After all that I said about the Indian Premier League in my last post, you could be forgiven for thinking that I wouldn’t touch the tournament with a barge-pole. But the sad truth is the IPL presents my only opportunity to watch live cricket on television for as long as it remains on ITV4. Also, unless I am back in Sri Lanka, I do not get to watch the Sri Lankan players play very much at all (unless they tour England) and for a few weeks I am able to close my mind out to all that is so very, very wrong about the IPL and just appreciate seeing some of the best players in the world have a bit of fun. I understand how those with SKY subscriptions who can access as much cricket coverage as they want when they want, would disregard the IPL for what it actually is; a money-spinning, corrupt bubble that will one day burst, and if you want more on this subject, I cannot do any better than this piece on the Armchair Selector. This debacle with the Sri Lankan players not being allowed into Tamil Nadu has made the whole tournament look even uglier, and has shone more light on the continuing absence of Pakistanis (Azhar Mahmood being the exception, after he was quick to wave his British passport at the Kings XI Punjab). Despite all this, I have decided to preview the tournament simply because I might be talking/tweeting about it as the tournament continues. If you don’t want to read my preview, then try this from the Limited Overs blog. Chances are you know all the big name players who will be taking part, but I shall try and give a little bit of focus to some of the lesser known players who step up and play big parts for their franchises. Here goes:
Ceylon Chennai Super Kings
The focus team (and state) going into the start of the tournament, with the much publicized axing of their two-man Sri Lankan contingent. Nuwan Kulasekera and Akila Dananjaya were not going to be particularly key players for them, and so will still be a big threat. They got to the final last year against Kolkotta and seemed to have things wrapped up but a fine innings by Manvinder Bisla saw the KKR snatch victory from the much fancied Super Kings. Dwayne Bravo, Mike Hussey, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Suresh Raina, Faf du Plessis and of course M.S Dhoni will be key players for them. Murali Vijay and Subramaniam Badrinath will be likely to open for them. Vijay took a long time to get going in IPL 2012, but Badrinath was once again in fine run-accumulating form. This time, Vijay is coming off a very successful Test series against Australia and will be bang in form for Chennai.
Two of their ‘lesser-known’ players to look out for I think are Jason Holder of Barbados and South Africa’s Chris Morris. Holder is a 21 year old medium-fast bowler who recently played two ODIs for the West Indies in Australia, taking a wicket in each. He has a domestic T20 bowling average of just over 22 and an economy of 6.93 suggesting he keeps things tight enough. The IPL is sure to be a huge step up from anything he has ever experienced though and he could go for plenty of runs, but might pick up the odd key wicket here and there. See Kevon Cooper for Rajasthan last year.
Chris Morris is a 25 year-old all-rounder from Pretoria. He has played two T20 Internationals for South Africa – one each against New Zealand and Pakistan – taking 2 wickets in each, but was out for a golden duck in his only innings with the bat vs Pakistan in Centurion where South Africa were bowled out for 100. In that match he came in at number 4 but he comes in significantly lower down the order in First-Class cricket for the Lions. He has a very good bowling average in domestic T20 (18.18) and comes with plenty of experience, which could be telling in the pressure situations thrown up by the IPL. Chennai are without Kulasekera now and it remains to be seen if they will replace him. But Holder and Morris, both being medium-fast bowlers could step up and take his place.
Delhi have one of the most star-studded sides in the tournament. Last year it seemed as if this would all come to a head as they topped the league table in the regular season. They then proceeded to choke magnificently against Chennai and Kolkatta in the round-robin stage. One of the biggest factors for them last season was Kevin Pietersen, who will be absent this season through injury. There were reports that Dinesh Chandimal was his replacement, but those seem to have been false as the Sri Lanka T20 captain has decided to forgo an IPL contract in favour of training back home. Nevertheless, with a lineup that includes Mahela Jayawardene, David Warner and Virender Sehwag they still retain a lot of batting power, strengthened by the likes of Jeevan Mendis, Johan Botha and Roleof van der Merwe. The absence of Jesse Ryder will be a huge miss not just for them but for the whole tournament as the worldwide cricketing family looks on with baited breath to see how he recovers.
