Cricket expert Richard Mann takes an in-depth look at this year's Indian Premier League and picks out the names who could make the headlines in the coming weeks.
Chennai Super Kings
Chennai return to the tournament this year and so do a number of familiar old faces. MS Dhoni will captain the side once more, ably supported by his trusted lieutenants Suresh Raina, Harbhajan Singh and Dwayne Bravo. Wrist-spinner Imran Tahir is an excellent addition with the ball but their batting will be heavily reliant on Raina and questions are starting to be asked of Dhoni and his ability to finish innings like he once could. Solid and sure to win their fair share, especially at home, but might just come up short.
Star Man: Dwayne Bravo
An excellent cricketer who plies his trade solely on the t20 circuit nowadays. A terrific death bowler whose clever use of slower balls will ensure he is one of Dhoni’s ‘death’ bankers. A dangerous batter who can score all around the ground and he might be given more responsibility in that sphere if Dhoni and co don’t fire early in the tournament. Brilliant fielder with a memorable celebration.
One to watch: Lungi Ngidi
Mark Wood looks likely to fill the overseas fast-bowling slot, just as Doug Bollinger did with so much success in the early years of the IPL. He will need to find top pace, though, and don’t be surprised if Lungi Ngidi proves the better buy. The South Africa has impressed since breaking into his national side, his sharp pace and bounce proving a real handful for India and Australia already this winter, and he looks a bowler of immense promise.
Despite spending plenty over the years, Dehli have become the whipping boys of the IPL. However, following a stuttering start, they finished IPL 2017 strongly and managed to end the season with six wins. With Ricky Ponting taking over as coach this time around, whisper it quietly but there is an air optimism about this year’s challenge. Gautam Gambhir switches from the highly successful Kolkata Knight Riders outfit to take over the captaincy so expect more solidity at the top of the order. Glenn Maxwell, Dan Christian and Trent Boult look an excellent bunch of signings and with enough home-grown talent to balance the side, Dehli could prove the surprise package with Ponting sure to have left no stone unturned in their preparation.
Star Man: Gautam Gambhir
Lots of attention is sure to surround a strong overseas contingent but Gambhir returns to Dehli with a fine IPL tradition having enjoyed tremendous success over the years with Kolkata Knight Riders. Gambhir lifted the winning trophy twice in his time with KKR, in 2012 and 2014, with the weight of his runs and fine captaincy crucial factors in both of those successful campaigns. As ever, he will look to provide the solid base for the more aggressive batters to play around and it will be fascinating to watch his leadership with so many top-class bowling options to choose from.
One to watch: Shreyas Iyer
Shreyas Iyer might not be a household name on these shores but his stock is beginning to rise in India. A stylish top-order batsman who likes to attack, Iyer is approaching 1,000 IPL runs now and enjoyed a breakthrough season last year, averaging a touch under 34. His season top score of 96 helped seal a shock win against the big-spending Gujarat Lions and confirmed his arrival on the big stage. National selectors were quick to take notice and he has made a strong start to his ODI career, making a couple of fifties from his six matches, including a classy 88 against Sri Lanka in December.
Kings XI Punjab
King XI’s most successful IPL came in 2014 when George Bailey’s side lost out in the final but they haven’t been able to match that level of performance since and Ravichandran Ashwin has been drafted in as captain to lead a squad that contains a few big names but might be slightly unbalanced. Batsmen Aaron Finch and Chris Gayle have the potential cause havoc but the latter was a late pick having been disgarded by Royal Challengers Bangalore and Ashwin will need the excellent Lokesh Rahul to fire. Karun Nair and Yuvraj Singh will have big roles to play but Ashwin, Axar Patel and AJ Tye apart, the bowling stocks look pretty threadbare.
Star Man: Axar Patel
Kings XI banked on batting depth in the auction but bowlers win matches in the IPL and Axar Patel will have a huge role to play. Patel’s IPL record is mighty impressive, his 89 wickets coming at an economy rate of only 7.03 and he has proven time and time again that he that he can handle the pressure of bowling in the powerplay. His batting is improving, too, and Punjab will need something special from him this season if they are to challenge.
One to watch: Mujeeb Ur Rahman
Kings XI have again invested heavily in their overseas talent but it will be fascinating to see if little-known Afghanistan bowler Mujeeb Ur Rahman can force his way into the side. Mujeeb was snapped up at the auction on the back of some impressive displays for his national side and his numbers in ODI cricket and T20Is certainly read well. A mystery spinner who can turn the ball both ways, he had far too many guns for Ireland when his 4-24 dismantled them in December and Kings XI bowling coach Venkatesh Prased spoke warmly about him at a recent PR event.
Kolkata Knight Riders
One of the most successful sides in the history of the IPL, Kolkata lifted the title in 2012 and 2014 when captained by Gautam Gambhir. Those sides were built around teamwork and a consistent playing squad where everyone knew and carried out their roles with military precision. Gambhir has gone now, as has Shakib Al Hasan, though Sunil Narine and Andre Russell still remain. The loss of box-office signing Mitchell Starc through injury will be felt but of more concern is the batting which will be heavily reliant on Australian powerhouse Chris Lynn. His troublesome shoulder is another worry for KKR supporters and they could come unstuck were he not to enjoy a strong season.
Star Man: Chris Lynn
When in full flight it is hard to imagine a more destructive T20 bastman on the planet than Chris Lynn. A star performer for Brisbane Heat in this form of the game, Lynn only managed seven games for Kolkata last year but made a big impact, averaging 49.16 at a strike-rate of 180.98, and his fitness will be key to his side’s chances. A strong player all around the ground, he doesn’t take long to warm up and can be particularly dangerous during the powerplay overs. He should be fit for Kolkata’s opening game against Royal Challengers Bangalore so expect plenty of fireworks.
One to watch: Nitish Rana
Lots of attention is sure to surround Chris Lynn but he will need support and Nitish Rana could be the man to provide just that. Rana is a punchy player who has established a strong first-class record already and he enjoyed a successful season in last year’s IPL when scoring 333 runs for eventual winners Mumbai Indians. Rana was snapped up by KKR following that breakthrough season and with Manish Pandey and Gautam Gambhir having departed this year, big things will be expected from their new purchase.
Last year’s winners and one of the powerhouse franchises of the IPL. Mumbai Indians can boast a rich IPL heritage having lifted the trophy three times in the last five years and have assembled another strong squad. Rohit Sharma has proved himself a tactically astute leader but his own batting will need plenty of support from the likes of Hardik Pandya, Kieron Pollard and Evin Lewis. The bowling is arguably stronger with Jasprit Bumrah one of the best death bowlers in the business and Pat Cummins and Mustafizur Rahman both excellent additions. With plenty of big-match experience to call upon, expect Mumbai to be knocking hard on the door again.
Star Man: Rohit Sharma
Rohit Sharma has proved a revelation since taking over the captaincy from Ricky Ponting halfway through the 2013 season. Mumbai went on to triumph that year and Rohit hasn’t looked back since, his supremely talented batting blossoming with the extra responsibility and his calm leadership allowing his young, talented side to grow. Whether it be at the top of the order or in the middle, Rohit remains the key batsman for Mumbai and can be expected to lead from the front again.
One to watch: Krunal Pandya
Hardik Pandya is one of the new poster-boys of Indian cricket but his brother, Krunal, is a cricketer of considerable potential and a hugely important piece of the Mumbai Indians jigsaw. A useful batsman who averages 36.92 in IPL cricket, Krunal is actually better known for his left-arm finger spin and he played a key role in the title success last year. Krunal took 10 wickets with a miserly economy rate of 6.82 and he looks set to enjoy another big tournament.
Rajasthan’s return to the competition has suffered a major disruption in the last few days following Steve Smith’s 12-month ban from cricket for his part in the ball-tampering scandal. Royals’ legend Ajinkya Rahane takes over the leadership and we have seen enough of his brief captaincy for India to know that might not be a bad move. Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and D’Arcy Short add further depth to an explosive batting line up but the bowling looks a little light with Dhawal Kulkarni and Jofra Archer sure to have plenty of responsibility placed on their shoulders.
Star Man: Ben Stokes
It has been a rollercoaster 12 months for Stokes, who justified his lofty price tag with an excellent debut IPL season for Rising Pune Supergiant last year. A magnificent, unbeaten 103 against Gujarat Lions was unquestionably the highlight of his campaign and Rajasthan will be expecting plenty from their big-money signing. Capable of touching speeds of 90mph with the ball, Stokes adds crucial balance to the side and his terrific fielding is a big help, too.
One to Watch: Jofra Archer
Archer might not have much of a reputation in India but those who saw him light up the Big Bash in Australia will know that he is a serious talent. Archer was one of the main reasons that Hobart Hurricanes were able to progress to the final of that competition and his 16 wickets and impressive economy were just rewards for his sharp pace and calmness under pressure. He could be the real deal.
Royal Challengers Bangalore
A changing of the guard at the perennial underachievers as Royal Challengers Bangalore legend Chris Gayle has been moved on with Brendon McCullum expected to take his place at the top of the order and the likes of Chris Woakes and Colin de Grandhomme expected to provide more balance from the overseas slots. Much will again depend on the batting of Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers but this RCB squad looks to be a better all-round one than in previous years and expectations will be high again.
Star Man: AB de Villiers
Not an easy choice given the riches in this squad but AB de Villiers is the key man in the batting line-up given his ability to bat up the order and play as a finisher when required. De Villiers boasts an incredible IPL record, one which has seen him make three centuries, and his average of 38.16 is remarkable given he has often found himself batting in the death overs. Given the quality of top-order players available to Kohli this year, AB might find himself saved for later in the innings again, a frightening prospect for opposition bowlers.
One to watch: Manan Vohra
The Royal Challengers Bangalore is a franchise famous for the array of stellar batsmen it has housed over the years. This season looks no different but the best bit of business they did in the auction might prove to the purchase of Manan Vohra from Kings XI Punjab. Vohra remains an unfulfilled talent but is a supremely gifted young player who has shown glimpses of what he is capable of over the last few seasons, including last year when making a classy 95 against a brilliant Sunrisers Hyderabad attack. With the guiding hand of new captain Virat Kohli to offer support this season, this might just be Vohra’s year.
Another side to have been badly affected by the recent ball-tampering scandal with captain David Warner now out of the tournament. His batting will be a huge loss to the 2016 winners but new skipper Kane Williamson will have an excellent bowling attack at his disposal with Bhuvneshwar Kumar one of most potent opening bowlers in IPL history and Rashid Khan’s leg-spin picking up 17 wickets last year. Khan enjoyed a fabulous Big Bash and should again form a potent spin attack with Siddarth Kaul while the in-form Shikhar Dhawan and new recruit Manish Pandey will give Williamson plenty of support with the bat. They might just be a little light in that department, though.
Star Man: Bhuvneshwar Kumar
It is hard to think of a more potent bowler than Bhuvneshwar Kumar in recent IPL history and his haul of 26 wickets earned him the purple cap last season. As good a new ball operator as there is in this form of the game - Bhuvneshwar can swing the ball both ways at decent pace – he has also become one of the best death bowlers around with his ability to land his yorkers at will giving the Sunrisers a massive advantage over their rivals in the key death overs.
One to watch: Sandeep Sharma
Sunrisers’ success in this this tournament has been built on a strong bowling unit and the signing of Sandeep Sharma could prove another masterstroke. Sandeep has built a very successful IPL career for himself, his ability to swing the new ball making him a valuable asset for King XI Punjab over the years. Sandeep is very accurate, too, so don’t be surprised if he bowls three of four on the reel before the impressive spinners take over later in the innings.