The Indian Premier League is almost upon us and as the cliché goes, the start of a season sees all the teams at the same level.
Or does it?
There are stronger teams and weaker ones, and after doing a preview for the latter, here’s who we think will be the contenders for the title.
Royal Challengers Bangalore:
Going by the recent past, RCB have been very successful in their endeavours to try and win trophies, but that is where it ends. The two-time IPL and T20 Champions League finalists boast of two of the most feared batsmen in cricket - Chris Gayle who is the leading six-hitter in T20s and Virat Kohli, the highest run-getter in the past year.
The batting depth continues into Tillakaratne Dilshan and Ab de Villiers.
Even in the bowling department, Zaheer Khan and Vinay Kumar can do the damage with the new ball. Muttiah Muralitharan and Danniel Vettori are absolute quality when it comes to spin.
As for weaknesses, it is vital for Zaheer to be kept fit and make sure their spinners don't go for a ride against a strong batting opposition. Vettori, in spite of being a good player, will be tested in his captaincy under pressure.
X-Factor: Going by form and confidence, it has to be Virat Kohli. The newest dude on the block in Indian cricket will surely have all eyes on him, and if he performs, then there’s no looking back.
Squad: Daniel Vettori, Abhimanyu Mithun, Virat Kohli, Zaheer Khan, Chris Gayle, Vinay Kumar, AB de Villiers, Andrew McDonald, Charl Langeveldt, Dirk Nannes, Luke Pomersbach, Muttiah Muralitharan, Rilee Rossouw, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Abrar Anjum Kazi, Arun Karthik, Asad Khan Pathan, CM Gautam, Cheteshwar Pujara, Harshal Patel, Karun Nair, KP Appanna, Mayank Agarwal, Mohammad Kaif, Raju Bhatkal, Ronit More, Ryan Ninan, S Thiyagrajan, Saurabh Tiwary, Sreenath Arvind, Syed Mohammad, Vijay Zol
Their team have four very well-known Indian pacers in the form of Irfan Pathan, Umesh Yadav, Ajit Agarkar and Varun Aaron, but it will be interesting to see which duo is picked ahead of the other.
Batting wise they are solid and opponents should consider themselves lucky they won’t have to face Ross Taylor (who has a strike rate of 150) who is out with a fractured hand.
David Warner and Virender Sehwag will more than make up for the big hitting, with Kevin Pietersen and Mahela Jayawardane supporting them.
The absence of Taylor might affect them because they are a top heavy side, lacking in a stable middle order once the first 3-4 batsmen are back to the pavilion.
X-Factor: Any guesses? Of course it’s Viru.
Squad: Virender Sehwag, Aavishkar Salvi, Ajit Agarkar, Gulam Bodi, Irfan Pathan, Ross Taylor, Roelof Ven Der Merwe, Morne Morkel, Mahela Jayawardane, Kevin Pietersen, Glenn Maxwell, Doug Bracewell, David Warner, Andre Russell, Aaron Finch, Zafir Patel, Yogesh Nagar, Vikas Mishra, Venugopal Rao, Varun Aaron, Unmukt Chand, Umesh Yadav, Tejashwi Yadav, Sunny Gupta, Shahbaz Nadeem, Robin Bist, Puneet Bisht, Prashant Naik, Pawan Negi, Naman Ojha, Manpreet Juneja, Kuldeep Raval
Not much needs to be said about Adam Gilchrist and what he can do with the bat. He will be aided by last year’s top domestic run-getter for Mumbai in Abhishek Nayar- who can also chip in with the ball when it’s needed.
David Hussey, who has over 4000 runs in the shortest format of the game, will certainly be one of those given the responsibility of settling a staggering innings in case the likes of Shaun Marsh don’t click at the top.
Bowling wise, Praveen Kumar, Stuart Broad and Piyush Chawla will be the main threats, with Ryan Harris playing supporting role.
Even though they have some promising players in Paul Valthaty and Paras Dogra, inexperience might seep in and be a weakness.
Squad: Adam Gilchrist, Abhishek Nayar, Amit Yadav, Stuart Broad, Shaun Marsh, Ryan Harris, Nathan Rimmington, James Faulkner, Dimitri Mascarenhas, David Miller, David Hussey, Azhar Mahmood, Vikramjeet Malik, Sunny Singh, Sidhharth Chitnis, Shalabh Srivastava, Ramesh Powar, Rajagopal Sathish, Praveen Kumar, Piyush Chawla, Paul Valthaty, Parvinder Awana, Bhargav Bhatt, Bipul Sharma, Gurkeerat Mann Singh, Harmeet Singh Bansal, Mandeep Singh, Nitin Saini, Paras Dogra
X-Factor: The wily old Gilchrist is a shrewd leader, commands the respect of his team and will also be coaching them. It’s a lot on one man to shoulder, but he is surely capable of it.
With such immense quality in their squad, Mumbai could easily make it to the finals of the IPL.
Their batting looks assured in the hands of the legendary Sachin Tendulkar, Rohit Sharma, Richard Levi (credited with T20’s fastest century) and the swashbuckling Kieron Pollard.
With the ball, they have one of IPL’s highest wicket-takers in RP Singh, who will be aided by the cunning yorkers of Lasith Malinga and new signing Mitchell Johnson.
As for spin, they have skipper Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha.
Harbhajan Singh, who was given the captaincy by Sachin Tendulkar will be under pressure to perform and his recent wicket-taking in T20 matches (three wickets in four games) has been under scrutiny. His reaction will be one to watch out for and if he can't perform, his decision-making may be affected.
X-Factor: If Kieron Pollard, the man who can single-handedly crumble the opposition attack with his shots, gets going, then all hell will break loose.
Squad: Harbhajan Singh, Sachin Tendulkar, Thisara Perera, Robin Peterson, Richard Levi, James Franklin, Kieron Pollard, Lasith Malinga, Herschelle Gibbs, Mitchell Johnson, Davy Jacobs, Clint McKay, Aiden Blizzard, RP Singh, Yuzvendra Chahal, Sujit Nayak, Suryakumar Yadav, Sushant Marathe, T Suman, Rohit Sharma, Rahul Shukla, Pragyan Ojha, Pawan Suyal, Munaf Patel, Apporv Wankhade, Dhawal Kulkarni, Dinesh Karthik, Jaydev Shah, Kuldeep Yadav, Amitoze Singh, Ambati Rayudu, Aditya Tare, Abu Nechim Ahmed
Tomorrow: The champions, Chennai Super Kings