ABU DHABI: Mahendra Singh Dhoni‘s poker face, Virat Kohli‘s raw emotions and Rohit Sharma‘s effortless handling of his ‘Galacticos’ will be back to charm cricket fans across the globe with the Indian Premier League starting on Saturday, promising to be a happy distraction in a world scarred by Covid-19.
Rohit’s defending champions Mumbai Indians will be locking horns with Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings in what is likely to be a fittingly exciting opening showdown here.
The tournament, which has been shifted to the UAE due to five million plus Covid cases in India, is a ‘TV-only event’, expected to be lapped up by all and sundry who crave for cricket and Bollywood in equal measure during prime time.
Bollywood had its share of prime time in the past few months but rest assured, the next 53 days would belong to Dhoni’s CSK, Kohli’s RCB and Rohit’s Mumbai Indians challenged by young pretenders comprising KL Rahul’s KXIP and Shreyas Iyer’s Delhi Capitals among others.
IPL happening in foreign shores is not a new phenomenon, not even the shift to the Emirates but as Indian sports hits the restart button with the billion dollar cricketing extravaganza, the hugely popular event to be held closed doors in a bio-secure environment will be a new experience.
David Warner or Chris Gayle‘s towering sixes welcomed by artificial crowd cheer will be the new normal and the deafening roars during Super Overs will be missing but no one can complain as at least the show will go on in amid a devastating health crisis.
A look at the teams would indicate that Mumbai Indians by a distance is the most formidable with Rohit, Pandya brothers — Hardik and Krunal –, the indomitable Kieron Pollard and the ‘King of Death’ bowling Jasprit Bumrah giving it a menacing look.
The perennial Dad’s Army Chennai Super Kings can never be counted out till that man with ‘Hawk Eyes’ uses his peripheral vision behind the stumps.
Experience can’t be bought and the likes of Shane Watson, Dwayne Bravo, Faf du Plessis and Ravindra Jadeja have given their blood and sweat for the ‘Yellows’ and it would be no different this time.
For Kohli, winning a tournament as a captain would reaffirm his status even as naysayers question his style of leadership. The team is a shade better with presence of Aaron Finch, Chris Morris and the wonderfully gifted Devdutt Padikkal, who if all goes well, is destined to become a big name in years to come.
Delhi Capitals, with their new found vigour and more pragmatic new owners, found their mojo last year and would like to go one better under an enormously talented skipper in Shreyas Iyer, who can be matched in skills by a Prithvi Shaw or a Rishabh Pant.
Seasoned brains like Ravichandran Ashwin would be ideal foil for the team’s youthful exuberance.
KXIP’s KL Rahul is a class act and how he shapes as a leader could also create a narrative for the future when Indian cricket goes through another change of guard in next few years.
There will be a lot of interest as to how he handles players like Glenn Maxwell, Gayle and Mohammed Shami, who are savage on their days but can be ordinary on some others.
Handling an inconsistent team to a decent finish will be on top of Rahul’s agenda.
The low profile Sunrisers Hyderabad once again will be gunning for a place in the summit clash and their skipper David Warner knows how to win the IPL having always led the way with spectacular performances.
There is Jonny Bairstow’s flair, Kane Williamson’s poise and Rashid Khan’s flamboyance with a host of youngsters like Virat Singh and Priyam Garg eager to make a name for themselves.
When the IPL was partially held in UAE back in 2014, KKR were the eventual champions.
If Ben Stokes is the world’s best all-rounder across formats, Andre Russell probably is a bit more destructive in this format as he hit 52 sixes during their horrendous last edition.
The 2018 U-19 World Cup stars — Shubman Gill, Shivam Mavi and Kamlesh Nagarkoti — add a dash of youth. Eoin Morgan’s leadership skills that might prove to be handy in case a normally inconsistent Dinesh Karthik misfires.
Rajasthan Royals is the weakest team lacking quality in the Indian line-up but expect Jos Buttler, Steve Smith and Jofra Archer to do the heavy lifting in Stokes’ absence. Stokes is currently in New Zealand to be with his ailing father.
MI start favourites in opener against CSK
Mumbai Indians are traditional slow-starters in the IPL but on paper, they will be the favourites against Chennai Super Kings in the opening game in Abu Dhabi.
