It is that time of the year when cricket’s most popular and lucrative league kicks off in India. With the summer settling in rapidly in India, we are in for a high voltage and exciting two months following the end of a spectacular World T20.
There are quite a few changes to this season, compared to the earlier editions of the IPL. Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals have been suspended for two seasons for off field reasons and in their place, two new teams have entered the fray; the Rising Pune Supergiants and the Gujarat Lions, led by former Chennai Super Kings players, MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina respectively. Also, the zing bails will be employed for the first time in the tournament.
IPL 2016 PREVIEW
As far as the teams are concerned, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians, at first glance, look the strongest teams on paper. RCB, who finished an impressive third last season, have made some big money acquisitions in the likes of Shane Watson and Stuart Binny. This will surely beef up their already strong batting line-up which consists of three of the world’s best T20 players in Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers.
Losing Mitchell Starc for the duration of the tournament is a big blow, but they have decent replacements in Kane Richardson and Adam Milne. They also have a well-rounded spin attack with variety offered by Samuel Badree, Yuzvendra Chahal and Iqbal Abdulla. All in all, they look poised to go far in the tournament.
Mumbai Indians, the defending champions, have got most bases covered as well. They snapped up one of the most exciting batsmen in the world in Jos Buttler and also made smart buys like Tim Southee. Lasith Malinga has been ruled out of the early stages of the tournament but they have able replacements in Southee and McClenaghan. The emergence of Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya in the national side will also make them even stronger and they are quite certainly in for a shout for retaining their crown.
Kolkata Knight Riders will be looking to reclaim the title for a record third time. Considering their batting firepower, they have some of the most talented Indian batsmen in the form of Manish Pandey, Gautam Gambhir, Robin Uthappa and Suryakumar Yadav.
Uthappa, who has been their top run-scorer for the past couple of seasons, will again be the man to watch out for as he has been highly impressive in the domestic season so far. Shakib Al Hasan and John Hastings could well play a vital role on the slow pitches at Eden Gardens. Andre Russell, fresh of the back of a World T20 win, was the most successful all-rounder in the 2015 season and the top wicket-taker of the season for his team.
The likes of Umesh Yadav, Piyush Chawla and Morne Morkel will certainly be a handful, but with Sunil Narine’s availability unknown as of yet, their bowling line-up doesn’t quite look complete. 44-year-old ‘youngster’ Brad Hogg will play a major role should Narine be unavailable.
Sunrisers Hyderabad narrowly missed out on a play-off qualifying spot last season. In order to rectify that and look to win their first ever title, they made some shrewd signings in the auction. They strengthened their fragile middle order by buying Yuvraj Singh and an exciting prospect in Deepak Hooda. The experienced Eoin Morgan will have a key role to play.
The Sunrisers have one of the best top-orders in David Warner, Shikhar Dhawan and Kane Williamson and will depend on them heavily. They’ve always had a pretty good bowling line-up and though they let go of Dale Steyn, Ashish Nehra and Mustafizur Rahman should be strong replacements.
All-rounders Ben Cutting and Moises Henriques will provide them options, but the lack of a quality spinner could prove to be their undoing in the first stage of the tournament. If they play to their potential, however, Sunrisers Hyderabad certainly could prove to be the darkhorses of the IPL.
The two new teams, Rising Pune Supergiants and Gujarat Lions, have managed to put together fairly strong squads. The Supergiants have a strong batting core in Ajinkya Rahane, Steve Smith, Faf Du Plessis and Kevin Pietersen. The likes of MS Dhoni and Mitchell Marsh will be expected to provide the finishing touches. One concern will be that most of their batsmen are quite similar to each other and nobody except for MS Dhoni and Marsh have a power game. Albie Morkel and Thisara Perera make for excellent back-up options.
With good batting tracks expected, they will have to bowl well. However, their bowling line-up leaves us with a lot to be desired. Apart from Ravichandran Ashwin and Ishant Sharma, their bowling lacks experience and genuine quality. They’ve made some interesting buys like Adam Zampa and rookie Murugan Ashwin, and they will need their attack to fire on all cylinders if they want to have a good tournament.
The other new franchise, Gujarat Lions, look to be quite a dangerous outfit. With one of the most experienced IPL players, Suresh Raina, at its helm, the team has the likes of all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja, Dinesh Karthik and Praveen Kumar as its Indian players, whilst Dwayne Bravo, Brendon McCullum, Dale Steyn, James Faulkner and Aaron Finch are some of their prominent foreign recruits.
They seem to be well-catered for as far as all-rounders are concerned and that will hold them in good stead. 43-year-old Praveen Tambe and Shadab Jakati will be valuable to their spin department, and Dhawal Kulkarni should provide them with depth in the fast bowling department. This team looks quite balanced and if they manage to find the right combination early, they could go far in the competition.
After underachieving quite horribly in all recent these years, Delhi Daredevils have made significant changes. They’ve refurbished their backroom staff by bringing in Rahul Dravid and Paddy Upton. They opted to buy several youngsters in the IPL auction and paid big money for the likes of Pawan Negi, Chris Morrs, Carlos Braithwaite and Rishabh Pant. They also bought Karun Nair and Sanju Samson, who worked with Dravid at the Royals in previous editions. Surprisingly, Zaheer Khan was named the captain and it remains to be seen if he can stay fit for the entire season. This will be his last competitive tournament.
Having JP Duminy, Shreyas Iyer and Quinton De Kock along with the new additions makes them one of the stronger batting units in the IPL. Mohammad Shami, Zaheer Khan and Imran Tahir will be vital cogs for them in the bowling department. With quite a overhaul completed, the Daredevils can be expected to perform much better than they have in recent editions.
Kings XI Punjab, who finished bottom last season following an impressive 2014 campaign, have opted to let go of their captain George Bailey and David Miller has been handed the reins. He has captained only three times at any level before and this could prove to be quite a challenge for him.
The batting line-up looks heavily dependent on Murali Vijay, Maxwell and Miller. Mitchell Johnson will lead their inexperienced bowling attack and there are quite a few questions to be answered. They seemed to have a disjointed plan during the auction and seemed lacking in direction most of the time.
Although you never know what’s going to happen with the Indian Premier League, their pre-tournament work suggests that this has all the ingredients to end as a disastrous season. It’s quite hard to see them progress into the knockout stages, and it will certainly be a surprise if they do so.