack which, led by Australian Jhye Richardson and Indian Mohammed Shami, lacks strength in depth. KL Rahul will hope to repeat his heroics from last year, whilst Shahrukh Khan may prove entertaining to watch in the lower order. Despite some young talent, this team does not have the depth to win the title, despite possessing perhaps the tournament’s two most entertaining players in Gayle and Pooran.
One to watch: Chris Gayle
Rajasthan broke the auction record in acquiring Chris Morris and clearly mean business. The English duo of Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler complete a strong overseas line-up, whilst Mustafizur Rahman and David Miller are able deputies. England quick and reigning IPL MVP Jofra Archer only adds to their firepower, but he will miss at least some of the tournament after bizarrely injuring his bowling hand after dropping a fish tank. Their Indian players are solid, with Sanju Samson, Robin Uthappa and Rahul Tewatia all capable of handy performances. Nineteen-year-old Riyan Parag will be hoping to build on a successful start to his IPL career. Their hopes mainly rest on the shoulders of the English trio, which makes Archer’s fitness something to keep a close eye on.
One to watch: Jofra Archer’s right hand
Royal Challengers Bangalore
No team released more players than RCB, yet they will be led once again by the dynamic duo of Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers. They have no Englishmen, going for five Australians instead including Glenn Maxwell. The spin duo of Adam Zampa and Yuzvendra Chahal should provide eight miserly overs, yet the Challengers will hope that Navdeep Saini and Mohammed Siraj can be more successful in the death overs, as seam bowling has long been their Achilles’ heel. If Kohli and de Villiers can return to previous heights, this definitely could be a successful season for RCB. Washington Sundar, fresh from this success in the Test side, will want to prove that he can be the all-rounder that RCB need to finally claim their first IPL title.
One to watch: Washington Sundar
Almost unchanged, the Sunrisers definitely have a team that can challenge for the title. They have easily the strongest overseas line-up, with arguably seven players that could start for other franchises. David Warner and Rashid Khan are automatic picks, with Kane Williamson, Jonny Bairstow, Mohammad Nabi, Jason Holder and the newly-signed Mujeeb Ur Rahman fighting for the other two places. From an English perspective, it would be great to see Bairstow return to the form of previous years, whilst Nabi and Holder are two of the most underrated all-rounders in world cricket. They also have a strong Indian contingent, led by Manish Pandey and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, meaning that they could definitely challenge for the trophy that they won in 2016. A run in the team for Nabi would boost the status of the emerging Afghanistan national side, whilst a title for Williamson would finally gain him the credit as an all-format cricketing legend.
One to watch: Mohammed Nabi
When looking at the teams as a whole, it is hard to look past a repeat of last season’s final, Delhi against Mumbai. The Sunrisers and Knight Riders will challenge again whilst RCB will believe that they can challenge for their first title. With so many changes and abnormalities this season, predicting a top run-scorer (orange cap) and wicket-taker (purple cap) will be difficult. Personally, I see Warner winning the orange cap and Chahal the purple, whilst Pant will emerge as a global fan favourite as his legend continues to build. Whatever happens, fans must be happy that the tournament is going ahead at all, and hopefully the players can provide performances that will live long in the memory. Let the carnage commence!
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