What makes the 12th edition of the IPL, starting tonight in Chennai, more important than ever before is that it is being looked at as the final available platform ahead of the World Cup. All national sides for the World Cup will have to be finalised by the end of April and the next five weeks will decide who makes it and who misses out.
In India, for example, there is still very little to choose from between Ambati Rayudu and KL Rahul for the no. 4 spot. Add Vijay Shankar and Rishabh Pant to this list and we know how competitive the spot has become. A stellar IPL for any of these players can ensure selection. However much the selectors may say that IPL performances wouldn’t be taken into consideration, strong performances will certainly play on selectors’ mind when they meet to choose the final fifteen. Rahul, for the record, made it back into the Indian team on the basis of a stellar 2018 IPL and will hope to do the same in 2019.
Also, in the case of an injury to any of the players who are automatic choices, the IPL will open up doors for those who are on the periphery. Siddharth Kaul made it to the Indian team for the England tour in June-July 2018 based on a strong IPL performance and even played the ODI’s with Jasprit Bumrah forced to return home after getting injured in practice.
The other thing about the IPL is that it always ends up bringing new talent to the fore. This is the one aspect that connects all the eleven editions of the competition so far. If it was Yusuf Pathan in 2008, it was Kaul, Khaleel Ahmed and Mayank Markande in 2018. And this year it will be no different. Everyone was forced to take notice of Markande when the rookie 20-year-old trapped MS Dhoni leg before wicket with a fantastic wrong‘un while playing for the first time for the Mumbai Indians. He has since gone on to play for India A and may soon make the senior national team.
So while it seems like a heady carnival, the core of the tournament remains quality cricket. It is cricket of the very highest standard and that’s what has added to the brand value of the competition year on year.
Season preview: The teams
The Lungi Ngidi injury blow notwithstanding, CSK still has most of its bases covered going into the competition. If experience is their mainstay, form of key players like Ambati Rayudu, Suresh Raina and Dwayne Bravo will be a matter of concern. Bravo had a very average Big Bash while Rayudu’s form in the recently concluded ODI series against Australia resulted in him being left out of the last two games. Raina too had a very average domestic season and will be waiting to make amends in the IPL. For CSK, much will depend on Faf du Plessis, Kedar Jadhav, Ravindra Jadeja and Shane Watson, who had almost singlehandedly won them the final in 2018. Also watch out for Imran Tahir.
A lot of attention will be on Steve Smith as he makes a return for the Royals. However, it will be rather foolish to focus on Smith alone. In Rahane, the explosive Jos Butler, the super talented Ben Stokes and Ashton Turner, the Royals have a formidable batting group. Jofra Archer, Jaydev Unadkat, Krishnappa Gowtham are all capable bowlers and with Shane Warner at the helm for the Royals, there will surely be an element of surprise. Warne had won them the IPL who no one had given them a chance. With a very good team, he might yet again steer them to the play offs in 2019.
One of the most followed and successful IPL teams, Mumbai yet again has a very settled look to them. With Rohit declaring that he will open and with Quinton de-kock set to partner him, the start will determine much of MI’s campaign. Surya Yadav, Ishan Kishan and new recruit Yuvraj Singh will man the middle order while the Pandya brothers will do what they do for India — offer the late flourish. Much will also depend on the fitness of Hardik who is now fully recovered from the lower back issue. In bowling, it’ll yet again be Jasprit Bumrah who will hold key and Mayank Markande, is expected to use the platform to knock on India doors.
A renamed team and a much embellished support staff with the addition of Sourav Ganguly, Delhi Capitals has been the talk of the IPL in the lead up stage. In Rishabh Pant they have a future star and Shreyas Iyer who had a fabulous domestic season will hold the key in batting. With Shikhar Dhawan and Prithvi Shaw to open and with Colin Munro at three, Delhi can easily blow away any team on their day. Sandeep Lamichhane, who was a rookie in 2018, is now one of the most sought after white ball bowlers in the world adding depth to the outfit. In the hands of Trent Boult, Chris Morris, Sandeep and Amit Mishra, the bowling too can’t be written off.
One of the most talented and yet the biggest underachievers of the competition. That RCB hasn’t won the IPL in 11 years is surprising but 2019 may well be their year. In Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Shimron Hetmyer they have the most explosive top order conceivable and once Marcus Stoinis joins the team post the series against Pakistan, it will be very difficult to stop them. The bowling too has reasonable depth with Yuzvendra Chahal, Tim Southee and Umesh Yadav holding the key. With many gun fielders in the team, RCB will be one of the most attractive teams to watch.
Much will depend on KL Rahul and Chris Gayle at the top of the order. Gayle has rediscovered himself in the recently concluded ODI series against England and is starting to bat like a man possessed at the dusk of his career. Rahul, still very much in reckoning for the WC squad, will want to do all he can to keep himself in the selectors’ mind. Mayank Agarwal, who played brilliantly in the final of the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 competition recently, David Miller and Karun Nair form a competent middle order while Ravi Ashwin, with much to prove in the white ball format, Mohmmed Shami, Varun Chakravarthy, Andrew Tye and finally Mujeeb-ur-Rahman form a bowling unit good enough to make the play offs.
In the immediate aftermath of the auction in 2018, many had written off KKR saying they don’t have a leader and lack experience. A last four showing under Dinesh Karthik was enough to prove critics wrong. If anything, they are a much better team going into the tournament in 2019. Shubman Gill is a star in making and Kuldeep Yadav is already India’s trump card across formats. In Sunil Narine, Andre Russell, Chris Lynn, Karthik, Robin Uthappa and Piyush Chawla they’ve a solid core and if youngsters like Prasidh Krishna live up to the promise, KKR will be the team to beat this year.
Almost all the focus going into the tournament is on David Warner who returns to international cricket having served his one year ban. With Warner and Williamson at the top and with Bhuvi, Shakibal-Hasan, Rashid Khan, Sidd Kaul and Khaleel Ahmed to bowl not to forget the talented Mohammed Nabi, SRH is the most complete bowling team going into the competition. With Tom Moody, Muralitharan and Laxman on the bench to provide advice, it will be an act of real naiveté to write off SRH.
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