Delhi without a doubt possess the best pace attack in the tournament. Morne Morkel, Umesh Yadhav, Andre Russell, Varun Aaron along with Agarkar, Nehra and Irfan Pathan are likely to be able to defend most totals. I really like the look of Varun Aaron and was surprised that he didn’t get ny games for India after IPL 2012. Constantly clocking over 140 kph and sticking to an aggressive line and length but with the ability to keep it full as well, he is very underrate I feel. With him, Yadhav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, India are blessed with a young battery of pace bowlers.
Unmukt Chand is a former India U-19 captain and at only 20 years old, the full squad might year come calling. He averages nearly 40 in First-Class cricket, suggesting a sound technique on those pitches. His last few batting performances for Delhi in the domestic T20 includes scores of 56, 105 (67 balls vs Kerala) and 125 (63 balls vs Gujarat). His T20 average is only 21.95 but a strike-rate of 120.93 is the sign of a ferocious T20 hitter.
Kings XI Punjab
Gilchrist aside, the Kings XI are not flush with world-class stars. This is a far-cry from the first IPL where they had Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara in the same side. Despite that, Gilchrist has shown his brilliance as a captain in the IPL, winning the tournament with Deccan and generally setting a fine example for his men in largely unfancied sides. Azhar Mahmood, David Hussey, Ryan Harris David Miller and Shaun Marsh will be huge for them. These have to fire if they are to do anything this year. If the cricket doesn’t take your fancy, the Kings XI play their matches at Mohali or Dharamsala which are beautiful parts of the world. If that isn’t enough, the camera will keep picking out Preity Zinta in the crowd as well.
Siddharth Chitnis is a 25 year-old right-handed middle-order batsmen who didn’t pull up any trees last year. But he has an average of 28.40 at a strike-rate of 157.19. He plays for Mumbai as his domestic side and of late has scores of 14 (off 18 balls), 36 and 38 which is relatively impressive coming in lower down. It shows that he can either accumulate runs if wickets tumble up the order, or force the issue if need be.
Luke Pomserbach has on occasion made the headlines for the wrong reasons. But tall, big-hitting left-handers are hard to come by. He averages just under 28 in T20s domestically and recorded his high score in the most recent BBL tournament where he carted 112* off 70 for the Brisbane Heat against the Melbourne Renegades. The chances are he will open the innings for the Kings XI along with the more reserved Paul Valthaty and this should make for a decent combination.
Kolkata Knight Riders
Last year’s winners are still well-placed going into the defence of their title, boasting one of the strongest Indian contingent in the tournament. Gautam Gambhir is a Delhi icon but led the KKR well last year. However his batting form has dropped off a cliff and would be a serious problem for them. But with Yusuf Pathan, Eoin Morgan, Jacques Kallis, Manoj Tiwary and Manvinder Tiwary to come down the order there is plenty of strength in depth there. Brendon McCullum can destroy a bowling attack with a few swipes of his blade, as England recently found out, and with Ryan ten Doeschate, Ryan McLaren, Shakib Al-Hasan along with Kallis they have a very fine set of all-rounders at their disposal. Sunil Narine was the standout bowler in the tournament in IPL 2012 but hasn’t really translated that form into international cricket with the West Indies. It is safe to assume however he will be a potent threat this time round though.
Last year, Sunil Narine got able spin backup from Shakib, but this time around Sacithra Senanayake could provide support from the other end. Averaging under 20 in all formats of domestic cricket, Senanayake has all the stats to back him up, but hasn’t really done it on the international stage as of yet. However in the T20 format on sub-continent pitches I think he will be a very big asset for the KKR and could be a surprise package in the attack. His height might provide variable bounce off the surfaces and he also possesses a decent doosra that he knows how to use properly. He is an excellent fielder and can hold a bat as well, making him a very important addition to the franchise.
