2pts Royal Challengers Bangalore to win the IPL at 6/1 (General)
2pts Royal Challengers Bangalore to reach the IPL Final at 5/2 (General)
2pts Rajasthan Royals to finish bottom of the IPL League Table at 9/2 (Sporting Index)
‘There are three certainties in life: Death, taxes and Montgomery's Arch at Folkestone.’ I was in Newmarket that day – July 8, 2004 – for the July Cup when ‘word’ came through that Peter Chapple-Hyam had made said remark on the Limekilns earlier in the morning having been asked if he had a winner for the gallops watchers. The newcomer duly did the business and ended the season by finishing third in the Dewhurst. Smart two-year-old. Even better trainer.
Many years on and Chapple-Hyam is still training racehorses, though not with the same relentless success of old, and he remains a passionate cricket fan; an avid T20 watcher by all accounts.
Like every other cricket fan across the globe, he is sure to spend the next couple of months absorbed and transfixed by the Indian Premier League that gets under way on Friday. Good intentions might have you committing to catch the odd match – or the first innings which is usually scheduled to run from 1500 to 1700 before breaking off to cook that dinner you had promised would be on the table by five. My wife learned a long time ago that good intentions and cricket rarely work out.
That’s the thing with T20 cricket, and the IPL in particular; it is pure entertainment and has this way of drawing you in and keeping you hooked for the duration. Even when the delayed 2020 IPL was played behind closed doors in Dubai between September and early November, I barely missed a ball.
It will no doubt be exactly the same when the competition returns to India in a few days’ time and having spent the last few weeks contemplating my betting strategy, this preview and the chances of defending champions, Mumbai Indians, I haven’t been able to get Chapple-Hyam’s line out of my head: ‘There are three certainties in life: Death, taxes and Mumbai Indians winning the IPL’.
Not only are Mumbai reigning champions having won last year’s renewal at a common canter – the racing analogies will stop soon, I promise – they have now claimed three of the last four IPL titles having moulded up a fearsome squad built around rich home-grown talent, X-factor overseas recruits and a very fine captain in Rohit Sharma.
There really are no weak spots in their side, particularly the batting: power and class provided at the top by Quinton de Kock and Sharma, skill and youthful exuberance with Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav, before Hardik Pandya and Kieron Pollard add the finishing touches.
With Trent Boult entrusted to make early inroads with the new ball, Jasprit Bumrah delivering pinpoint yorkers at the death, and more pace from Nathan Coulter-Nile and Adam Milne, the bowling is strong, too. The one area of minor concern would be the spin facet of the attack, but Krunal Pandya is a reliable operator while auction buy Piyush Chawla has always been a genuine wicket-taker who earns extra brownie points for once making Kevin Pietersen look silly.
What Mumbai have always done well is peak for the big matches – winning five IPL titles shows that – and having cruised through the regular season last term, they were utterly dominant in routing Delhi Capitals in the Qualifier and then again in the Final. While their squad depth and wonderful balance has continually set them apart from the chasing pack, we shouldn’t underestimate that priceless ability to handle, even peak, for the big occasion and many observers are right to ask whether this is the best T20 team in the world. In a word, yes, Mumbai Indians are the best T20 side on the planet right now and for those wanting to back them to once again confirm their superiority, it’s hard to make too much of a counter-argument.
Still, it is my job to try and with 11/4 the best you’ll get at the time of writing, I just have to look elsewhere in a tournament packed with big-name performers and expensive squads brimming with potential.
Up until a few days ago, Sunrisers Hyderabad had been my intended bet against the favourites at 7/1, with the prospect of new signing Mujeeb Ur Rahman linking up with a fit-again Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Rashid Khan in a truly top-class bowling attack.
I still think that bowling line-up will win Sunrisers plenty of matches, but perversely, I wonder if last week’s news that Jason Roy has been added to their squad as a replacement for Mitchell Marsh will prove to be a negative.
Roy is a terrific opening batsman who will be desperate to use this time to hone his skills in Indian conditions ahead of the T20 World Cup later in the year, but with Captain David Warner taking up one of the four overseas slots, the Englishman will find himself competing with Jonny Bairstow and Kane Williamson for a top-order berth.
Unless Mujeeb misses out – which would be a huge call – the competition for one of those overseas batting slots will be fierce, and perhaps not conducive to players having the confidence and surety in their own position within the side to play with the destructive freedom that suits Roy and Bairstow, in particular, so well.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised were Warner himself to come under pressure for his place in the starting XI at some stage and having been unimpressed with his leadership on occasions last term, I would argue that axing him and allowing Williamson to take over the captaincy reins might actually make Sunrisers a better team.
For now, I don’t see that playing out, just the potential for plenty of chopping and changing in selection of overseas players, and I fear that not even this brilliant bowling attack will be able to pick up the pieces in such circumstances.
As was the case last season, Sunrisers might just fall short again, similarly 2020 runners-up Delhi Capitals who have made great strides in the last few years under the tutelage of coach Ricky Ponting with a strong core of Indian players and a South African led pace attack making this a formidable outfit.
Having finished third in 2019 and second last year, you’d have to think the Capitals will prove big players again, but the issue for prospective bettors is that they will no longer go under the radar with outright quotes ranging from 5/1 to 4/1 hardly inviting.
Furthermore, while the injury to Shreyas Iyer not only leaves the Capitals shorn of their Captain and one of their best batsman, it also increases the pressure and expectation on his replacement, Rishabh Pant. There is little doubting that the move is an exciting one, but there is no guarantee that it will allow Pant to continue to play in his fearless way while Iyer’s absence might mean any possible plans to make Marcus Stoinis a permanent fixture in the opening batting slot will have to be shelved to ensure the middle order isn’t left light.
As with Sunrisers, an excellent crop of bowlers featuring the likes of Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje and Ravichandran Ashwin will always be dangerous, but there has to be reservations about the batting and I’m just not sure their current price takes that into account.
Without doubt, the hardest side to weigh up are Kolkata Knight Riders; only fifth in the League Table last season but very much a work in progress after Eoin Morgan took over the captaincy halfway through the campaign.
Morgan, Andre Russell, Pat Cummins and Sunil Narine in their ranks means the KKR overseas contingent is very strong, but with Lockie Ferguson impressive last term and Shakib Al Hasan back in the fold following his suspension, quite how they find the right balance in selection remains to be seen.
Russell was a huge flop last term, while suspicion is growing that constant remodelling of Narine’s action has rounded his edge, but it is hard to see Morgan and coach Brendon McCullum abandoning two, or even one, of these KKR legends without giving them a long run, and there is a danger that their ship might have sailed by then.
Russell, of course, is such a dynamic and dangerous operator with bat and ball that he could easily power KKR to a strong title challenge, but he is hard to catch right while Narine doesn’t offer the same all-round package that Shakib will. Whichever way selection goes with that one, Morgan will be banking on spin in the middle overs and Kuldeep Yadav’s loss of form and recent mauling at the hands of England would have to be another concern.
Nevertheless, with the excellent Nitish Rana, Morgan, Dinish Karthik and Russell in the top six, the potential for big scores is clearly there and while they might not prove the easiest to predict, KKR could take down the best on any given occasion. With such a batting line-up, backing the extremities with KKR’s run line on a match by match basis might well interest some.
That isn’t enough to suggest that a genuine KKR title bid will be in the offing, though, for all they have the potential to dash some hopes along the way, and at 8/1, I’m happy to enjoy the entertainment they promise to provide without having them in my book.
Instead, I’ve finally come down on the side of ROYAL CHALLENGERS BANGALORE who have yet to win the IPL having finished runners-up in 2009, 2011 and 2016 despite consistently boasting more big-name stars than most.
As is so often the case in these competitions, those names haven’t delivered the results expected of them, but with the penny finally appearing to have dropped for Captain Virat Kohli and his paymasters, this RCB squad might just have the right formula to finally make this their year.
Last season, Aaron Finch was the latest in a long line of disappointing top-order signings to flop, but his release and Kohli’s decision to open the batting this time around promises great things, particularly given his form in that position in the recent T20 series against England.
That move should offer more solidity at the top of the order, but it is the signings of Glenn Maxwell, Dan Christian and Daniel Sams that could have the biggest impact on the side. Don’t expect all three of those all-rounders to play together too often, but two of the trio should, and their ability to clear the ropes late in the innings and act as the ‘finisher’ should free AB de Villiers to bat higher up the order.
The failings of the top order in recent years, invariably by someone taking up an overseas slot, has left de Villiers needing to play that ‘finisher’ role, something he can do as well, if not better, than any of his peers. The problem with that strategy has been that de Villiers has often been held back to ensure he is preserved for the final push, opposed to getting in early and facing as many balls as possible. When you’re talking about arguably the best multi-form batsman in the history of the game, you can’t help but feel that has been a waste of his unparalleled talents.
This season’s squad, armed with those three powerful all-rounders who specialise in making hay late in the piece, should allow de Villiers to bat at a different tempo than in recent years – playing with less risk and controlling the middle overs – which will surely benefit him and allow RCB to post big scores more consistently.
Unlike in previous seasons, the Indian influence in the RCB bowling ranks is strong, too, with Mohammed Siraj and Navdeep Saini already impressing at international level and Yuzvendra Chahal and Washington Sundar two spinners who have done such good work for RCB in this competition already.
That attack, aided by a wily character like Christian, or Sams’ left-arm angle and variations, means Kohli has class and power in his batting, exciting home-grown talent and overseas experience with the ball, and genuine balance throughout. A rare treat for a captain who has too often in the past been hamstrung by weak bowling stocks.
With big-money capture Kyle Jamieson also in the mix, the options at Kohli’s fingertips are vast and though his own captaincy style continues to divide opinion, it is worth remembering the great heights he has taken Indian cricket to in recent years, and the manner in which he has continually backed his players through rain and shine has to be admired.
This year, for the first time, RCB appear to have most bases covered and the recruitment of Christian, especially, could prove a masterstroke given his enviable record in T20 franchise cricket that has seen him win the T20 Blast and Big Bash in the last 12 months alone.
Maxwell’s addition offers something quite different to Christian; an enigma who won’t always deliver. Still, he is a match-winner on his day and in this line-up he will have license to play his way and on his terms. Under such conditions, anything is possible from Maxwell and he might just prove that final piece in the RCB jigsaw.
With the case made for RCB to enjoy a strong season, and holes made in arguments for many of their rivals – Mumbai apart – 6/1 about Kohli’s strong squad finally breaking their IPL duck is recommended, with stakes split on them reaching the final at 5/2.
Of those sides with holes in the armoury, Rajasthan Royals have to be top of the list given their attack struggled so badly last term and must now manage without spearhead Jofra Archer for the early part of this campaign at least. I have some doubts about whether Archer will make the trip to India at all – with his troublesome elbow sure to have England’s management on tenterhooks – while the conundrum about who opens between Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes remains. KKR captain, Morgan, last week suggested that both would open, but that would leave the Royals’ middle order low on quality and experience and I can’t see that as a long-term fix. Look out for Manan Vohra instead; a fine talent who ought to get a good run in the team this season.
More about him in my specials preview that goes live on Tuesday, but the bowling really worries me – even with Chris Morris’ signing - and 9/2 for the Royals to finish bottom for a second season in a row is too big to ignore when considering the smart business Punjab Kings did at this year’s action.
KL Rahul can be expected to lead from the front again for the Kings, with Dawid Malan and Moises Henriques shrewd captures, and Chris Gayle and Nicholas Pooran also on the books. Fitting all those overseas stars into a starting XI won’t be easy, especially with Australian pace duo Jhye Richardson and Riley Meredith also fighting for a spot, but this is a very strong squad, nonetheless, and 11/4 for them to finish bottom is plain wrong.
I think the Kings will pack a punch this year, so too three-time IPL winners Chennai Super Kings who might not be the force of old, but will be boosted by the return of Suresh Raina and have a classy young batsman in Ruturaj Gaikwad at the top of their line-up.
Another poor campaign could well signal the end of the road for skipper MS Dhoni, but I suspect the Super Kings will be competitive this time around, though it might be the man who replaced him as captain of India who is lifting the winners’ trophy aloft on May 30.
Royal Challengers Bangalore, so often overhyped, overbet and lacking balance or any sort of direction, now stand as the biggest threat to the mighty Mumbai Indians and with genuine claims of proving that line I have been unable to clear from my mind emphatically wrong.
‘There are three certainties in life: Death, taxes and Mumbai Indians winning the IPL’. Not this time, not this year, not if Virat Kohli and his terrific squad of Indian and overseas internationals can finally put it all together.
Posted at 0700 BST on 05/04/21
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