2019 is the year of cricket World Cup. The upcoming ICC mega event has dominated every cricketing narrative since the turn of this calendar year. But now is the time for a brief hiatus from the international cricket frenzy as the globe of the sport gets ready for its biggest carnival — the Indian Premier League (IPL).
While the World Cup will be fought for global supremacy in ODIs, those who have followed the IPL in the past would know that the World Cup could compare very little to the intensity of the cash-rich T20 league. The trailblazing T20 tournament remains modern cricket’s biggest innovation, after all, nothing has transcended the cricketing boundaries like the IPL. The music, the maximums, the drama and the boisterous crowd has constantly served us the frenetic and the fevered.
Naysayers must quickly jump to Chennai Super Kings’ (CSK) Twitter page to watch the video of MS Dhoni walking out to bat during a practice session at the MA Chidambaram Stadium. The deafening noise made by the 10,000-odd Chennai fans was the perfect precursor to what promises to be another exciting season of IPL.
And thanks to the World Cup, which begins on 30 May, the 12th edition of the IPL party starts early this year as the new BCCI constitution mandates a minimum of a 15-day gap between the end of IPL and India’s next international engagements.
Also, for only the second time after 2010, IPL would begin in March but unlike in 2009 and 2014 when IPL was played outside India due to general elections, fully in the former and partly in the latter, all the games this season will take place at home.
Despite the early start, World Cup year means top overseas players, especially from Australia, England and South Africa, might probably miss the last few league games. And that clearly gives an edge to franchises having stronger contingent of Indian and lesser-known foreign recruits.
As a result, capped and uncapped Indian players collected crores during the auction with architect-turned-cricketer Varun Chakravarthy fetching Rs 8.4 crore from Kings XI Punjab (KXIP). Meanwhile, Windies and New Zealand players are expected to play the entire tournament.
CSK and Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) were the finalist last season and are once again expected to be the favourites for the title in 2019. Both teams have more or less retained the same squad with key figures entering the setup.
Dhoni would be aiming to become the first captain to win four titles. Making the task somewhat easy for him is the experienced and balanced squad of CSK. With only two signings in the auction, they have almost retained the same title-winning side from the last season which boasts T20 giants like Shane Watson, Suresh Raina, Dwayne Bravo and Harbhajan Singh.
Questions marks over the squad being overaged were put to rest handsomely by CSK last season but winning back-to-back titles would be no easy task. Oppositions would now be well aware of CSK’s strengths and weaknesses but undermining Dhoni and his man-management skills would not be the smartest punt.
Meanwhile, SRH look determined to win their second title with a well-set unit. As usual, the Hyderabad franchise would once again be banking on their bowlers to deliver the goods.
Rashid Khan and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have been a constant pain for slam-bang-loving batsmen while Kane Williamson’s captaincy and batting artistry is as tasty as the Hyderabadi biryani. Add to that the explosiveness of Manish Pandey, Yusuf Pathan, Martin Guptill and Shakib Al Hasan. David Warner’s return after the ball-tampering scandal ban also provides them with the much-needed impetus which could help SRH cross the line this season.
Three-time winners Mumbai Indians are always in the race and yet again have an excellent squad at their disposal. Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Evin Lewis, Pandya brothers and other stalwarts should ensure a deep run for the franchise in the season.
KKR are once again expected to do well. The two-time winners are loaded with some of the best T20 players from Windies including Sunil Narine, Andre Russell and Carlos Brathwaite in addition to having Kuldeep Yadav, Dinesh Karthik, Chris Lynn, Nitish Rana, Robin Uthappa and Lockie Ferguson.
Shubman Gill, Rinku Singh, Prasidh Krishna provide them with some solid squad depth.
Elsewhere, still considered an understudy of Dhoni in limited overs cricket as far as captaincy is concerned, Kohli would be looking to impress everyone with his leadership as RCB look to shed the perennial underachievers’ tag. RCB, KXIP and Delhi Capitals (DC) are the only original IPL sides who have not won the title yet.
AB de Villiers’ international retirement, the addition of all-rounder Marcus Stoinis and recruitment of Windies hard-hitter Shimron Hetmyer certainly make RCB’s batting look good at the first glance but they continue to lack depth.
Umesh Yadav would once again spearhead the bowling attack with the likes of Yuzvendra Chahal and Nathan Coulter-Nile providing support. RCB have covered most of the bases but would need
their players to fire collectively besides World Cup departures could also derail their campaign.
Rajasthan Royals (RR) and KXIP could well turn out to be the dark horse this season, Punjab in particular. Both sides went all out in the auction in search of team balance and game changers.
Steve Smith, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler make RR a dangerous opponent but their World Cup participation would surely hinder RR’s progress. Lesser-know players would need to stand up for the Jaipur side.
KXIP have balance and brutality packed into their squad with players like KL Rahul, Chris Gayle, Sam Curran and Mohammed Shami. What they need is maturity and must avoid repeating mistakes of the last season.
Delhi Capitals splashed big in the auction but still look a bit light in all departments. Lack of experience in the squad could also adversely affect their chances which means a lot would rely on incoming Shikhar Dhawan.
Amidst all the noise and action, the national selectors and team management would definitely keep a close eye on the performance and workload of World Cup-bound players. While they may like to keep a tight leash on the involvement of such players, the fringe figures would like to force an entry into the squad with a good return in IPL.
But before we reach there, we have the IPL to go through, a tournament which has no match. In a league of surprises and drama, only one thing has been constant — entertainment. And from tonight and for the next one and half month, the IPL will write its own headlines.