The 2021 Indian Premier League resumes in Dubai on Sunday – Richard Mann brings you the latest news from every franchise, squad guides and betting updates.
The 2021 Indian Premier League will finally come to a conclusion in Dubai next month, over five months after the competition was brought to a halt in India due to the coronavirus pandemic. Thankfully for players and punters alike, there will be some familiarity to things given the 2020 edition of the IPL was staged on these very shores last autumn.
Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings – the two most successful franchises in the history of the IPL – will kick things off on Sunday (1500 BST) at Dubai International Cricket Stadium, probably the most demanding surface for batting of the three venues to be used for the remainder of the tournament.
Having dominated from start to finish when winning their fifth IPL title here last year, Mumbai will once again be top of many people’s lists, despite an indifferent start to this campaign which saw them lose three times from seven matches and struggle to find their brilliant best with the bat. They are still firmly in the mix to make the latter stages, however, and with captain Rohit Sharma fit and firing again on the recent tour of England, his side merit the utmost respect.
Old foes CSK promise to provide a stern challenge this weekend and beyond, though, and they are the right favourites at present. MS Dhoni’s outfit sit second in the table following five blistering wins which has also allowed them to build a very healthy net run-rate. Their success owes much to a fine batting line-up that is headed by Faf du Plessis at the top of the order, followed by the likes of Moeen Ali, Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja. Throw Sam Currant into the mix, too, and there is considerable depth, similarly in the bowling which is well suited to spinning pitches but has pace in its ranks if required. With Dhoni marshalling his troops with his vast experience and wonderful cricket brain, CSK look the team to beat.
CSK and Delhi Capitals are currently vying for favouritism and the return to full fitness of Shreyas Iyer is a big boost to the latter whose batting line-up already features Shikhar Dhawan and Rishabh Pant. Coach Ricky Ponting has done a terrific job at turning around the fortunes of this once struggling franchise, and the bowling attack sits on a par with the batting thanks to the likes of Ravi Ashwin and Kagiso Rabada.
Negatives? Well, Ponting's insistence on selecting Steve Smith at number three could come back to bite him. Smith is striking at 111.82 so far this season and that won’t do if the Capitals come up against a Mumbai or CSK in the latter stages. Mumbai, remember, hammered them in last year’s final.
My pre-tournament outright selection was Royal Challengers Bangalore and five wins from seven games marks them down at genuine title contenders. The bowling appears more robust than in previous years, and the fact they have come out on the right side of a couple of close contests bodes well. However, injury to Washington Sundar and Adam Zampa’s decision not to return for the second half of the tournament hurts them, and much will again depend on the batting of AB de Villiers and Glenn Maxwell. At their best, they are certainly big runners, and they will be desperate to finish in the top two to ensure two bites of the cherry to qualify for the final.
In truth, the rest look up against it with Adil Rashid’s signing for Punjab Kings not expected to be enough to turn their season around. One of their issues is that as good KL Rahul is, he is striking at 136.21 this season, Chris Gayle 133.83. Both are fine players, but it often leaves Nicholas Pooran with too much to do later in the innings to power the Kings to winnable scores.
I can’t have them, nor Sunrisers Hyderabad who have been my side over the years but have shot themselves in the foot with bad recruitment and their continued backing of David Warner as captain and batsman. Warner got the message and dropped himself earlier in the campaign – allowing Kane Williamson to take over as skipper - but Jonny Bairstow’s absence will mean the Australian is likely to return to the XI, and that is not good news. Bairstow was striking at 141.71 before the postponement, Warner 110.28. In a side that already lacks a finisher and features Williamson in an anchor-type role, big scores could be hard to come by.
I fancied Rajasthan Royals to finish bottom back in the spring, so three wins from seven matches has already left me surprised, but Jos Buttler won’t be returning and I remain convinced they are a weak outfit. They shouldn’t finish bottom now – not if Liam Livingstone gets plenty of game time – but I’m not convinced by them yet, similarly Kolkata Knight Riders who have been awful for a while now and will be missing pace spearhead Pat Cummins.
Not only did Cummins lead the attack well, his batting helped balance a side that is housing too many big-name, overseas players and not enough reliable Indian performers. Eoin Morgan’s struggles with the bat haven’t helped their cause, either, and he needs to find some form before the T20 World Cup.
Business as usual for CSK who have been largely unaffected by the postponement. Moeen, Curran, Josh Hazlewood and du Plessis all return, as does Imran Tahir who enjoyed a good time of it in The Hundred and could feature more if the wickets in the UAE take spin. Du Plessis has picked up a groin injury in the Caribbean Premier League, so he might not make an immediate return.
One to watch: Ruturaj Gaikwad
A class act who shot to prominence in the 2020 IPL. Despite enduring a rocky start this year, Gaikwad has formed a formidable opening partnership with du Plessis and international honours should be on his radar.
Like CSK, a strong base of Indian squad members means the Capitals haven’t been hit by the recent exodus of overseas players, and the return to fitness of the aforementioned Iyer helps beef up the middle order.
One to watch: Shikhar Dhawan
Despite making a blistering start to IPL 2021 – currently topping the runs charts with 380 runs – Dhawan was a surprise omission from India’s T20 World Cup squad that was announced last week. The imposing opening batsman will have a point to prove now.
Where to start? Cummins’ decision to stay at home not only deprives KKR of their pace spearhead, it means an already unbalanced side is missing one of its better middle to lower order batsmen. Quite when Andre Russell and Sunil Narine will be available following the CPL is another unknown, and the signing of Tim Southee hardly gets the pulse racing.
One to watch: Shakib Al Hasan
Three matches so far this season didn’t really show Shakib in a great light, but this is a KKR legend whose left-arm spin can operate in and out of the powerplay, while his batting warrants a long run in the top four. If he gets the opportunity, he can prove a better bet than Russell and Narine.
The only significant call Mumbai might have to make is whether to afford more opportunities to Marco Jansen, or replace him with Adam Milne who was one of the stars of The Hundred. Mumbai have identified Jansen as a long-term project, so the tall paceman can expect further opportunities.
One to watch: Hardik Pandya
Injuries have meant the last 18 months have been challenging for Pandya; an exciting all-rounder whose destructive batting shouldn’t overshadow his sharp, outswing bowling that has already delivered him a five-wicket haul in Test cricket. Said to be fully fit again, how much bowling he will be allowed to do before the T20 World Cup remains to be seen, but his batting alone helped drive Mumbai to title glory last season.
One of the franchises really affected by the break, with Jhye Richardson, Riley Meredith and Dawid Malan all opting out. Malan didn’t feature much back in the spring, but Richardson and Meredith were both disappointing with the ball and Rashid has to be an improvement.
One to watch: Mayank Agarwal
For all the hype around Rahul and Gayle, Agarwal has 260 runs to his name already this term at a better strike-rate (141.30) than either of his more acclaimed batting colleagues. Having ended the first half of the season with an unbeaten 99 against the Capitals, he’ll be chomping at the bit to get back in the groove.
Out go Buttler, Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer, though injuries mean Buttler is the only real loss from the side that turned out for much of the first half of the season. With the capture of Glenn Philips and Evin Lewis, the recruitment team deserve a big tick, while Tabraiz Shamsi is an excellent addition to the spin bowling ranks. Good business all round, for all the core of the side remains shaky
One to watch: Liam Livingstone
Four appearances in 2019 is the sum of Livingstone’s IPL experience, but with Buttler and Stokes out of the picture for now, at least, his chance will surely come in the next few weeks. Livingstone enjoyed a memorable summer both in The Hundred and in England colours; his maiden T20I century against Pakistan at Trent Bridge in July catapulting him to stardom. The best might still be to come.
Not good news for RCB fans with Zampa, Kane Richardson and Daniel Sams all deciding against returning for the second half of the campaign. Zampa’s absence robs Virat Kohli of a second high-class leg spinner to partner Yuzvendra Chahal, but perhaps Sams’ absence will be more keenly felt given his muscular batting and brilliant death bowling makes him a two-in-one cricketer. Tim David and Wanindu Hasaranga are good signings, but much rests on the shoulders of Kohli and de Villiers.
One to watch: Dan Christian
For all his success in T20 cricket around the world, Dan Christian has yet to really nail the IPL. His move to RCB this year was deigned to add more steel and that winning mentality to a previously flaky outfit, and though his first three appearances were disappointing, he might find himself with a bigger role to play now. All-rounders are like gold dust in this form of the game, and RCB need Christian to come good.
As already mentioned, Bairstow promises to be a big miss if Warner can’t quickly recapture the form of past glories. Elsewhere, the Sunrisers haven’t been hit too badly by absences, but the chance to bring in reinforcements might have been welcome.
One to watch: Rashid Khan
Given the current situation in his homeland, Afghanistan wrist spinner Khan would be forgiven if his mind was elsewhere. Nevertheless, only last month did he power Sussex into Finals Day of the Vitality Blast, and he will be Sunrisers’ key weapon once more. So often averse to bowling in the powerplay, he was forced to step out of his comfort zone on a couple of occasions earlier in the season and his 10 wickets still came at a staggeringly low economy rate of 6.14.
CSK and Mumbai appeal as the two standout sides in the competition, with CSK’s powerhouse middle order and Mumbai's outstanding bowling attack sure to take both a long way.
The issue for Mumbai, in particular, is that defeat to CSK on Sunday would leave them up against to finish first or second in the league table and thus earn two chances of qualifying for the final. CSK have a little more leg room, with 10 points already in the bank.
The same point applies to the Capitals and RCB, and of the four leading protagonists, Kohli’s side might represent the best value at 5/1, for all their bench strength isn’t of the same quality available elsewhere.
The market is struggling to split CSK, Mumbai and the Capitals, with the former having the experience and quality to be my preference, and their bowling becomes very formidable if the surfaces begin to slow and take more spin.
Whether that comes to pass with the rest tournament only scheduled to last a month remains to be seen, but as was proven to be the case last season, Sharjah is a brilliant place to bat and score quickly. If you’re wanting to bet big runs and play the overs lines, early on and at Sharjah is advice.
My own specials bets aren’t currently looking too healthy, but Gaikwad getting up to beat du Plessis for top CSK tournament batsman would cover the overall outlay and then some. Don’t rush back from injury Faf, we’ve got this covered.
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