FlashScore's IPL 2021 Preview
This post is sponsored by FlashScore Cricket Commentators. The preview is penned by Sridhar Bhamidi, the Indian correspondent and lead commentator for FlashScore Cricket.
You can follow their live scores and ball-by-ball commentary on www.flashscore.com, on the FlashScore iOS and Android apps, or by following @FlashCric on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram.
Is it an exaggeration to say that the Indian Premier League (IPL) stands alone the biggest T20 franchise tournament in the world? Maybe, but for many it remains the pinnacle of the cricketing calendar in a display of colour and thrilling action. Even more so when you consider that the tournament, year after year, manages to pit the best of the world against each other. After all, you are not treated to an Ashes or an India v Pakistan series every day.
After a year ‘vanvaas’ (for the uninitiated, it’s time spent away), the IPL is back at home. Six different venues - Chennai, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Bengaluru, and Kolkata - will play host to the eight teams in the 14th edition of the IPL to be played from April 9 to May 30. Despite all eight franchises sacrificing crowds and home games for the entirety of the season, the charm of the tournament remains the same and the allure for quality cricket attracts us to the IPL.
How are the teams looking ahead of the tournament and who is playing where this season? Let’s quickly see what the eight franchises bring to the table this season.
CHENNAI SUPER KINGS (CSK)
The IPL giants were probably bored of being crowned favourites every season prior, as the Super Kings failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time ever in 2020. It probably came down to slow scoring from key players like Rayudu, Jadhav and Gaikwad, the absence of Suresh Raina and the reluctance of MS Dhoni to rely on youngsters. Maybe a bit of all three, but CSK bore the brunt as the law of averages caught up with them.
Interestingly, nothing much changed in the auction with the ‘Yellow Army’ witnessing only a few additions including Moeen Ali, Krishnappa Gowtham, and Cheteshwar Pujara. Known for their value buys, CSK went all guns blazing for Gowtham making him the most expensive uncapped player in IPL history (INR 9.25 crore).
The late withdrawal of Josh Hazlewood caught the franchise by surprise, but CSK have enough firepower to sneak back into contention. Raina will be chasing Virat Kohli for the most IPL runs’ mantle (5,368 vs 5,878), but his mere presence alone is a huge bonus for MSD. Dwayne Bravo will also be welcomed back with open arms, while Sam Curran’s recent form is a blessing.
Is this enough to turn the tide? Being back in India is massive for their chances, but CSK still have an ageing side. The dwindling form of MSD is a major concern and the lack of charismatic modern day T20 smashers puts a question mark on their adaptability.
Key player: Raina - now that he’s got a room with a balcony.
Key domestic player: Shardul Thakur - the ‘Lord of many things’ in Indian cricket at the moment.
Key overseas player: Sam Curran - time to promote the baby-faced assassin up the order.
Young player to watch: Harishankar Reddy - watch out for his yorkers and he can be Dhoni’s surprise package like Mohit Sharma or Manpreet Gony.
Darkhorse pick: Ruturaj Gaikwad - COVID-19 hampered him last season but he remains hungry to prove his worth after being the first uncapped Indian to record three consecutive IPL 50s.
Prediction: Dad’s Army may miss the bus once more.
One of the three IPL sides yet to win the title, but a steady progression over the last two years (3rd and 2nd) makes Delhi Capitals a very interesting team to watch. Losing captain Shreyas Iyer for the entire tournament due to a shoulder injury is an immeasurable loss, especially after he didn’t miss a match across three seasons, but the elevation of Rishabh Pant as captain could be a master stroke.
Pant is probably the hottest player on the international circuit at the moment, but it is his IPL contributions over the last three years that stand out (1,515 runs @ SR 153). With the spine of the team built on a strong Indian core of Shikhar Dhawan, Prithvi Shaw and Pant himself, the Capitals will be keen to break their tournament duck.
