IPL 2016 Season Preview
The biggest domestic T20 tournament in world cricket returns on April 9 with the ninth edition of the IPL kicking-off in Mumbai. Once again this year’s competition looks to be closely-fought with very little between each franchise and two completely new teams in the Rising Pune Supergiants and Gujarat Lions. As always there will be plenty of big hits, exciting finishes and betting opportunities.
RCB are the favourites for the tournament and they boast one of the most damaging top-orders ever assembled in Chris Gayle, Shane Watson, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers. However they have also suffered a monumental blow with the loss of spearhead Mitchell Starc to ankle surgery.
With Gayle, Watson and de Villiers likely to occupy three of the overseas slots, Samuel Badree and Adam Milne will compete for the final spot and whoever plays will face a tall task in replicating the deeds of Starc who last year took 20 wickets at an average of 14.55 and economy rate of 6.76.
Badree or Milne will be supported by Indians Varun Aaron, Harshal Patel and Yuzvendra Chahal, with Stuart Binny and Parvez Rasool providing all-round options.
South African David Wiese is another handy all-rounder in the squad, although he may struggle to get a game after RCB invested heavily in Watson.
With such a dream top four it’s hard not to see RCB winning enough games to make the finals, however with doubts over their bowling attack sans Starc I can’t be backing them as such short odds to take out the title.
With such a powerful batting unit and potentially flimsy bowling attack, look to back RCB to both chase down and fail to defend big totals, in particular at their home ground the M Chinnaswamy Stadium which is notorious for exceptionally high-scoring encounters.
Next in line are one of the new sides, the Rising Pune Supergiants. The Supergiants recruited strongly, for a start picking up the captain (MS Dhoni) and coach (Stephen Fleming) of the now-suspended Chennai Super Kings who were previously the most consistent side in the IPL.
Their batting is nicely balanced with the steady Ajinkya Rahane, Faf du Plessis and Steve Smith complemented by the more dynamic Dhoni, Kevin Pietersen and Saurabh Tiwary.
They have a wide range of explosive all-round options in Mitchell Marsh, Albie Morkel and Thisara Perera and as far as the frontline attack is concerned they have acquired a number of experienced locals in Ravi Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Irfan Pathan, RP Singh, Ashok Dinda and Rajat Bhatia.
The one area where they may be a bit light is in the slow-bowling department but Ashwin is one of the true marquee IPL players and will have support from young Australian leggie Adam Zampa who is coming off an impressive World T20 campaign.
RPS have a squad brimming with quality and depth and also have the advantage of three current international T20 captains in their side so leadership is certainly not an issue and therefore I’m happy to back the new boys at their current price.
Defending champions Mumbai Indians will be looking to become the first team to go back-to-back since Chennai in 2010-11 and have retained the vast majority of the squad that lifted the trophy last year.
A top-order containing Rohit Sharma, Lendl Simmons and Ambati Rayudu, followed by an explosive middle-order featuring Keiron Pollard, Corey Anderson and Hardik Pandya should ensure that Mumbai are not short on runs in any conditions.
However the effectiveness of their bowling attack may depend on how often Lasith Malinga can get on the park with the Sri Lankan speedster ravaged by injury since taking 24 wickets for the Indians in last year’s competition.
If Malinga is unavailable for long periods there will be more pressure on Kiwi quick Mitchell McClenaghan as well as local trio Jasprit Bumrah, Harbhajan Singh and Vinay Kumar.
The acquisition of English ‘keeper-batsman Jos Buttler provides another X-factor alongside Pollard and Anderson, although it remains to be seen how Mumbai will fit him into their starting XI.
The principal issue with MI’s squad is their lack of depth outside the starting XI. With an ageing squad Mumbai may need to rely on promising youngsters such as Unmukt Chand and Shreyas Gopal and given this is such a long tournament I don’t quite have adequate faith in their reserves to be backing them at this stage.
KKR are sticking with their “spin to win” mantra this year with Sunil Narine, Brad Hogg, Piyush Chawla, Shakib Al Hasan and Yusuf Pathan all retained for this season’s title tilt.
However they have also bolstered their pace stocks with Morne Morkel, Andre Russell and Umesh Yadav to be joined by Jason Holder, John Hastings and Jaydev Unadkat.
Just how far Kolkata progress could depend on the performance of the top three of Robin Uthappa, Gautum Gambhir andManish Pandey with Gambhir and Pandey producing underwhelming returns last year.
If the top-order can fire, then that will release the pressure on a dangerous middle-order featuring the likes of Yusuf, Russell and Shakib with extra back-up recruited in the form of antipodean pair Colin Munro and Chris Lynn.
There’s no doubt that KKR have one of the most variable and adaptable bowling attacks in the competition which should put them firmly in the running for a finals place.
However history shows that to win the tournament you need at least two of your top three to score heavily and consistently and I’m just not sure if the Knight Riders have the cattle to be able to produce this which is enough to put me off backing them from the off.
