As India’s wildest and most exuberant domestic cricketing extravaganza is knocking on the doors already and the nation is gearing up for its biggest revelry, the country is rife with speculations about who is going to qualify for the much-coveted play-offs.
Every state has its set of chauvinists who believe that it will be their team who will be able to maintain their wild-swinging ardour or this can finally be the year of redemption for teams who have come nowhere close to the silverware in a decade.
In this story, we will try and decode the play-offs and the probable teams who can make the dash for the knock-outs of the glittering tournament.
Kolkata Knight Riders
Hailing from Kolkata myself, I have all the reasons to believe that KKR can be a primary title contender for this season. Now no matter whatsoever my extraneous zeal for the purple and gold brigade may look like, there are concrete reasons to believe so.
Firstly, if there isn’t any major change happening, the Indian Premier League will most likely be played in India this time. Now going by that notion, the surfaces in the sub-continent are far more benign and conducive to the batters, unlike those monstrosities that cast themselves as ghoulish apparitions for the batsmen in UAE.
Kolkata is overtly reliable on a couple of foreigners and they are Andre Russell and Sunil Narine. Russell had a woeful IPL last time that saw him plagued with mediocrity and injuries. He couldn’t even bat close to what he is kept in the team for. Eventually, he turned into more of a liability for the team than the asset, which he usually is. Now with the party arriving back in India, we are all aware of the carnage that he imposed in 2019’s IPL. He toted KKR almost single-handedly to the gates of the play-offs only to be refuted in the dying embers. With the current set of batting that Kolkata has, things will be easier for Russell this time, once he arrives at the crease.
Another glaring fallacy that Kolkata suffered from in the preceding edition of the tournament was the lack of a middle-order batsman who could mend the innings in case of an early landslide. However, barring Eoin Morgan, the rest were woeful, to say the least. Nitish Rana stayed reticent until the latter half of the fray to fire and that cost KKR dearly. Now Kolkata has two new batsmen who could plug the gap in the middle. One of them will be the returning Shakib-Al-Hasan who has previously reaped gold in the KKR echelons. He is currently one of the best all-rounders in the world and Kolkata can comfortably replace him with Narine. He can bowl decently and is an excellent fielder. That also gives KKR the space to introduce a better batsman in the middle. In the previous edition of the tournament, they could only use the likes of Nikhil Naik and Rinku Singh, who are way below par cricketers, in terms of batting standards and fitness. However, this time they have Gurkeerat Mann, Karun Nair and Rahul Tripathi.
Rahul wasn’t really phenomenal in the last edition but he exhibited sparks of brilliance and it is expected that he will continue with the dominance that he has shown. Given his versatility, Kolkata will be able to use him in the middle-order that did bring out the explosiveness in the young man. Karun Nair can finally be the answer to Kolkata’s opening quandary. Given the dynamicity that he houses and the fair bit of experience that he has amassed over the years, he can be a gem of an asset to the Knights.
Now as I previously mentioned that the introduction of Shakib-Al-Hasan will make life difficult for Narine, it also needs to be kept in mind, that Kolkata has managed to buy two effective spinners in Harbhajan Singh and Pawan Negi who can impose considerable destruction upon the opposition.
Despite the fact that both aren’t really young and exciting, the variations that these two bowlers bring into the side will also help Kuldeep to adapt himself and learn a lot of new things which has kept him on the sidelines in recent years. Kolkata will also have their mystery man to lead the spin attack as Varun Chakravarthy left everyone mesmerized with his stellar brand of bowling in the last edition.
Now coming to a name that consistently flopped in the last IPL and that was KKR’s former captain, Dinesh Karthik. However, with the likes of Tim Seifert and Ben Cutting coming in, Kolkata will have a lot of options to rotate between Karthik, Russell and Narine, which seemed like a far cry in the preceding campaign. If Russell and Narine will have to remain in the hunt, they will have to perform consistently or else will most likely be losing their places to the successful BBL stars in the form of Seifert and Cutting.
Finally comes the pace department of Kolkata that will be spearheaded by Pat Cummins and Lockie Ferguson, though both of them won’t be starring in unison. Cummins was one of the most effective fast bowlers in the ranks of Kolkata in the preceding edition while he was successfully accompanied by Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi. Mavi was one of Kolkata’s most phenomenal monikers in the last edition and will continue to challenge the big names in the KKR roster.
Probable starting XI: Tim Seifert (wk), Shubman Gill, Nitish Rana, Eoin Morgan (cap), Rahul Tripathi, Andre Russell, Pat Cummins, Harbhajan Singh, Varun Chakravarthy, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi
Needless to say but the defending champions are the strongest team in the fray and will definitely be making the dash for the playoffs unless some uncanny misfortune befalls them. A team that was already roaring and riding roughshod over the others in the two preceding editions of the campaign has just bolstered itself beyond reckoning.
Their opening pair of Rohit Sharma and Quinton De Kock is one of the most dynamic batting pairs of the tournament. It is already a validated fact that Rohit himself is an absolute banger of anything short that comes his way which makes him one of the intimidating batters of the fray. He is also one of the most prolific batsmen of white-ball cricket and will be an imperative moniker in the ranks of Mumbai. De Kock did manage to get off to blinding starts in the preceding edition of the fray but couldn’t really capitalize on them. However, it was because of De Kock that the Indians were always off to a flying start in the powerplays.
