Perhaps the most anticipated cricketing fest of the entire sporting calendar is here. Few tournaments can match the excitement and gravitas of a competition as grand and scalable as the IPL. It begins in a few hours’ time on April 7. Mark the dates, grab the bears, gather your friends and remember to be dressed in your favourite team’s jersey.
Once again, for the eleventh time in a row, 8 teams will be battling one another in a tournament of epic proportions in a sporting bonanza replete with thrills and unanticipated or unpredictable outcomes. At the core, the IPL may be skewed toward batsmen with bowlers making a comeback on a leap year, so to speak, but on the surface, it’s sheer untellable outcomes that reign supremes.
In this eleventh season of the IPL- the excitement is bigger and the stakes involved only more enormous- with the comeback of arguably two of the most controversial teams: Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings.
Let’s try and ascertain the relative strengths and weaknesses of each of the eight IPL sides along with a mix of their combined talents:
Strengths: In lighter vein, it could be said, DD aren’t the most selfie-worthy team of the current lot. But on a serious note, you have to say, easily the most inconsistent side, often dubbed as a weakling, there aren’t many positives in the ebb of Delhi Daredevils so to speak. But having someone like a Gautam Gambhir leading the side, having held a glorious previous stint at Kolkata Knight Riders should bring a lot of confidence to a side that is as desperately chasing victories as a meritorious engineering student seeking recruitment in a top multinational. With a good influx of foreign players, Delhi would be starting on a confident pedestal this season hopefully.
Weaknesses: One of the elements that has majorly hurt the side is its sheer inconsistency. Back in 2013-14, it seemed that the side may not be able to win even a solitary IPL contest or at the most two, the bare minimum standard of consistency you’d expect from a cricketing franchise backed by commercial weight.
Gambhir, Rabada and, Chris Morris seem like the holy trinity of a side that can lift Delhi from the hangups of its lingering cricketing obscurity. Moreover, in Morris, they have someone reliable who can bludgeon lofty hits when most needed.
Strengths: Fashionable, aggressive and passionate, the Mumbai Indians are a side that do not give up until the final ball of a contest is bowled. It massively helps that three of their players feel at home and driven to snatch glories for the side akin to an eager fruitarian willing to pluck a mango on any given occasion: Kieron Pollard, Rohit Sharma and, Hardik Pandya. It helps, of course, to have had the past experience of winning 3 separate title crowns in the IPL and it will surely boost their confidence a great deal
Weaknesses: At times, one gets the feeling that the side is heavily, rather unduly over-reliant on Rohit Sharma to get them going and that at the wake of Rohit’s misfire in initial rounds, it unduly hampers the overall frame of the side. If Rohit Sharma is the chassis that governs the structure of Mumbai Indians, then they would have to function as a well-oiled unit to make it count and go the long distance; of which there’s hardly a doubt.
You are automatically on the backfoot when your gaze matches the enormous frame of someone like a Pollard, noted for hitting sixes with glee. This time around, Mumbai are slated to double the dosage of destruction having picked Evin Lewis- the latest Windies T20 sensation, a batsman whose whirring blade often results in a storming of runs. Together with Bumrah, who can deliver yorkers at depth, MI look a solid encore.
Kolkata Knight Riders
Strengths: Some people call them the beating heart of the IPL- given their massive popularity- while others hail them as the real knights of the fiery contest called T20 cricket. A successful franchise that has not once but twice secured the title crown, KKR have been boosted by the ferocity of batting talents like Robin Uthappa and Manish Pandey who will be giving able company to newly inducted captain Dinesh Karthik, who will be expected to lead from where Gambhir left. It will of course help to remember their near flawless record at the home of Indian Cricket: Eden Gardens. Moreover, their opening batsmen and captain are in fine knick and it should augur well for the mindset to construct big totals.
Weakness: This season, the only real concern for KKR now seems the unavailability of the perpetually injured Mitchell Starc. In his absence, fellow Aussie and former teammate, Mitchell Johnson will have to pick up the leading pacer’s role. Additionally, their middle order will rely heavily on the inexperience of Shubhman Gill, one of the rare finds from the Under-19 kitty.
Robin Uthappa at the top order with Dinesh Karthik in the middle order could be the bulwarks of the side’s scoring. Famous for converting fluent starts into weighty scores, they would need Johnson to chip in with menacing pace and bounce.
Strengths: One of the most balanced sides in the entire construct of the IPL, the Sunrisers play passionately and depend hugely on key individual performances that when strewn together can lift their game. However, their biggest strength would be the key bowling form of specialist medium pacer- Bhuvaneshwar Kumar- and the calm and stable leadership style of Kane Williamson, among the modern day greats. Newly instituted in the leadership fray, Williamson, an ever-dependent batsman would be wanting to bring in the fresh fragrance of glory that he so diligently extracted in what has been a superb home season.
Weaknesses: One word- the unavailability of David Warner. This might hurt the team big and also the subsequent departure of Yuvraj Singh to his local home base, Kings XI Punjab could dwindle the fortunes of this enterprising side.
A Rashid Khan who’s a noted miser of the game; someone who hates giving away runs and has an eco-rate of under 7 is a win-win for a side whose batting talents include an in-form Dhawan and an ever-reliable, fluent scorer in Williamson.
Kings XI Punjab
Strengths: A dynamic and fun-filled cricketing outfit and one of the most dashing and batting heavy outfits of the IPL, 2018 should be a season that should lift the soul of a side that endured a rather ordinary run the last season. Boosted by an explosive batting order that even though seems top-heavy, in blokes like Gayle, Yuvi and, Aaron Finch, that is slated to join in later, Punjab should be aiming to set huge scores that can allow their bowling department to stand up and defend.
Weaknesses: Thus far, it’s uncertain as to who may be keeping for the Punjabi power. Will it be KL Rahul or will it be Akshdeep Nath? KL Rahul’s inconsistent form and lackadaisical fitness standard can trouble the batting line up in the wake of a Gayle or Yuvi failure. Even as theirs is a fresh bowling structure with Mohit Sharma and Andrew Tye, does the side really have a potent pace attack, one can’t say with certainty.
Spurred by the leadership of talismanic spinner Ashwin, Punjab shall be depending on that carrom ball to smoke the Mickey out of their opponents. Along with Ashwin’s double timing as a batsman, in Gayle and Yuvraj Singh, the side boast of serious destructive capabilities.
Chennai Super Kings
Strengths: The undaunted superstar franchise of the IPL, there’s hardly a dull moment with the CSK on the ground. Easily the most popular side, also one that boasts of a raw energy and an emotion that binds people together, CSK would be driven by the return of MS Dhoni in structure that he took to great heights. After all, it’s been under his leadership that several talented careers have reached meaningful manifestation and two different crowns were won; a facet that will surely reignite the franchise to renew its winning ties in the IPL.
Weaknesses: Despite tremendous batting depth in blokes like Raina, Dhoni, Watson and Vijay, CSK will expose newbies- Ngidi and Mark Wood- to the unfamiliar challenge of bowling on spin-friendly and often flat batting decks in India, a turf they’ve never played on.
An in-form Suresh Raina who went on a bit of six-hitting spree along with Ravindra Jadeja should be the standout performers while an ever-agile and youthful MS Dhoni has already declared his intentions of coming out firing from ball one.
Royal Challengers Bangalore
Strengths: There can be little doubt about a side that boasts of two exciting superstars of the international stage in Kohli and De Villiers. Renowned for playing thumping, passionate and adrenaline-pumping cricket, the Royal Challengers Bangalore have often lifted IPL to what’s often been an exciting six-hitting sojourn. In the absence of Gayle but with the presence of De Kock and Brendon McCullum, they would be once again primed to head to the final leg of the competition.
Weaknesses: With RCB, it’s often been a mental issue. They are the quintessential chokers of the IPL and now with the former great triumvirate having split with Kohli, AB, slated to miss Gayle and Watson, it could well boil down to the dynamic duo shouldering a lot of responsibility to score runs. Apart from brazen inconsistencies, their lower middle order- Sarfaraz Nawaz, Aniket Choudhary and Saini haven’t had the best of home seasons.
Without a doubt, it would have to be Kohli and AB, both of whom have been in demolishing form on Protean turfs and having had a significant experience of firing big runs on sub-continental decks. If McCullum can give them able company, they could be the outfit to beat where batting is concerned this season.
Strengths: RR will be making their return to a format they’ve been the first grand winners of and post a sabbatical of two full years. This should inspire some confidence and being led by Ajinkya Rahane- a proven specialist- should lift them to greater glories especially with guys like Joffra Archer in the fray
Weaknesses: Intrinsic to the RR DNA, there aren’t astoundingly big names in the outfit and this could well go against their core strength- that of sticking together and drawing strength from strong individual performances. With Steve Smith out of the equation, they will be devoid of that match-winning talent.
There’s hardly a doubt about Rahane’s batting talent and the ability to fire from the top order. But on this occasion, he’ll need all the support from Joss Buttler and Ben Stokes, clearly their three top batsmen with the latter being a top rate all rounder. If Stokes fires and can scalp quick wickets, together with Archer, RR can cause problems for opponents in this IPL.