Cricket expert Richard Mann previews this year's edition of the Indian Premier League which gets under way on Saturday.
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It’s back. The razzmatazz. The glamour. The bold colours. The big crowds. The noise. The thrilling cricket. The Indian Premier League.
IPL 2018 gets under way with its traditional curtain raiser on Saturday as current champions Mumbai Indians host Chennai Super Kings.
Mumbai can be backed at 9/2 to retain their crown and lift the trophy for the fourth time in six years and given they have assembled another strong squad this time around, they can be expected to make their mark once more with so much big-match experience again expected to prove a valuable asset.
I have my doubts about the Mumbai top order, however, with a big burden likely to fall on the shoulders of star batsman and captain Rohit Sharma.
Kolkata Knight Riders are another to have enjoyed rich success in this tournament over the years but the loss of Shakib Al Hasan and former captain Gautam Gambhir could be huge.
Both were huge parts of the KKR story and like Mumbai, they could find themselves heavily reliant on one big-name batsman, Australian powerhouse Chris Lynn.
Should Lynn stay fit, he could well dominate the tournament and provide enough runs for the likes of Sunil Narine and Kuldeep Yadav to defend but Mitchell Starc’s absence leaves a gaping hole in the seam-bowling department.
Sunrisers Hyderabad are one of the other big successes of the IPL and the 2016 winners boast an excellent bowling attack that contains the brilliant Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Afghanistan wrist-spinner Rashid Khan.
They are always a tough nut to crack, especially when bowling second, but David Warner’s absence following the recent ball-tampering scandal will have no doubt disrupted their preparations and his replacement as captain, Kane Williamson, and new signing Shakib, will both need to hit the ground running.
Nevertheless, they are strong contenders at around 13/2, though at the 10/1 mark, I prefer the chances of Dehli Daredevils.
Since making the Playoffs in 2012, Dehli have struggled to make an impact in the IPL but despite losing a number of key players at the beginning of the 2017 edition, Dehli’s younger players blossomed in the latter stages of the tournament and managed to finish the season with six wins.
New Zealand left-arm quick Trent Boult has been drafted in to give Dehli more bite with the new ball while Colin Munro joins his fellow countryman following some explosive displays at the top of the order for his national side.
Glenn Maxwell is another big-name purchase who will have Dehli supporters smiling with excitement and it will be fascinating to see him bat in the middle order alongside exciting young talents Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant.
The likes of Dan Christian and Jason Roy provide further depth to the overseas stocks but, as has proven so important in this competition over the years, Dehli have a strong contingent of home-grown players to build a team around and Momammed Shami and Amit Mishra are proven international crickets who should help form the basis of a formidable bowling attack.
While much has been made of Dehli’s excellent work at the auction, arguably the best move they have made is to bring in Gautam Gambhir as captain and Ricky Ponting as coach.
Gambhir was the driving force at Kolkata Knight Riders during their glory years and he lifted the trophy as captain in 2012 and 2014.
A classy opening batsman, he can be expected to score his fair share of runs and his calming presence at the top of the order should allow the likes of Munro and Maxwell – two of the most explosive and dangerous batsmen on the T20 circuit - to play their natural games around him.
Gambhir has proven himself to be a fine leader and excellent tactician while Ponting’s appointment as coach could be a masterstroke.
The Australian knows the IPL well having overseen Mumbai Indians’ title success in 2015 when head coach.
Ponting now finds himself as one of the favourites to replace Darren Lehhman as coach of Australia, with his previous work with the T20 national side said to have impressed players and officials alike.
A born winner, Ponting led arguably the greatest team in the history of the game when Australia dominated ODI and Test cricket for much of the 2000’s and his relationship with Gambhir promises great things for the Daredevils.
At 10/1, I simply can’t resist Dehli.
An IPL preview can’t pass by without a mention of Royal Challengers Bangalore, perennial underachievers but a side packed with talent.
Virat Kohli has led a desperately unbalanced squad in recent years but clear steps have been taken to address that this season; Chris Gayle has departed, making way for Brendon McCullum and Quinton de Kock, while Chris Woakes will compliment a potent spin attack.
With that in mind, don’t be surprised if RCB contend, but given their recent history, I’m happy to leave them alone at 4/1.
A bet making much more appeal is Kings XI Punjab to finish bottom at 10/3.
Kings XI have lost their way since reaching the final of the 2014 edition and the revolving door has been in full working order again, Gayle and Yuvraj Singh arriving with big reputations but little in the way of recent IPL success.
Aaron Finch remains vulnerable against spin while Lokesh Rahul might be forced to don the gloves behind the wicket.
Ravichandran Ashwin is one of a number of slow fielders in the Kings XI squad – a big no, no in modern-day T20 cricket – and the unproven captain finds himself leading a bowling attack that has quality but not a great deal in the way of depth.
Should Kings XI start badly, a real possibility given that Ashwin might struggle to initially find his best team from such an unbalanced squad, the wheels could easily come off and 10/3 about them finishing bottom looks well worth taking.
Posted at 1000 BST on 05/04/18.