The 13th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) is set to take place after months of uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the possibility of a clash with other international tournaments.
What was supposed to be a two-month summer T20 carnival in India will now happen behind closed doors in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where it returns for the first time since 2014, between 19 September and 10 November — that time of the year when the BCCI is usually busy hosting bilateral tournaments at home or Team India is preparing for a trip to the southern hemisphere.
While we might have to wait a little longer before we finally get to see the Indian cricketers donning the blue or white jersey on the cricket field for the first time since March, the IPL will give fans the opportunity to watch the likes of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, MS Dhoni in action again.
And while some of the established names who have not been in action for months will be hoping to get their rhythm back in the T20 slugfest, there are those who will be eyeing the tournament as a means of either reviving their sagging fortunes or beat competition for spots in their respective national teams by displaying their IPL numbers — which have a fair say in selection matters as far as most teams are concerned.
Here we look at five such cricketers for whom the 2020 edition of the IPL will be crucial, an opportunity to set things right as far as their careers are concerned, especially with the ICC T20 World Cup set to take place in a year’s time in India:
Tom Banton, Kolkata Knight Riders:
The talented England batsman, who is yet to complete a year in international cricket, brought cheers to the KKR camp earlier during the three-match T20I series against Pakistan at home when he struck a whirlwind 71 off 42 deliveries in the first game, tearing apart an attack that comprised the likes of Mohammad Amir, Shaheen Shah Afridi to name a few.
England are currently enjoying a period of white-ball domination thanks mainly to the intense competition for spots, especially among the batsmen at the top of the order. Banton may have been impressive in the Pakistan T20Is, but the fact that is directly in competition with the likes of Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy makes it all the more crucial for him to make every opportunity count.
Banton, however, registered a low score in each of the three T20Is against Australia, albeit batting at two-down, which has made it all the more difficult for him to protect his spot in the England white-ball unit in the build-up to next year’s T20 World Cup. The Somerset batsman will hope to make it count every time the KKR team management pick him as one of the four foreigners in the XI.
Rishabh Pant, Delhi Capitals:
MS Dhoni’s decision to hang up his boots (or his gloves for that matter) on 15 August earlier this year will have created a game of musical chairs for those hoping to take up the vacant spot in the Indian team.
While Pant had for long been hailed as Dhoni’s successor, and had been doing fairly well for himself in the Test arena, his recent decline in fortunes has led to him losing that spot to KL Rahul, whose brilliance with the bat and impressive glove work behind the stumps has now made him the first choice in India’s white-ball plans.
“He always was in this shadow of MSD. He started comparing himself with him,” former chief selector MSK Prasad was quoted as saying on why Pant fell out of favour with the team leadership in recent years.
The youngster however, has the opportunity to set things right and let his bat and gloves do the talking once the tournament gets underway. While he will hope to make some technical corrections to his keeping which have come under scrutiny, especially in away tours, it is his batting strike rate and the ability to get the big numbers which will ultimately make for the biggest factor in whether he is able to fulfil the prophecy of being Dhoni’s successor.
Shikhar Dhawan, Delhi Capitals:
Another individual whose place in the team has been affected by Rahul’s recent resurgence, especially in the limited-overs fixtures in the tour of New Zealand earlier this year.
Dhawan, who smashed his way into the Indian team in the 2013 season with his explosive batting style, has been blowing hot and cold of late. The fact that he’s been plagued with a series of injuries, hasn’t helped his case either.
Just when Dhawan looked like he was starting to hit the purple patch during the home series against Australia, in which he registered scores of 74 and 96 at Mumbai and Rajkot, a shoulder injury put paid to his chances of carrying that form over to the limited-overs fixtures in New Zealand. His chances of playing another ICC event took a further hit when Rahul displayed the form of a lifetime against the Black Caps batting alongside Rohit.
Dhawan, however, is expected to be a mainstay in the Delhi Capitals lineup as an opener alongside Prithvi Shaw, and like teammate Pant, will hope to make his bat do the talking at a time when he’s facing intense competition from the youngsters in the Indian team.
Glenn Maxwell, Kings XI Punjab:
Maxwell will probably go down as one of the most fascinating limited-overs batsmen of his era, someone who can stake claim to being the closest thing to a 360-degree batsman as AB de Villiers is. The Aussie has also enthralled crowds in India with his exploits in the IPL over the years, especially for KXIP, and will surely count among the most well-known foreign faces in the league.
However, the Victorian has had it tough in recent years, which led him to open up on his struggles with mental health and take a break from cricket in October last year. Maxwell returned from the 10-month international cricket exile, six of which were spent in the coronavirus-forced shutdown, in the recently-concluded T20I series against England, registering scores of 1, 26 and 6 — numbers which will do him no favour as far as holding on to his spot in the Australian middle-order is concerned.
Maxwell, who is expected to be an integral part of Kings XI’s plans after being brought back into the franchise for the first time since 2017 for a price of Rs 10.75 crore, will hope to unleash his full arsenal of unconventional shots in IPL 2020 and hopefully guide the team to their maiden title. That while making a statement and forcing the team leadership to keep him in their plans in the build-up to the 20-over world championship in India next year.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Sunrisers Hyderabad:
Once India’s premier white-ball bowler alongside Jasprit Bumrah, a spate of injuries in recent years has made life incredibly difficult for the lad from Meerut.
Bhuvneshwar was in good nick in the 2019 ICC World Cup, picking 3/43 against New Zealand in the lost semi-final match at Manchester, and followed it up with a four-fer in the ODI series against West Indies right after.
Between the limited-overs fixtures in the Caribbean last August and the Test series in New Zealand that ended in March earlier this year, the right-arm seamer played a total of three T20Is against West Indies at home, collecting two wickets at an average of 56.5. While he was picked for the ODI series against South Africa in March, he didn’t quite get to display his ability with the ball as the first one-dayer in Dharamsala got rained off, while the remaining games were called off due to rising COVID-19 cases in India.
As the leader of the Sunrisers attack, Bhuvneshwar will get ample chances to show that he still has what it takes win matches for his side, whether playing in the blue or the orange jersey. And this time around, he won’t have the burden of captaincy to deal with either as he did in the initial round of matches in 2019, giving him the freedom to focus fully on his bowling.
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