James Pattinson is likely to open the bowling alongside Shami Ahmed. The latter is nowhere near as fast and aggressive as Pattinson but can move the ball away from the right-hander as he showed in his performances against Pakistan. He averages just over 12 in domestic T20 competitions and should come into his own on those pitches. Having said that, his 65 wickets in 15 First-Class matches suggest that he is better suited to the longer format.
It is perhaps one of the great mysteries in the Indian Premier League how and why the Mumbai Indians have yet to win a tournament. Going into the tournament this year, they have perhaps allowed for SRT’s declining form with the addition of Ricky Ponting who has been in sterling form in First-Class cricket with Tasmania. Like the Kings XI they have a strong Aussie contingent. Phil Hughes, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Mitchell Johnson, Glenn Maxwell and Aiden Blizzard whom I think could be fighting of the purple cap (or is it the orange one?) after the first few games. Their middle order is packed with fire-power, with Rohit Sharma, Dwayne Smith and Kieron Pollard able to turn a decent score into a huge one, all of which will be doubly hard to chase down with Lasith Malinga opening the bowling and coming in at the death. James Franklin turned himself into an unlikely T20 player. Not really a big hitter, he has often proven the glue that holds an innings together. However, with the addition of Ponting, Maxwell and Hughes it is hard to see where he gets games given a fit squad.
With all the overseas stars it is easy to forget that the Indians possess some decent local talent. Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha will more than likely play every game, but they do have 22 year-old Yuzvendra Chahal who bowls that most sought-after of commodities – leg-spin. He is in decent domestic form for Haryana and has a domestic T20 average of 16.66 suggesting that he might surprise a few batsmen as well as keep a lid on the run-rate.
Ambati Rayudu is a solid wicket-keeper who can count himself unlucky that his presence in Indian cricket has coincided with MS Dhoni’s reign. Otherwise he would definitely have made his debut for the national team by now. Certainly when he gets going with the bat he is up there with the most aesthetically pleasing of stroke-makers around. Averaging over 46 in First-Class cricket and over 25 in T20s, a strike rate of 122 means that he can inject fresh impetus down the order, and with such big hitters around him he could provide the anchor for them to do their stuff.
The Pune Warriors would have been able to boast a hell of a batting line-up at Michael Clarke not withdrawn from the tournament. Imagine Tamim Iqbal opening up with perhaps Aaron Finch and the likes of Clarke, Ross Taylor, Angelo Mathews, Marlon Samuels and Luke Wright coming later on. Of course not all of them would be able to play at once, but the thought is still a tantalizing one. As it stands, Clarke won’t be there and the captaincy has passed on to Angelo Mathews. As much as this could be a good learning experience for him, I would have thought Ross Taylor would have made a better skipper. In Steve Smith they have an excellent middle-order all-rounder who keeps a calm head in tight situation. However it would appear that he will be vying for a place with Luke Wright whose continuing Big Bash exploits keep making him hot property, although he was woefully underused last season. The presence of Mitchell Marsh is an exciting one. He averages 35.80 in T20 cricket for Western Australia with the bat and over 23 with the ball. I remember how he made his IPL debut for Deccan a week or so after he brutalized Sri Lanka in the U-19 World Cup and just seemed to fit right in with the big guys. He has only played one ODI for the Aussies but I’m sure more will come in the future as he is a precious talent that needs preserving.
Kane Richardson was an interesting pick for the Warriors. The 22 year-old South Australian has played only one ODI against Sri Lanka where he went wicket-less but was tidy enough. He is down the pecking order in the array of promising fast bowlers Australia have, but could be a surprise package here for Pune. His average of just over 23 and an economy of 7.60 suggests wickets are his forte as opposed to keeping it tight. He has shown form in 50 over cricket for South Australia and in February took 5-61 against Victoria and 6-51 against New South Wales.
One of the more exciting young batting prospects India have in their domestic structure is Manish Pandey. At 19 years old, he became the first Indian to score an IPL century whilst he was with Bangalore. Since then he has shown himself to be a technical player who can play all around the wicket, using his wrists to good effect. He isn’t in the best of form for Karnataka but a First-Class average of 51.71 suggests that a good IPL this time around could do for him what it did for Virat Kohli and propel him into the mindset of the India selectors.
