The Indian Premier League returns on Saturday and Richard Mann is hoping some old favourites can be relied upon once again.
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It's back. The Indian Premier League. With all its glitz and glamour, bright lights, big money, international stars and high-class T20 cricket.
Whether you're a lover or hater of the IPL, there is no denying that this is a competition that continues to attract the best T20 cricketers in the world to a now iconic tournament that is helping shape the international game.
You only have to look at the case of Jos Buttler, a surprise selection for England's Test team last summer on the back of a strong IPL season and now a key member of Joe Root's side and likely vice captain for the forthcoming Ashes.
Back in the early days of the IPL, it was Shane Warne - then captain of the Rajasthan Royals - who liked the look of a wiry, young, unknown all-rounder called Ravindra Jadeja and duly nicknamed him 'the rock star.'
For Jadeja, the rest is history, similarly the likes of Yuzvendra Chahal and Shane Watson who have used the IPL as a springboard for success in international cricket.
The build-up to this year's edition has been marred by disagreements over television rights and the unusual situation of having the upcoming Cricket World Cup looming large over both the international and Indian stars.
Nevertheless, the cricket promises to follow a tried and tested path with the likes of Chennai Super Kings and Sunrisers Hyderabad expected to come to the fore once again.
Shane Watson inspired the Super Kings to title glory last year, one which came at the expense of the Sunrisers, and MS Dhoni's men have now been crowned IPL champions on three separate occasions.
Consistency in selection and at the auction are fundamental reasons why they have been so successful in this competition while Dhoni and coach Stephen Fleming have been ever-present throughout this period.
An ageing squad with limitations in the field wasn't enough of a handicap to hold the Super Kings back last year and with stalwarts Watson, Dwayne Bravo and Suresh Raina returning for another season in good shape, they will surely be involved in the latter stages of the competition again.
However, to my mind, old foes the Sunrisers look the better equipped outfit this year and are nominated as the headline bet at 9/2.
The Sunrisers, too, are building an impressive IPL CV having lifted the trophy in 2016 and they enjoyed another strong tournament to finish runners-up last year.
David Warner's absence, having been banned close to start of the competition following the ball-tampering scandal, was a major disruption to their preparation with Kane Williamson forced to take over the captaincy at the last minute.
Nevertheless, the Sunrisers still topped the 2018 league table despite suffering an alarming and ultimately decisive loss of form towards the end of the competition, including meeting defeat in each of their last three league games.
Along with Warner's absence - Alex Hales made little impact as his replacement - the Sunrisers were dealt another huge blow with key bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar missing large periods of the competition through injury.
Kumar has been one of the pillars of the Sunrisers' excellent bowling over the past few years, his ability to swing the new ball up front and execute his yorkers at the death making him one of the most respected white-ball operators in the game, and he finished the 2017 campaign as the leading wicket-taker in the competition with 26 scalps.
With leg-spinner Rashid Khan - widely regarded as the best T20 bowler on the planet - joining Kumar, Shakib Al Hasan and Siddarth Kaul in a bowling attack boasting experience, variety and a high level of skill, the Sunrisers should be able to keep up their reputation as the best 'defenders' in the competition.
Williamson, who topped the IPL run charts with 735 at 52.50 last year, will be pleased see Warner return to a bolster a batting line-up that welcomes Martin Guptill and Jonny Bairstow following the defection of Shikhar Dhawan.
Bairstow will probably be the odd one out as Williamson and coach Tom Moody look to squeeze four overseas players into 11 but the Englisman is a more than handy back-up.
Much like the aforementioned Super Kings, the Sunrisers have built their success on solid foundations. Moody has created a strong team ethic built around good culture and consistency of selection which has yielded impressive results.
As long as the returning Warner can find his touch quickly, and Kumar can stay clear of injury, the Sunrisers should have every base covered this time around.
For much of last season they looked the standout side in the competition until faltering late in the piece but their squad looks stronger this time around, boasting the depth needed for this marathon test, and I fully expect the boys in orange to mount a serious challenge.
Mumbai Indians, like the Super Kings, are three-time IPL winners and captain Rohit Sharma will be able to call upon a strong pace attack featuring Jasprit Bumrah and Lasith Malinga.
Rohit's recent comments suggesting he will return to the top of the order this year promises to pay dividends and despite Mumbai's frustrating habit of starting slowly, the Pandya brothers and the likes of Kieron Pollard means they will always take some stopping when finding their straps.
As ever, Kolkata Knight Riders were amongst the leading protagonists last season, finishing third in the league table before losing to the Sunrisers in Qualifier 2, and their battery of spin bowlers, featuring Sunil Narine and Kuldeep Yadav, will always prove a challenge to opposing batsmen.
Look out, too, for Englishman Harry Gurney, a big hit in the Big Bash recently and a death bowler who has the skills to prove one of the better buys from recent auction.
With Chris Lynn and Andre Russell providing the X-Factor, this Knight Riders squad ticks plenty of boxes and the 2014 winners certainly have the pedigree to go all the way again.
After the Sunrisers, there is a strong case for saying that the Knight Riders are the second best equipped squad in the competition and on the face of it, 6/1 looks fair enough.
Elsewhere, Chris Gayle's strong recent form for the West Indies would suggest that his opening partnership with the hugely talented KL Rahul will win plenty of games for the Kings XI Punjab but they look very reliant on that pair and, Andrew Tye apart, the bowling looks weak.
IPL 2019 will see a stronger English representation than in previous years and Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer and Jos Buttler will again represent Rajasthan Royals.
That trio will be key players for the Royals again but Steve Smith's return following the ball-tampering scandal is sure to attract most attention and it will be fascinating to see how he performs with the World Cup and Ashes now only months away.
Perennial underachievers Royal Challengers Bangalore will again be led by Virat Kohli but for all their squad houses big-name overseas stars such as AB de Villiers and Shimron Hetmyer, balance and a moderate bowling attack remains a big worry and I can't see them lifting the trophy.
The final word goes to Delhi Capitals - formerly Delhi Daredevils - who finished bottom in Ricky Ponting's first season as head coach last year but did display promise in winning five matches.
Ponting is a shrewd operator who was influential in Mumbai Indians' title-winning campaign in 2013 and is sure to make his mark on a young Delhi side housing rich Indian talents such as Rishabh Pant and Shreyas Iyer plus overseas names such as Kagiso Rabada and Trent Boult.
Dhawan's recent capture from the Sunrisers provides Delhi with a calm head and a proven runscorer at the top of the order and his signing was another smart piece of business from Ponting at this year's auction.
With a better balanced squad for the 2019 campaign, one with much more depth, and the experience of 12 months ago sure to have benefited the younger players within their ranks, Delhi could be a real dark horse this year.
Odds of 8/1 in the outright market suggest the bookmakers are taking no chances with them but Delhi must be respected, for all the Sunrisers still rate the team to beat.
Posted at 1240 GMT on 21/03/19