Steve Smith’s arrival via auction is an interesting addition, while the returning English duo of Sam Billings and Chris Woakes could be game-changing. They are spoilt for choice obviously, with Marcus Stoinis, Kagiso Rabada, Shimron Hetmyer, and Anrich Nortje highlighting their ‘selection headaches’.
What could go wrong? Well Delhi have consistently floundered at the business end of things, although Smith’s experience could guide them through that phase this year. It remains to be seen if Pant feels the burden of captaincy, but otherwise this is a side that has balance, depth, and power in the squad to win their maiden title.
Key player: Pant ‘the batsman’ - will he continue to score freely?
Key domestic player: Ravichandran Ashwin - with talk of a possible ODI recall doing rounds (at least from his fans).
Key overseas player: Steve Smith - funny as it may sound, but Iyer’s injury could prove a blessing with Smith and his antics.
Young player to watch: Prithvi Shaw - the three-season IPL veteran scored 827 runs in the Vijay Hazare trophy recently.
Darkhorse pick: Axar Patel, once he recovers from COVID-19 - just ask an Englishman why.
KOLKATA KNIGHT RIDERS (KKR)
Transitions are agonizing. No, we are not talking about Sri Lanka or the West Indies. Closer to home, it is the Knight Riders who have found life tough after Gautam Gambhir led them to two titles. To make matters worse, 2020 was a disaster with a change of baton midway through the season, batting failures from top to bottom and the ‘fickle as English weather’ form of Sunil Narine and Andre Russell.
That said, hope for 2021 stems from the fact that Eoin Morgan will be in his first full season as captain. One of the shrewdest and canny operators in white-ball cricket, Morgan could be their key to reviving old fortunes. Shakib Al Hasan’s presence gives an extremely viable all-round option, while Ben Cutting is as good a standby as one can ever be.
It is in the bowling though, that KKR boast of envious riches. Pat Cummins, Lockie Ferguson, India’s latest sensation Prasidh Krishna and Harbhajan Singh reduce Morgan’s concerns significantly. Add Varun Chakravarthy’s mysteries into the mix and you clearly know why the KKR fans are purring.
As good as they look on paper, KKR will be desperate to get the combination right. With so many options available, the captain’s task gets doubly difficult. The SR of the top-order batsmen will be monitored closely, as will be their use of Russell, the batsman.
Key player: Shakib Al Hasan - someone who can bowl four frugal overs and is capable of playing at any batting spot is a marvel.
Key domestic player: Kuldeep Yadav - not the bowler he was two seasons ago, but a couple of good games could unlock the best of him.
Key overseas player: Captain Morgan - there’s nothing else to say.
Young player to watch: Shubman Gill - easy on the eye and pleasant to watch throughout the day, Gill could be KKR’s lynchpin.
Darkhorse pick: Dinesh Karthik - suave with the microphone with Sky Cricket (love those shirts), but equally elegant on the field. He’s far from done at age 35.
‘They win only in odd years’ was the refrain last year, but Mumbai Indians smashed that out of the park in 2020. With five titles in the last eight years and a strong domestic core (as always) on the park, Mumbai could be eyeing a record three-peat.
While the auction buzz was around adding a ‘Tendulkar’ to their player stable, it was the purchases of Adam Milne, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Jimmy Neesham, and Marco Jansen that showed how meticulous the Indians are in their planning. It is a tribute to their strength over the years that the core of the team – at least for one more time – stays intact.
Any team that has Rohit Sharma, Quinton de Kock, Suryakumar Yadav, Kieron Pollard, and Hardik Pandya in their ranks inspire awe. Add India’s latest T20 sensation Ishan Kishan to the mix and you will get a fair idea of how difficult it is to play them.
The acquisition of Piyush Chawla is interesting, looking at how Rahul Chahar has drifted off his best. Jasprit Bumrah and Trent Boult keep the Mumbai Indians’ bowling attack one of the hardest to face both upfront and at the death. Still, calling it their weak link is probably an overwhelming acknowledgement of their supremacy.
