Under the dark shadow of another wave of COVID-19 infections, India gears up for the 14th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) that will kickstart on April 9. Only six venues — Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Bengaluru, and Ahmedabad — have been shortlisted by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) as a safety measure, with all games set to take place on neutral grounds, and behind closed doors.
The 52-day tournament, as a result, will be played in a bio-secure environment. Players, and other administrative officials, will be confined within a fixed physical area in order to minimise contact with the outside world, and the virus. Each team will play at four venues, thus travelling only thrice in the process.
And in case all of this is news to you, GETTYIMAGES we don’t blame you for being too busy keeping safe. But the good news is that we are here to bring you up to speed, ahead of the 2021 curtain raiser of the world’s most-attended cricket league.
The 2021 season marks the homecoming of the IPL after being hosted in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), last year, due to COVID-19 restrictions. The tournament will also return to its familiar annual schedule, beginning in the March-April period. The final is set to be played at the massive Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, on May 30.
Chennai Super Kings fans will also be excited to witness the return of former international cricketers Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Suresh Raina. This season, they will be joined by other famous retired players in the form of AB de Villiers (Royal Challengers Bangalore), Imran Tahir (CSK) and Harbhajan Singh (Kolkata Knight Riders). Elsewhere, Chinese tech giant Vivo has also resumed duties as the title sponsor of the IPL, following a season-long hiatus amid the IndiaChina border standoff.
After a recent shoulder injury ruled Shreyas Iyer out of the IPL, India’s new favourite left-hander, Rishabh Pant, has been promoted as the captain of the Delhi Capitals. Another young Indian wicketkeeper-batsman, Sanju Samson, will also step up to lead the Rajasthan Royals after they released Australian batsman Steve Smith ahead of the upcoming season.
In light of IPL stars, Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan’s sparkling international debuts, uncapped players like Devdutt Padikkal (Royal Challengers Bangalore), Ruturaj Gaikwad (Chennai Super Kings), Kartik Tyagi (Rajasthan Royals), and Punjab Kings duo Ravi Bishnoi and Shahrukh Khan will also be out to impress. Oh, and in case you didn’t notice it in the previous sentence, Kings XI Punjab has been rebranded as Punjab Kings from this year onwards.
There were takers aplenty for young talent in the recent IPL auction. Three out of the six most expensive signings happened to be IPL debutants. Punjab went all out for Australian pace battery Jhye Richardson (Rs 14 crore) and Riley Meredith (Rs 8 crore), while RCB spent a whopping Rs 15 crore on Kiwi allrounder Kyle Jamieson.
Domestic cricket old hand K Gowtham (Rs 9.25 crore) and local T20 sensation Shahrukh Khan (Rs 5.25 crore) became the most expensive uncapped players from India. They are slated to make their debuts for CSK and PK respectively. Overall, Proteas all-rounder Chris Morris (Rs 16.25 crore, RR) commanded the highest fee this year, and international stars Glenn Maxwell (Rs 14.25 crore, RCB) and Moeen Ali (Rs 7 crore, CSK) were the other most expensive signings among resold released players.
Australia and CSK pacer Josh Hazlewood became the latest player to withdraw from this year’s IPL, at the time of writing this piece. He had been living the bio-bubble life for almost a year, and had said that he wanted to take time to physically recover ahead of a big season with the international team.
Names like Mitchell Marsh and Josh Philippe had also cited similar reasons before pulling out of the IPL, earlier. This added to a big list of players who decided to stay away from the tournament this year, including Dale Steyn, Joe Root, Mitchel Starc, and Mark Wood. Moreover, injury has delayed England fast bowler Jofra Archer’s union with the RR squad, while KKR skipper Eoin Morgan also recovers from a hand injury.
During the recently concluded India-England T20 series, both captains, Virat Kohli and Eoin Morgan, were cognisant of the fact that this season will be pivotal in the build up to the approaching ICC T20 World Cup, to be played in India later this year. It might boost preparations for the Men in Blue, given the riches of local talent that the IPL factory has helped produce of late.
India’s bench strength has been on display throughout the 2020/21 summer. Shubhman Gill, Washington Sundar, Mohammad Siraj, T Natarajan, Shardul Thakur, Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan, and Krunal Pandya have all grabbed their opportunities, and how. The team has backup options for almost every position — and maybe even more to come this year — which bodes well for Kohli, who is still eyeing his first ICC trophy as a captain.
IPL’s most decorated team, fivetime champions Mumbai Indians, don’t look bad for a third consecutive title. Their strong Indian core of Rohit Sharma, the Pandya brothers, and Jasprit Bumrah has been further boosted by the recent success of Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan. If their overseas players chip in with valuable contributions, this season might just unfold in an oh-so-familiar manner.
Betting odds favour RCB as the second best team to win the IPL this year. The Kohli-led side made it to the playoffs last year for the third time in the tournament. They have also finished runners-up twice before, but their fans are more than familiar with wildly contrasting performances, even in consecutive seasons. This one, we’ll have to wait and watch.
Current runners-up Delhi Capitals’ hopes of repeating their last season heroics have been dealt with a hefty blow after Shreyas Iyer’s seasonending injury. But the strong recent form of openers Shikhar Dhawan and Prithvi Shaw, and a dynamic presence in the form of stand-in skipper Rishabh Pant, might still inspire optimism in their camp.
Sunrisers Hyderabad finished third despite the absence of their leading bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar last year. With his inspiring return to form, and the mouth-watering foreign trio of David Warner, Kane Williamson, and Rashid Khan, the two-time champions are very capable of springing a surprise.
After an underwhelming previous season, KKR looked purposeful during the latest IPL auction. With a strong batting line up and some fresh faces in the bowling department, the two-time IPL winners could be well within a shout of a playoff berth this year.
As a concluding note, KL Rahul’s Punjab Kings are personally my favourite team to watch because of their rookie Indian talent and heartbreaking unpredictability. Chennai Super Kings definitely have the pedigree, but realistically still look like an ageing squad on paper. Rajasthan Royals can cause upsets through Rahul Tewatia-esque antics, but are unlikely to be crowned champions this year.