The Royals have always been an odd team. Managing to get far in the tournament without particularly big names but getting by on experience and nous – a lot of that provided by Shane Warne before he joined the cult of Liz Hurley. Last year Owais Shah proved to be a revelation for them but I wonder what sort of form he is in at the moment, being the first supposed free-lance cricketer. Further experience is added by the Brads Hogg and Hodge along with Fidel Edwards, Shane Watson and Rahul Dravid who is now player/coach. They do have a contingent of young Indian cricketers on their books who have stepped up to the plate. Ajinkya Rahane is one of the new Indian batting phenoms, Rahul Shukla, Harmeet Singh, Shreevats Goswami and Ashok Menaria are all quite experienced T20 cricketers for their respective ages. Last year’s surprise package for the Royals was Trinidadian Kevon Cooper who drew many plaudits and comparisons with Kieron Pollard for some of his big-hitting performances. He can certainly match anyone for range, carrying a beast of a blade. His bowling average is a rather surprising 17.52. His medium-pace has taken 63 wickets in 56 matches at an economy of 6.17. One might assume though that a lot of these came from lusty hoiks to the long-on boundary.
I was quite impressed by James Faulkner when he played for the Kings XI last year. Not particularly pacey but his left-arm medium-fast was canny and accurate, and armed with a good slower-delivery he might prove a very good addition to the Royals’ bowling attack. He has a few T20 Internationals and ODIs to his name but most of his wickets in the latter came against the West Indies. I suppose this does mean he is used to bowling at big hitting batsmen.
Kushal Perera is someone you will read me tweeting a lot about during the IPL. I don’t know whether the Royals will play him consistently but it will be a mistake if he doesn’t. Averaging over 50 from his 7 ODIs and the first and only person to score a triple century in Sri Lankan first-class cricket, people have compared him to Sanath Jayasuriya. Whilst I can see the resemblance in batting, the person he reminds me most of is Adam Gilchrist. He is a tidy wicket-keeper too, and makes full use of his short but wiry frame. Usually I am cautious of seeing 22 year-old talents like him play too much T20 cricket but in KJP’s case he seems made for it. An opening partnership with Shane Watson is on the cards I think, and it could be a really fruitful one for Rajasthan.
Royal Challengers Bangalore
Nobody really knows how to refer to them. For most it is the Royal Challengers Bangalore, for others it is the Bangalore Royal Challengers, but I’ll just call them Bangalore. Nobody also knows how they haven’t managed to go all the way in the IPL before given the immense firepower. They haven’t always had Chris Gayle but the big Jamaican was in terrifying form last time out and will probably be so this year. The slow pitches, coupled with some military medium seamers and a bat with a sweet spot the size of a football will no doubt see the ball travelling back over some hapless trundler’s head for six. There aren’t many more attacking opening partnerships than Gayle and Dilshan, although Dilshan was significantly outscored last time. I got the feeling that in trying to simply keep up with Gayle’s hitting rate, he pushed himself too far and ended up getting out cheaply. I thought Daniel Vettori captained them well last year but Virat Kohli will take the reigns this time. In Dan Christian, Saurabh Tiwary and Moises Henriques they have additional hitting power and in AB De Villiers they have the best wicket-keeper batsman in cricket at the moment. Pros like Andrew McDonald, Vinay Kumar, Murali Kartik and Ravi Rampaul will do their part, and Murali(tharan) has shown that on occasion he can still wield his magic in the latter overs, but he still goes for a lot of runs these days. They also have the hottest prospect in Indian cricket at the moment; Cheteshwar Pujara.
Two promising younger players in their ranks are Mayank Agarwal and Abhinav Mukund. Agarwal will either open or come in at the top order and will look to blaze away from the start. He has a T20 century to his name which he recorded recently for Karnataka against Hyderabad (off 64 balls) and averages 26.34. Abhinav Mukund is the odd position of being an Indian batsman with Test caps and no limited overs appearances for the national side. He averages 50.98 and 49.80 in First-Class cricket and List-A cricket respectively. He has been in excellent T20 form for Tamil Nadu of late with scores consistently falling between 30 and 50 runs. At only 23 y ears old, he has achieved quite a lot. Only time will tell if India come calling for his services again, but for now Bangalore will make good use of his and Agarwal’s talents which would allow them to play less overseas batsmen and give their bowling more bite.
