It’s that time of the year again, when we stay glued to our TVs every evening for a couple of months, watching a belligerent Maxwell take on an astute Ashwin, or the Kohli-ABD duo destroy even the best bowling line-ups at will. Who could ever forget the sight of MS Dhoni taking the yellows home at Chepauk in the last over, or Bhuvi’s impeccable spells at the death that pulled victories out of thin air. The passion, aggression, and excitement is back, as the 10th edition of the IPL is all set to kick-off. There’s a whole new aura surrounding this IPL, which obviously revolves around the emotion-filled return of the Chennai Super Kings. The lions have been sorely missed during the past 2 editions, and it is those 2 long years of waiting that has built up lots of anticipation and loyalty back in the den. While there’s so much talk about the return of CSK, a much more understated Rajasthan Royals is also making its comeback, albeit without their trump card, Steve Smith.
What was interesting with Rajasthan, though, was their uncharacteristic strategy at their auctions. It was surprising to see a value for money team which has been known over the years to nurture young Indian talent splurge big money on players like Ben Stokes, Jaydev Unadkat, Darcy Short and Jofra Archer. Rajasthan Royals seems to be undergoing an identity change, which is not surprising regarding the ever evolving nature of limited overs cricket. This definitely looks one of the better RR sides I’ve seen over the years, even with the absence of Steve Smith.
That was some monologue about the comeback sides done and dusted. Now, let’s get straight down to business. I’m going to put myself in a bit of a spot here, and try to pick my top 4 sides, which I reckon have a good shot of making the playoffs this IPL. This could go horribly wrong, cause if looking at teams on paper were an accurate indicator of teams’ performances, a team like RCB wouldn’t still be on the hunt for their maiden title. Having said that, here are my top 2 in no particular order(with two pretty obvious choices):
- Mumbai Indians
No surprises here. The Mumbai Indians are a champion side, and their performances over the years have clearly depicted that. With three titles to show, MI is once again a strong contender this IPL. They’ve managed to retain their strong core of Indian players: Rohit Sharma, Hardik Pandya, Krunal Pandya, and Jasprit Bumrah. Add Kieron Pollard to that list and you already have a formidable line up that intimidates you just by the look of it. Looking at the squad, it seems like Rohit Sharma will open the batting along with Evin Lewis. This is an opening pair that will be exciting to watch, and the skipper will look to lead from the front. They have lots of firepower in the middle with the Pandyas and Pollard, and this looks a balanced MI squad. It will be interesting to see if they can fit JP Duminy in their XI, who’ll just add to the balance.The one concern that they will have is their bowling. The pace department looks adequate, as they can choose between the Fizz and Cummins (or both) to go with Bumrah. Although they would depend on Bumrah slightly more than they like to. With regard to the spin department, it looks like MI is lacking heavily. Rahul Chahar seems to be their only mildly established domestic option, and it seems as though they would play Akila Dananjaya, who has done great for Sri Lanka so far. Other than these two, MI also have Krunal to slow the pace down.
- Rajasthan Royals
This might come as a bit of a surprise, especially considering the absence of a key batsman, Steve Smith. But this year, the Rajasthan Royals went into the auctions with a sense of bravado, and picked some of the big, exciting names if I may. I liked the RR of yesteryears, the value for money team that trusted in domestic talent to do the job. But they’re coming back into the IPL with a fresh strategy, and gosh does it look good on paper. I assume they’ll go with the Indian opening pair of Rahane and Tripathi. The ever consistent Rahane will look to anchor the innings whereas Tripathi will go after the bowling, like he did with so much success at RPS. You then have batsmen like Sanju Samson, Darcy Short, and Jos Buttler in the line-up, so there’s some quality batting in there. Barring all of this, there is one player crucial to RR’s fortunes: Ben Stokes. This powerhouse English all-rounder single-handedly win games, as he did for RPS. If Stokes has a good season, RR will be fancying another title