IPL set to get underway
After many delays and difficulties in the organisation of the event as a result of the Indian General Elections and the ICC World Cup, the 12th edition of the world's biggest T20 league is finally here. The 2019 season of the IPL hits off on 23rd of March, and will see all eight teams play each other once before the finals begin on the 7th of May. The 2019 Indian Premier League Final will take place on the 12th of May.
After the Chennai Super Kings took out the tournament last year, all eight teams are extremely tightly matched in 2019, with a relatively small difference between even the most favoured team – Sunrisers Hyderabad – and the least – Kings XI Punjab. With just a couple of days to go until the tournament kicks off, lets take a look at how each and every side is shaping up heading in.
Chennai Super Kings
The Super Kings have held onto a majority of the squad that earned them to win their third title last year, and unsurprisingly are one of the favourites heading into this year's event. Led by Mahendra Singh Dhoni, CSK has a core group of experienced players including Jadhav, Rayudu, Raina and of course Dhoni, as well as the likes of internationals Faf du Plessis, Shane Watson and Dwayne Bravo. Their batting is certainly a strength, though if all-rounders Watson, Bravo and Raina can contribute meaningfully with the ball then it's difficult to spot a weakness. Expect another top 4 finish and a deep finals run from the Super Kings.
The renamed Delhi Capitals are coming off a frustrating 2018 campaign which saw them finish the year in eighth place on the table. As a result, they made a couple of significant changes to their 2019 team, and will hoping it leads to reversed fortunes. The addition of Shikhar Dhawan gives them a dangerous top order, with Colin Munro and Prithvi Shaw joining him there, though it took them giving up three players to earn his signature. Axar Patel will join the team after they signed him to an expensive deal, and he will play a vital role with both bat and ball. They appear slightly better placed than last year, but it seems unlikely that they'll be able to improve significantly enough to make a finals appearance.
Kings XI Punjab
Another team coming off a disappointing 2018 campaign, Kings XI Punjab head into this season having lost seven of their last eight games last year. Mystery spinner Varun Chakravarthy was an expensive purchase, and how he fares could be key to their ability to climb up the table. They also brought in local batsman Prabhmisan Singh as well as Mandeep Singh. The explosive but inconsistent Chris Gayle heads their batting lineup, while with the ball they have the potential to be dangerous, boasting the likes of Ravi Ashwin (their captain), Englishman Sam Curran and Mujeeb ur Rahman (both of whom impressed in the most recent BBL), and Mohammad Shami. They have some depth in their squad, but their proclivity for inconsistency and a lack of stars means they find themselves in last in the IPL betting odds.
Kolkata Knight Riders
Last year's semi-finalists, KKR have a whole lot of talent at their disposal. Kuldeep Yadav and Sunil Narine give them probably the best spin bowling duo in the league, and if the two of them can fire then the Knight Riders will be difficult to put up a score against. In terms of pace, they have rid themselves of Australian left-arm duo Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson, replacing them with lightning quick Anrich Nortje from South Africa and New Zealand's Lockie Ferguson. From a batting perspective, they have plenty of firepower, with Australia's Chris Lynn, Englishman Joe Denly, and West Indian Andre Russell all capable of putting runs on the board in rapid fashion. They are certainly capable of challenging, but will need everything to go right to claim their third title.
After a slow start to IPL 11, the Mumbai Indians came back strongly in the second half of the 2018 season but ultimately fell a game short of the finals. Much of that team has been brought back for this season, with the main changes being the addition of Quinton de Kock as well as Lasith Malinga and Yuvraj Singh. Hardik Pandya has had a controversial year off the field but will play a vital role on it throughout the season, while the enigmatic and incredibly talented Rohit Sharma and fellow big hitters Kieron Pollard and Yuvraj have the capacity to make their batting order one of the most imposing in the league. They should improve enough to make the finals this season, but they will need to get into gear earlier than they did in 2018.
The Royals snuck into the playoffs last year after winning four of their last five regular season games, but were ultimately upended by KKR in reasonably comfortable fashion. This year, their squad is packed with talent, but they will potentially face the hurdle of a number of their key players leaving partway through the tournament. Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and potentially Jofra Archer may all be required to leave for international duty, a loss which may be difficult to overcome. They do have plenty of other talent though – Steve Smith, if healthy, will play a huge role with the bat, while the prodigiously talented Jaydev Unadkat will lead their bowling attack. They have enough talent to cause ripples in the tournament, but the likely loss of key players will surely have an impact.
Royal Challengers Bangalore
RCB finished in sixth place last season, failing to make the finals by a solitary game. Always boasting plenty of star names, they have never been able to win a title, but with arguably the two best short form batsmen in the history of the game in Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers set to suit up again, it would be a brave person who would bet against them challenging. Adding further to their domineering batting lineup is the addition of Shimron Hetmyer from the West Indies, Indian Shivam Dube, as well as Marcus Stoinis and Colin de Grandhomme. Their bowling lineup is solid enough as well, but its their batting which has the capability to do the most damage, and if a number of the aforementioned players can fire in the tournament, RCB will be capable of putting up some seriously big scores.
Last years top-placed finishers after the regular season and ultimate tournament runners-up, Sunrisers Hyderabad appear the team to beat in 2019, if there is one. Their bowling unit is probably the best in the league, led by Afghanistan superstar and probably the world's best T20 bowler in Rashid Khan and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and the support of Australia's Billy Stanlake, Khaleel Ahmed, and spinners Shakib al Hasan and Mohammad Nabi. Their batting lineup is a well balanced one – the opening partnership of Martin Guptill and David Warner is a destructive one and could get them started on the way to some monumental totals, while Kane Williamson offers a steady hand at first drop. Jonny Bairstow – new to the team this year – as well as Manish Pandey, Deepak Hooda and Yusuf Pathan give them plenty of depth in the middle order, making it difficult to find a weakness in what is a very well-rounded squad. Expect them to be there or thereabouts once again in 2019.
With the IPL just days away, it's time to get excited. All eight teams could make a case for a finals appearance, if not a title, meaning IPL 12 shapes up as one of the most enthralling yet. With games virtually every night for almost two months, it's set to be a great few weeks of T20 cricket.