Sun Risers Hyderabad
Last year I decided to chose an IPL team to follow and always one to back the underdog, I decided that it should be the struggling Deccan Chargers. Not only did they have very likable players like Sanga, Steyn, Duminy and Dan Christian, they were the runt of the litter which made them even more appealing. They had a habit of getting themselves into good positions and then undoing them. The problem last season was that they had to rely on Sangakkara and especially Steyn too much. Sanga was on and off formwise, which inevitably meant that the bowlers would be defending a below-par score but Steyn was immense throughout. Bowling fast and full he consistently beat the bat and when boundaries came it was usually off genuine edges. Unfortunately nobody else could back him up as Ishant Sharma was injured and they had Dan Christian’s bland medium-pace and Amit Mishra’s errant leg-break to fill in the rest of the overs, although Ashish Reddy and Veer Pratap showed some promise later on in the tournament when hopes of a top four finish were gone. This year though the new owners have bolstered their bowling with overseas talent. Thisara Perera is generally expensive but gets important wickets. Likewise with Nathan McCullum and Clint McKay. Darren Sammy will provide lower-order hitting. Sikhar Dhawan will miss the first few matches due to the injury sustained during his dream Test debut. It remains to be seen whether the ownership will gave into political and public pressure from Tamil Nadu and drop Sangakkara and Perera. They might anger their Hyderabad home-base in doing so, so they might stick it out.
I don’t know if Sangakkara will take the gloves behind the stumps. He usually alternated with Parthiv Patel last time out, but with the addition of Quinton de Kock his skills might not be required. Averaging over 37 in T20 cricket and with a strike rate of 141.38, de Kock is a very good addition to the side. His glovework has impressed many in South Africa but would be worth his place in the side as a specialist batsman as well. His last four T20 innings for the Lions are; 42, 73, 20 and 97. These came with him opening the batting, but it remains to be seen where he will come in for Hyderabad.
With such competition for the position of overseas batsman, I wonder where Chris Lynn might get games. But he might surprise a few people with his T20 technique which sees him average 27.33. The 22 year-old Queenslander did well in the Sri Lankan Premier League with Kandurata, most notably a 51 ball 80 against Wayamba. He had an average Big Bash tournament but will be more than capable of hitting scores from the middle-order, especially if wickets start tumbling above him. Needless to say with the improved bowling attack, whatever the Sun Risers manage to churn up will be tough to chase down with Dale Steyn in their ranks.
In the end, there are plenty of reasons to not watch the IPL. This blog post explains them better than most; there is a lot to not like. But for as long as it remains on terrestrial television, I will watch it, even if I feel a bit dirty for doing so.
I’m not one for predictions as I am not very good at them. But for the sake of this blog here goes. Every IPL there is a prominent underachiever and an overachiever. I think the underachiever in this edition will be the Chennai Super Kings. This isn’t just the Sri Lankan in me talking, but even last year they only just made it into the top four and then ended up going to the final. I think this year they will do the same but they will leave it too little too late and miss out on the playoffs.
The overachiever I am tipping to be Hyderabad. Given what went on last season anything would be an improvement and with a vastly improved side, they might surprise a few people this season. There is also always a dark horse. Usually that turns out to be Rajasthan and I think they have a good chance this year, but I am going to go for Pune to sneak into the playoffs. Kane Richardson and Bhuvneshwar Kumar will provide a decent opening seam-attack, and if Marlon Samuels can recreate the golden year he had in 2012, he could once again form a good spin attack with Steve Smith, Rahul Sharma and Ajantha Mendis.
So that leaves three other playoff places available. I believe these will go to Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi. I don’t know in what order this will be in, but I’m going to go for the Delhi Daredevils to win IPL 2013.