Key player: Hardik Pandya - back to full fitness and the ability to bowl more often, he can be their game-changer.
Key domestic player: Ishan Kishan - can he repeat the heroics and seal a place in India’s T20 World Cup side?
Key overseas player: Kieron Pollard - the beast is back with six sixes in a row.
Young player to watch: Arjun Tendulkar - not just because he is a Tendulkar, but because he is so different from Sachin.
Darkhorse pick: Adam Milne - the pace merchant can be a surprise weapon for Rohit.
Prediction: Who can stop them?
“What’s in a name?” asked William Shakespeare. He would have probably continued “that which we call a Kings XI by any other name would spell ambiguous.” Never finishing above fifth in the last six years after making their only IPL final in 2014, Kings XI Punjab are hoping a change of name equals a change of fortunes.
Regardless, captain KL Rahul’s timely return to form in the ODIs against England is music to the franchise. The addition of Dawid Malan - T20I’s top-ranked batsman - brings so much solidity to their batting that has the explosive Chris Gayle (remodelled as a dangerous number three) and Nicholas Pooran in the ranks. Australian duo Jhye Richardson and Riley Meredith provide the pace, while Chris Jordan’s canny wicket-taking ability is a dream for any captain.
All’s not rosy though, as the side continues to face questions on the bowling front. Mohammed Shami’s return after an extended break due to injury should be a welcome bonus, but the lack of experience in the spin department could play into the opponent’s hands. All said, the firepower in the squad makes them one of the top entertainers in the tournament.
Key player: Nicholas Pooran - easily one of the most clinically destructive T20 batsmen of this generation.
Key domestic player: KL Rahul - close your eyes and ears, and you will know why.
Key overseas player: Jhye Richardson - in a team that could struggle for bowling rhythm, Jhye could be singing the right chords.
Young player to watch: Shahrukh Khan - Tamil Nadu’s 25-year-old has been finishing games for his side with ease.
Darkhorse pick: Dawid Malan - the world’s best in T20Is and a chance to prove himself in debut IPL season.
Prediction: Outside top-four
What do you do when you finish seventh and eighth in two consecutive seasons? Well, the Royals have shed their ‘frugal’ tag and spent lavishly in the auction. There’s a change in the captain too, as the Royals look to write a new legacy.
There were many surprised faces when Chris Morris ended up as the most expensive player in the history of the tournament (INR 16.25 crore). With due respect, his injury-prone history places the highest number of question marks over his impact for a side craving for a bowling leader. That’s especially true when Jofra Archer joined the list of ‘Ripley’s Believe It Or Not’ freak accidents by injuring his hand on a fish tank.
All’s not gory though, as the Royals have one of the most aggressive batting units. Samson aside, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler are well known for their white-ball ‘atrocities’, while if Rahul Tewatia continues the form of 2020, the Royals could be an opponent that most teams hate to bowl at, especially at the death.
The batting riches shouldn’t plaster over their deficiencies with the ball, although Mustafizur Rahman’s purchase is an extremely shrewd one. However, the Indian pace bowling unit within the Royals’ squad is one that could remind batsmen of Christmas gifts and one that could eventually rob the Royals of their playoff spot.
Key player: Ben Stokes - especially so if he gets his bowling going.
Key domestic player: Rahul Tewatia - the glue between the top and lower orders.
Key overseas player: Jos Buttler - one of the most destructive T20 openers around.
Young player to watch: Shivam Dube - a chance to re-establish his all-round credentials.
Darkhorse pick: Riyan Parag - not the least for his ‘Bihu dance’.
Prediction: Outside top-four.
ROYAL CHALLENGERS BANGALORE (RCB)
The Royal Challengers Bangalore have probably the most loyal fanbase. Of course, you need that when you haven’t won the IPL title and start every tournament with the same slogan: “This will be our season”. Together with Virat Kohli, that remains the only constant in RCB’s IPL history.
Sensing a need to change the narrative, RCB released the most number of players (among all franchises) and entered the auction with fresh ideas. New Zealand pace-bowling all-rounder Kyle Jamieson was purchased for INR 15 crore, while Australian all-rounder Glenn Maxwell was picked up for a whopping 14.25 crore. Josh Philippe unfortunately decided to skip the tournament for personal reasons, but that turned out to be a blessing as the red-hot Finn Allen has been signed as a second Kiwi.
Although a perennial risk, Maxwell could be that missing jigsaw piece to stitch together a team capable of mounting a title charge. RCB fans will be desperately hoping that the new recruits do not subscribe to the old habits of players - namely consistent inconsistency. If that is addressed, RCB have a line-up that should win day in, day out and be worthy champions.
Key player: Who else but Virat. After the highs of the England series, can he win the one trophy missing from his cabinet?
Key domestic player: Devdutt Padikkal - can he go past the ‘second season’ syndrome?
Key overseas player: Glenn Maxwell - make or break?
Young player to watch: Mohammed Azharuddeen - not to be confused with the former Indian captain.
Darkhorse pick: Dan Christian - a serial winner looking to add another title to his resume.
Prediction: Play safe and stay away from backing RCB.
SUNRISERS HYDERABAD (SRH)
They are the quintessential but lovable underdogs, more like the New Zealand of the IPL. They have reached the playoffs for five consecutive seasons now, but have won the title just once. David Warner will be back at the helm and the under-rated Aussie is a fan favourite at the club, but can he lead them to a second title?
The Sunrisers have some exceptional T20 bowlers at their disposal with Rashid Khan and Bhvuneshwar Kumar among the finest in the game and T Natarajan as one of the rising stars. With Mujeeb-ur-Rahman snapped up as a back-up, it looks like the Sunrisers have all bases covered.
In Jonny Bairstow, Jason Roy (replacement signing for Mitchell Marsh), and David Warner, the Sunrisers probably have the most threatening top-three. Such is the strength of their foreign contingent that Kane Williamson may struggle to get into the final XI. SRH’s title chances however, will depend on how the Indian domestic batsmen perform. Manish Pandey had a forgetful 2020 tournament, while Vijay Shankar and Abhishek Sharma have sparkled in flashes – almost like the ‘Eid Chand’ that the city of Hyderabad is famous for.
In fact, therein lies the challenge for Warner and the team management - finding their best XI. If they can squeeze the best of the local players and find a way to stick to their best foreign players, the Hyderabad unit will be a strong title contender.
Key player: Jonny Bairstow - what form he was in against India.
Key domestic player: Manish Pandey - can he be the glue that SRH desperately crave in their Indian batting department?
Key overseas player: David Warner - captain, key batsman, and gun fielder; what more can we say.
Young player to watch: Virat Singh
Darkhorse pick: Vijay Shankar
As mentioned earlier, love it or hate it, the IPL is the real deal. The presence of super stars (endless) and the possibility of some uncanny combinations (Dhoni and Pujara to name one) makes this edition an intriguing one to look forward to. With the number of teams set to face an expansion at the end of this season, it could be a final chance for many to win something before moving on to another franchise.
Adding to the intrigue factor is the upcoming T20 World Cup, set to be played in India. With practice games and quality warmups a rarity in the COVID-19 era, players will lap up this tournament. It should be a great launchpad to know the conditions, the pitches, and probably prepare some strategies.
As for you, all you have to do is strategize how to follow all the action. We’ll have every match covered and can’t wait for another season of premier T20 franchise cricket. We hope you’ll join us.
Sridhar Bhamidi is the Indian correspondent and lead commentator for FlashScore Cricket. You can follow their live scores and ball-by-ball commentary on www.flashscore.com, on the FlashScore iOS and Android apps, or by following @FlashCric on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram.