In A League Of Its Own: IPL 8 2015

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Proud owner Shah Rukh Khan, co-owner of KKR, with the IPL trophy
Proud owner Shah Rukh Khan, co-owner of KKR, with the IPL trophy

Cricket enthusiasts could not have asked for more. The eighth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) has begun a week after the conclusion of the 2015 World Cup. The current edition will be a one-and-a-half-month long cricket extravaganza with effervescent cheerleaders, Bollywood stars and, of course, the ever-burgeoning spectators. Unlike the last edition, where the first half of the tournament was held in the United Arab Emirates, this time the IPL action will unfold completely in India. However, the questions everyone ignoring are: Isn’t there an overdose of cricket, taking into account the recently concluded World Cup? Are the players fully fit to give their best after a gruelling tournament? No one is really concerned about these things as it is a cash-rich league and money involved is huge. Still these are some of the questions that beg for an answer.

Coming back to the present edition, there are no new entrants as only eight teams are involved. The BCCI has claimed to have exorcised the ghost of the past (Read: match fixing taint of 2013). How did they pull off the cleanliness act? Nobody has an answer to this question as well. So, even if a bowler is hurling wides or no balls consistently in the present edition, one can safely assume that those are mere slip ups and not part of any sinister plan.

Among the teams, the Chennai Super King (CSK) is easily the most consistent from the rest. CSK have won the title twice in 2010 and 2011 and made it to the final four times. The nucleus of Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led team has more or less remained the same over the years, reinforcing the fact that their players have delivered more often than not. They have one of the most dreaded opening pair in Brendon McCullum and Dwayne Smith. And with Suresh Raina, Faf du Plessis and Mahendra Singh Dhoni to follow, CSK’s batting can give sleepless nights to any bowling attack. Though they lack a genuine quick in the line up, their slow bowlers and medium pacers have enough tricks up their sleeve to complement the efforts of the batters. Without a shred of doubt, CSK are the team to beat this time as well.

The next one is the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). On paper they are very strong, but the title has eluded them so far. Virat Kohli-led team were runners up in 2009 and 2011 editions, but a bit under whelming in other editions. In Chris Gayle, Abraham Benjamin De Villiers and Darren Sammy they have one of the most destructive players in the world cricket. However, RCB’s performance, so far, has not justified the talent they possess. In 2014, they had another big hitter Yuvraj Singh in the squad still they failed to make it to the play offs. For the current edition, they have also brought in the Australian seamer Mitchell Starc, the highest wicket-taker in the 2015 World Cup, to bolster their bowling attack. However, it remains to be seen whether Starc would be effective in their scheme of things or not. Though the Australian pacer will remain unavailable for the initial part of the tournament, Varun Aaron and Adam Milne can prove to be more than handful for the opposition. For the arsenal at their disposal, RCB deserve the IPL honour at least once.

Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) have improved by leaps and bounds since 2008. After being lackadaisical in the first few editions, they have really gone from strength to strength ever since Gautam Gambhir took over the reigns. Under Gambhir, KKR have won the title in 2012 and 2014. KKR’s USP lies in their balanced composition. Unlike the CSK or the RCB, they don’t have a superstar in the team with the exception of Gambhir. Still they have some valuable performers who have really made a huge difference to KKR’s fortunes. To start with Robin Uthappa, Yousuf Pathan, Manish Pandey and the enigmatic spinner Sunil Narine all are potential match-winners. If Uthappa and Pathan have pulverized the bowlers then Narine with his tweakers have always bamboozled the batsmen. To add more variety to the attack, KKR have also brought in a new spinner KC Cariappa, who is already in news for his mysterious deliveries. All in all, KKR can continue with their dream run if everyone plays to their true potential.

As for the Rajasthan Royals (RR), they have only flattered to deceive so far in all the editions except for the one in 2008. After winning the title in the inaugural edition when they upstaged CSK in the final, RR in all the other editions have faltered at crucial stages. In the last edition, when they looked all set to repeat the feat of 2008, they were undone by the brilliance of Corey Anderson of Mumbai Indians. They are still a tough nut to crack with players like Steve Smith, Ajinkya Rahane, Sanju Samson, Tim Southee, James Faulkner and the skipper Shane Watson. While Smith and Rahane provide solidity to the top order, Faulkner and Stuart Binny can be very destructive towards the end with their willows. Though there is a talk about RR not having a quality spinner but the 44-year-old Pravin Tambe has proved to be more effective with his leg breaks than any specialist spinners in the tournament. So, they only need to hold their nerves at critical junctures to recapture the glory of 2008.

Talking about the Mumbai Indians, best thing to have happened to them is the anointment of former Australian captain Ricky Ponting as their main coach. Under the guidance of Ponting, who has won two World Cups, the Mumbai Indians can easily stake claim for their second title. Rohit Sharma-led franchise won for the first time in the year 2013 by beating the CSK and in the last edition also they made it to the playoffs only to go down to the CSK. MI also has a very good combination of powerful and effortless hitters coupled with an incisive seam attack. Rohit Sharma, Aaron Finch, Kieron Pollard, Lasith Malinga and Josh Hazelwood are some of the players around whom fortunes of MI hovers. For MI to put up a stiff resistance it is imperative that all of them get into the groove as soon as possible.

The next is the Kings XI Punjab. They have been very ordinary in the IPL till the 2014 edition, when they smartly bought some new players and support staff. Resultantly, they reached the finals only to lose to the KKR. However, it was incredible on their part to have come so far after a spate of awful campaigns earlier. In last year’s campaign, they were simply unstoppable as they remained undefeated in the UAE leg of their campaign. Credit for their revival goes to their captain George Bailey, Virender Sehwag and the new coach Sanjay Bangar. With a bowling attack boasting of the likes of Mitchell Johnson, Akshar Patel, Karanveer Singh and Sandeep Sharma, Punjab is finally making some heads turn. Kings XI Punjab would also want their two formidable M’s , Glenn Maxwell and David Miller, to repeat last year’s heroics.

Next on the line is the Delhi Daredevils (DD). Despite putting up a decent show in the inaugural edition of 2008, the DD have been below average in the following years. Last year they shelled out huge sums for players like Murali Vijay, Dinesh Karthik and Kevin Peterson to strengthen their attack, but still they finished at the bottom of the table. As is their wont, they dropped most of the players of the last edition and yet again loosened their wallets to get players like Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan and Albie Morkel. With Gary Kirsten as the head coach and Jean Paul Duminy as the skipper have the Daredevils found the right combination? Only time will tell.

Lastly it is the Sunrisers Hyderabad, who made their IPL debut in 2013. They reached the playoffs in 2013 but could not make much of an inroad in 2014. However, new skipper David Warner-led franchise has players like Shikhar Dhawan, Dale Steyn, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Trent Boult and Ishant Sharma. With such a good line up the title could be theirs if all of them gel well into a powerful unit. Who knows may be the year 2015 turns out to be a memorable one for them.

On paper all the eight teams look good. In reality, apart from the CSK and the KKR, nobody would put their money on any other team. Let us hope for a good show from the other teams to make the Indian Premier League more competitive and less monotonous and one-sided.

jaidev@tehelka.com

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