When you start talking about this team, it becomes very difficult to resist oneself from raving frantically about the brilliance that this outfit houses. Their middle-order boasts of names like Suryakumar Yadav who just showed it to the world in the India England bilateral series that he has come a long way from his incipient days in cricket. He is followed by the boisterous and hard-hitting Ishan Kishan who has matured a lot over the years and is now an established appellation in the roster of domestic cricket. The way he belted out that blistering 99 in the last edition of the fray and his half-century on his international debut is more of a reason why he will continue to be a minatory threat to the others.
They are followed by the likes of Hardik Pandya and Kieron Pollard who are the most destructive batters of the campaign and can turn anything in the Indians’ favour if they get going. In case of an injury, they have the likes of Saurabh Tiwary and Aditya Tare who can chime in with their industrious cameos.
Krunal Pandya plays an essential role as a link-up between the batters and the bowlers. He is also a fair hitter of the ball and can come in extremely handy with his aggressive gentry of cricket. This is followed by the wrecking train that their bowlers come forthwith.
Monikers like Trent Boult, Jasprit Bumrah and Rahul Chahar constitute a batting line-up that can derail any settlement comprising even the best of batters. Given the fact that Mumbai has a rock-solid base of Indian cricketers, they have the luxury of rotating their foreigners without breaking a sweat. They will able to use an additional bowling weapon in the form of a young and inspiring Marco Jansen or an experienced Nathan Coulter-Nile or Adam Milne. They also have the likes of a bowling all-rounder, Jimmy Neesham who can be of crucial salience to the squad if they choose to get a bit adventurous towards the dying stages of the league.
Until and unless there is some titanic catastrophe or a magical miracle conjured by a concealed Harry Houdini redivivus who may have been hired by the other teams, Mumbai will most likely be defending their title successfully.
Probable starting XI: Rohit Sharma (cap), Quinton De Kock (wk), Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan, Hardik Pandya, Kieron Pollard, Krunal Pandya, Piyush Chawla, Trent Boult, Jasprit Bumrah, Adam Milne
Chennai Super Kings
Chennai was out of its element in the last edition of the fray. Not only did they seem terribly off-beat but their vanguard, the man who sets the screen ablaze with his captivating personality fell face-first to the ground. However, what lacked in the Chennai echelons the most were the presence of a stable middle-order batsman and no one could successfully carry out the astronomical role.
This dilemma is about to end for CSK as their most reliable batsman will be returning to the ranks. Suresh Raina is all set to make a comeback in this year’s IPL and his arrival will instantly add a lot of value to the three-time IPL champions.
They will also be hopeful about Sam Curran who displayed exemplary all-round prowess throughout the bilateral series and almost snatched the ODI series away from India, single-handedly.
However, if there is one thing that they will have to fret about, that is the setting in of their middle-order players. Rayudu is way past his prime and Cheteshwar Pujara isn’t really a typical white-ball player. Keeping these things in mind, Dhoni will be heavily banking on Robin Uthappa, Ruturaj Gaikwad and Ravindra Jadeja to deliver them in the batting department. The captain himself will also be of immense value to the squad given his hard-hitting ability and his anchoring flair to attune himself to any situation.
However, what Chennai will be holding extremely dear to themselves is an exceptionally strong bowling unit that brags about the likes of Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Santner, Moeen Ali, Dwayne Bravo, Deepak Chahar and Shardul Thakur. They will also have the luxury to rotate their quota of foreigners as they have an experienced Imran Tahir in their ranks.
Lungi Ngidi wasn’t really himself in the preceding campaign but can be an absolute nightmare for the batsmen, given the roughness and the bounce that Indian tracks can produce. Though the batting will be a lot more oriented around a few particular names, Chennai can definitely aim for the playoffs through a honed and incisive bowling unit.
Probable starting XI: Faf Du Plessis, Sam Curran, Suresh Raina, Ruturaj Gaikwad, MS Dhoni (cap & wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Krishnappa Gowtham, Dwayne Bravo, Lungi Ngidi, Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar
The runners-up of the last edition of the fray will have a hard time maintaining their momentum given the advancements of the other outfits. However, they will have a vertiginous edge over the other teams courtesy of their irrepressible bowling attack.
A bowling line-up that stars the likes of Amit Mishra, Axar Patel, Ravichandran Ashwin, Anrich Nortje, Kagiso Rabada and Avesh Khan is more than enough to destabilize any fortified establishment in a matter of a jiffy.
To this minatory mix of bowlers, pour in a tinge of dynamics from Marcus Stoinis, relentless brilliance from their new and youngest skipper, Rishabh Pant, a marauding Shikhar Dhawan, a destructive Shreyas Iyer and their latest recruit, Steven Smith. The entire blend of players is so eclectic that it gives them an even better sway than the one they held in the last year’s campaign.
They will also be laced with the likes of Chris Woakes, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma in the fast bowling unit alongside Rabada, Nortje and Avesh which can be a real threat to the other teams, considering the dry and hard pitches that India will be offering.
Probable starting XI: Shikhar Dhawan, Prithvi Shaw, Marcus Stoinis, Shreyas Iyer, Steven Smith, Rishabh Pant (cap & wk), Amit Mishra, Axar Patel, Ravichandran Ashwin, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje