Less than five months since Mumbai Indians (MI) trounced Delhi Capitals (DC) in the final of the 2020 edition to lift the trophy for an unprecedented fifth time, the Indian Premier League (IPL) is set to return to the television screens.
Defending champions Mumbai take on three-time runners-up Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in the lung-opener on 9 April at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, with Chennai Super Kings (CSK) taking on last year's runners-up Delhi at the Wankhede Stadium the following day. The IPL caravan will then travel around the country for more than a month, with the final taking place on 30 May at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad — which will also host the other playoffs.
The tournament, which started in 2008 at a time when the T20 format was still in its infancy, has played a massive contribution over the years, both in terms of discovering hidden gems in various corners of the cricket-mad nation and bringing players from various parts of the world closer as they share dressing rooms and travel around together for close two eight weeks. Perhaps the biggest gainers from the tournament are the youngsters — both capped and uncapped — who learn a great deal from some of the superstars they play alongside, which greatly advances their understanding of the game and helps expand their skills set.
With a number of new recruits being added to the rosters of the eight participating franchises, we take a look at some of the rookies who could make a statement in IPL 2021:
Lukman Meriwala (Delhi Capitals)
The left-arm seamer from Baroda netted 15 wickets at an average of 13.26 to finish the second-highest wicket-taker in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy earlier this year. Perhaps that performance, which included a haul of 3/28 against Punjab in the semi-final, played a role in Delhi Capitals expressing interest in him and securing his services for his base price of Rs 20 lakh.
Meriwala, whose consistent performances with the ball was one of the key factors behind Baroda’s run to the final of the tournament, will hope to bowl with a similar rhythm and impress the Delhi camp later this summer. And an opportunity is what Meriwala, who is 29 years of age, desperately needs if he is to live his dream of donning the Indian jersey down the road.
Marco Jansen (Mumbai Indians)
From bowling to the likes of Virat Kohli in the nets to bagging a maiden IPL contract with five-time champions Mumbai Indians, Marco’s story is one that only seems to be getting better with the passage of time.
Marco and with his twin brother Duan were specially summoned by coach Ravi Shastri to bowl to the Indian batsmen in the nets at the Wanderers, where the third Test took place during their 2018 tour of South Africa. And the pair were by far the most impressive among the bowlers who gave the Indian batsmen their fair share of practice, getting pats on their backs from the Indian players and Shastri.
The left-arm seamer, who could stare New Zealand’s Kyle Jamieson in the eye without having to look up, replaced Ottniel Baartman in the South African contingent for the tour of Pakistan earlier this year, which ultimately didn’t translate into game time as he wasn’t named in the T20I squad.
Marco, who has a T20 economy below eight and a strike rate of 35, has the chance to give his cricketing career a real impetus by joining the ranks of the most successful side in IPL history.
Dawid Malan (Punjab Kings)
England unearthed another potential limited-overs superstar in Malan while hosting South Africa in the summer of 2017. The late bloomer — who made his international debut at an age just shy of the 30 mark — tore the Proteas attack apart with a 44-ball 78 to collect the Man of the Match award and announce himself on the international stage.
Malan, who was picked up by the rechristened Punjab Kings at his base price of Rs 1.5 crore, has his sights set on making a similar impact in his maiden IPL season. The Middlesex batsman, who was born in London but grew up in South Africa, boasts of some impressive statistics in the 20-over format, the most prominent of which is his T20I average of 50.15 and a strike rate of 144.31.
Malan, currently the top-ranked T20I batsman in the world, was in particularly destructive form during the tour of South Africa in November-December, finishing as the top scorer in the three-T20I series with 173 runs, including an unbeaten 99 off 47 deliveries that helped the visitors make a mockery of the 192-run target set by the Proteas in the third T20I.
In the tour of India, which concluded on Sunday, the left-hand batsman was impressive in patches, particularly in the 46-ball 68 in the final T20I as well as a 50 in the final ODI, a sign that he certainly is in good nick with the bat heading into his first outing in the league.
Jhye Richardson (Punjab Kings)
Another cricketer who has made his mark in international cricket but was yet to experience the energy of the Indian Premier League, Richardson’s call-up finally came when Punjab Kings shelled out Rs 14 crore — the fourth-most expensive buy in the 2021 player auction — to secure his services.
The lanky Western Australian pacer first made headlines with a 3/30 in the final of the 2016-17 Big Bash League that bagged him the Player of the Final award and Perth Scorchers the title. Since then, his place in the Australian team across formats has mainly been dependent on one of their big three in the pace department, viz. Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc, getting rested or injured, although Richardson has largely been impressive in the opportunities that he’s got.
As far as his recent form goes, he’s had a mixed run in the five-T20I series in New Zealand but finished the leading wicket-taker in the BBL that took place before the Aussies visited their Trans-Tasman neighbours, collecting 29 wickets at a superb average of 16.31.
Riley Meredith (Punjab Kings)
Punjab clearly went into the player auction with the intent of shoring up their pace department, which hardly saw performances of note from anyone other than Mohammed Shami last season. And looks like they will be handing out quite a few league debuts this season, with Meredith among the players who are yet to play in the cash-rich league.
Meredith’s name created a buzz after the Australian pacer was sold for Rs 8 crore to Punjab, becoming the most expensive uncapped overseas player in the history of the league (a record that was previously held by English pacer Jofra Archer).
— IndianPremierLeague (@IPL) February 18, 2021
The Tasmanian, who is known to clock speeds of up to 150 kmph, has had an impressive Big Bash run for the Hobart Hurricanes, racking up 43 wickets across four editions to go with some decent numbers (average 23.63, economy 8.06).
As far as getting game time with the Punjab Kings is concerned, Meredith will face direct competition from compatriot Richardson, another individual yet to play an IPL game. That, however, is subject to the team think tank choosing to play an overseas frontline seamer.
Shahrukh Khan (Punjab Kings)
Tamil Nadu batsman Shahrukh, named after the illustrious actor, was part of Dinesh Karthik’s side that beat Baroda in the final to lift the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy earlier in January.
Given he had pitched in with noteworthy performances during the campaign, including a match-winning 40 not out off 19 balls in the quarter-final against Himachal Pradesh as well as an unbeaten 18 off 7 in the final that helped finish the chase, Shahrukh was bound to create a buzz among the IPL scouts with his pinch-hitting ability, as well as his handiness with the ball given his off-break bowling ability.
Shahrukh, however, would’ve never imagined in his wildest dreams that there would be a bidding war over him in the player auction as Preity Zinta’s Punjab Kings ultimately shelled out Rs 5.25 crore (from his base price of Rs 20 lakh) to add him to their roster.
Finn Allen (Royal Challengers Bangalore)
RCB signed Allen up as a replacement for Australian opening batsman Josh Philippe, who had made his league debut a little over four months ago in the previous season, but has been ruled out of this year’s edition due to “personal reasons”.
New Zealand wicketkeeper-batsman Allen, who is thus a like-for-like replacement for the Aussie in the Bangalore squad, was initially overlooked in the player auction after being listed among the 292 players at Rs 20 lakh.
And yet he could be in line for a debut sooner rather than later as his recent numbers in the Super Smash, in which he topped the run-charts (512 runs at an average and strike rate of 56.89 and 193.94 respectively) and played a key role in Wellington Firebirds’ title-winning run, could give him the edge in occupying one of the four available overseas slots.
Kyle Jamieson (Royal Challengers Bangalore)
The Kiwi all-rounder has had a meteoric run since the breakthrough performance on debut at home against India in the summer of 2020. His rise in international cricket since then surely wouldn't have gone unnoticed, especially by the franchise owners in the cash-rich league.
That the six-foot-eight-inch pacer went for Rs 15 crore (from a base price of Rs 75 lakh) after an intense bidding war in the player auction last month, the amount second only to South African Chris Morris's record sum, didn't come as a surprise to many.
Jamieson therefore will hope to come good for RCB, who shelled out the enormous sum in the auction, in his maiden IPL appearance. And what gives the right-arm seamer from New Zealand over the rest of the Bangalore attack is his T20 strike rate of 140.85, which improves to 151.85 when taking the international matches in the format into account. That aside from his ability to generate the extra bounce thanks to his stature.
Mohammed Azharuddeen (Royal Challengers Bangalore)
The hard-hitting Kerala opener got picked up by Virat Kohli-led RCB at his base price of Rs 20 lakh in the player auction earlier in February. And that could prove to be an absolute steal for the Bengaluru-based franchise should Azharuddeen perform to his full potential this season.
The opener, after all, sent ripples of excitement through the Indian cricketing circles after smashing a whirlwind 137 not out for Kerala against domestic giants Mumbai on 13 January. Azharuddeen narrowly missed out on breaking Rishabh Pant's record for the fastest ton in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy as he setup an eight-wicket win for his side — their first against Mumbai in any format — and his name started doing the rounds as far as getting picked up by an IPL franchise is concerned.
With a strike rate of 142.27 in 24 T20 matches, Azharuddeen certainly could prove useful for the Royal Challengers as an alternative to Devdutt Padikkal at the top of the order, with the skipper occupying the other slot.
Rajat Patidar (Royal Challengers Bangalore)
The batsman from Madhya Pradesh got his first big break on the big platform when RCB bought him at his base price of Rs 20 lakh.
Patidar, who has 699 runs in 22 T20 appearances to his credit at a mean strike rate of 143.53, has been in good form with the bat of late, scoring 102 and 54 in MP’s fixtures against Andhra and Punjab respectively in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. In Mushtaq Ali, he collected 221 runs at an impressive average of 44.20 with a strike rate of over 150, including a match-winning 96 against Goa.
The Indore native knows this could be his big chance to impress the powers-that-be in the top echelons of Indian cricket. He is after all 27 years of age and the time is now if he is to make an impactful performance that helps him realise his dream of playing for India.
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