One particular angle to look out for with KKR is their varying performance at home and away. The slow Eden Gardens pitch generally suits their slow-bowling attack and at times stodgy top-order and last year they won five out of six games at home.
However, away from Kolkata they struggled, winning only two of seven games which ultimately cost them a place in the finals. Therefore look to back KKR at home and lay them away.
Last year’s cellar-dwellers Kings XI Punjab will be hoping for a reversal of fortunes after winning only three games last year but face a tough task after they failed to recruit a host of new faces.
Joining from CSK are fast-bowlers Kyle Abbott and Mohit Sharma and they will need to inject some potency after none of Punjab’s bowlers averaged less than 20 last year.
The likes of Mitchell Johnson, Sandeep Sharma, Axar Patel and Rishi Dhawan will look to put that right, otherwise they could find themselves omitted from the starting XI.
Punjab also struggled with the bat last year but decided against bolstering their batting unit, instead dispensing with the steady George Bailey, whilst also losing Virender Sehwag to retirement.
The likely opening pair of Murali Vijay and Shaun Marsh will be tasked with building a platform for middle-order stars Glenn Maxwell and David Miller, while local hopes Wriddhiman Saha and Manan Vohra will hope they can recapture their 2014 form after disappointing efforts last year.
Whist I certainly see some improvement in Punjab, particularly with the bat, I tend to think they have too much ground to make up to challenge for the finals and they are the sort of side I would happily oppose in most situations.
The other new kids on the block, the Gujarat Lions, have also recruited impressively and should be aiming for a maiden title in their first year.
The Lions squad ticks almost every box with marquee local players in Suresh Raina, Ravi Jadeja and Dinesh Karthik, quality international all-rounders in Dwayne Bravo and James Faulkner, and genuine match-winners such as Brendon McCullum and Dale Steyn.
The one area where the Lions do appear slightly deficient is in the bowling attack where Steyn will be backed up by a series of honest locals including Praveen Kumar, Dhawal Kulkarni and Pravin Tambe.
Given that all-rounders Bravo, Jadeja and Faulkner can all regularly contribute four overs with the ball the Lions should probably play a side that bats incredibly deep but whether coach Brad Hodge takes this approach remains to be seen.
The other conundrum for Hodge will be whether he gives the fourth overseas slot to Steyn, or a top-order player such as Aaron Finch or Dwayne Smith. Whilst I generally like the make-up of the Lions squad there are just a few too many questions over their bowling attack for me to be siding with them at this point.
Sunrisers Hyderabad could easily be the dark horses of this year’s competition with a side that contains plenty of talent, leadership and experience.
The top-order trio of Shikhar Dhawan, Kane Williamson and David Warner is beautifully balanced and could get the Sunrisers off to endless fast-starts, although there are some question marks over the current form of middle-order marquees Yuvraj Singh and Eoin Morgan.
Sunrisers also lack a genuine hitter in the lower order with that responsibility possibly falling on ‘keeper Naman Ojha who produced a strike-rate of just 113.22 last year.
Hyderabad have one of the more promising pace attacks in the competition with canny domestic operators Ashish Nehra, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Barinder Sran complemented by overseas stars Trent Boult and Mustafizur Rahman.
Leg-spinner Karn Sharma is the only frontline spinner, however he’ll have support from all-rounders Yuvraj, Deepak Hooda and Bipul Sharma.
I think the Sunrisers could exceed expectations this year and cause a few shocks, however I just can’t shake the concern over their middle-order enough to want to back them.
When trading Hyderabad games look to take advantage of their top-heavy batting line-up where Dhawan, Williamson and Warner are all masters of the powerplay, however the quality slips away thereafter.
When the Sunrisers bat look to lay them after six overs when the field gets pushed out and their ropey middle-order is exposed. Also look to get with the Sunrisers on the rare occasions when the ball is swinging as they have some excellent exponents of swing-bowling in Boult, Nehra and Bhuvneshwar.
Perennial under-achievers, the Delhi Daredevils, are considered the rank outsiders to win IPL 9, having qualified for the semi-finals only once in the last six years.
The main issue for Delhi this year is that they are desperately light on batting with very little quality outside of captain JP Duminy and exciting young ‘keeper-batsmen Quinton de Kock and Sanju Samson.
Prodigious talent Shreyas Iyer will get another chance at the top of the order after some promising signs last year but all-rounders Chris Morris and Pawan Negi may need to contribute more with the bat than they are used to.
On the other hand Delhi have an exciting bowling attack that promises to wreak plenty of havoc this year. Veteran Zaheer Khan is a genuine spearhead and backed up by fellow Indian international Mohammed Shami and a range of overseas pace options such as Morris, Carlos Brathwaite and Nathan Coulter-Nile.
Leg-spinners Imran Tahir and Amit Mishra form a deadly duo and with Negi set to play as an all-rounder they will have at least three slow-bowling options in each game.
It’s no secret that bowling wins games of T20 cricket so I’m prepared to go out on a limb and back the Daredevils at such a big price, however their batting does concern me so I will look to lay off at some point throughout the season.