MI looks the most prepared and set team with a scary batting line-up of Rohit, Quinton de Kock, Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan, Hardik and Krunal Pandya, Kieron Pollard. Trent Boult and Nathan Coulter-Nile will complete their quota of foreigners.
For CSK, the core has remained the same save for Suresh Raina, who was their worst performer last year and has pulled out citing personal reasons this year. His replacement Ruturaj Gaikwad remains in quarantine having tested Covid-9 positive at least five times.
But there is Watson, Ambati Rayudu, Kedar Jadhav, Ravindra Jadeja, and Bravo, who have all won matches from hopeless situations. Mitchell Santner and Lungi Ngidi will complete their four-foreigner line-up in case Sam Curran and Josh Hazlewood are unavailable.
In case Curran is allowed to travel to Abu Dhabi, he could well be the pinch hitter at the top of the order.
CSK can only be ignored at one’s own peril.
Statistical highlights of IPL
Here is a look at the event’s statistical highlights from the past editions:
#Royal Challengers Bangalore holds the record of amassing the highest totals in IPL history, scoring 263-5 and 248-3 against now-defunct teams — Pune Warriors and Gujarat Lions respectively in 2013 and 2016. Chennai Super Kings holds the third position in the list with a score of 246-5 against Rajasthan Royals in 2010.
#RCB is also the team with the lowest total in IPL, having being dismissed for 49 by Kolkata Knight Riders in 2017, while RR and Delhi Daredevils (DD) are second and third in the list with totals of 58 and 66 against RCB and Mumbai Indians in 2009 and 2017.
#MI’s 146-run win over DD in 2017 is the biggest in terms of runs’ margin in IPL. RCB and KKR hold the second and third place with 144-run and 140-run wins over Gujarat Lions and RCB in 2016 and 2008.
#Eight matches have been decided on the basis of Super Over with KKR being involved in three such ties, while RR have won two Super Over matches — the most in IPL. All eight teams participating in IPL 2020 have played at least one Super Over but CSK and KKR are yet to win one.
#The dubious record of conceding most extras in a match belongs to KKR, who gave away 28 against Deccan Chargers in 2008, followed by KXIP and CSK, who conceded 27 and 26 extras against RCB and MI in 2011 and 2009.
#RCB skipper Virat Kohli is the highest run-getter in IPL history, having amassed a total of 5412 runs in the last 12 editions of the tournament. He is followed by Chennai Super Kings’ Suresh Raina (5368) and Mumbai Indians skipper Rohit Sharma (4898).
#West Indies batsman Chris Gayle, who will play for Kings XI Punjab, has hit a whopping 326 sixes in IPL to top the list of players with most sixes. RCB’s AB de Villiers and CSK’s Mahendra Singh Dhoni occupy the second and third spots with 357 and 297 sixes respectively.
#Gayle also posted the highest individual score in IPL, piling up an unbeaten 175 off 66 balls against Pune Warriors in 2013 which is also the fastest hundred in the tournament. Former Kolkata Knight Riders batsman and current coach Brendon McCullum (158 not out) and de Villiers (133 not out) are in the second and third positions in the list of highest score respectively.
#Gayle also holds the record for most number of centuries, having scored six tons, followed by Kohli (5) and Sunrisers Hyderabad skipper David Warner (4), who has the most number of 50s, a whopping 44.
#Kings XI Punjab skipper K L Rahul’s 51 off 14 balls against Delhi Capitals in 2018 is the fastest fifty in IPL, followed by the KKR duo of Yusuf Pathan and Sunil Narine, who achieved the feat in 15 balls in 2014 and 2017 respectively.
#MI’s Lasith Malinga, who has opted out of this year’s IPL, is the highest wicket-taker in IPL with 170 scalps in 122 matches at an average of 19.8 and economy of 7.14. He is followed by Delhi Capitals’ Amit Mishra (157) and CSK’s Harbhajan Singh (150), who has also pulled out citing personal reasons.
#MI’s Alzarri Joseph recorded the best bowling figures in IPL, taking six wickets for 12 runs in 3.4 overs against Sunrisers Hyderabad last year. Former Rajasthan Royals pacer Sohail Tanvir and Adam Zampa, who played for the now-defunct Rising Pune Supergiants, also captured six wickets, giving away 14 and 19 runs against CSK and SRH in the 2008 and 2016 editions respectively.
#DC’s Amit Mishra has the most number of hat-tricks in the IPL. He has so far taken three hat-tricks in 147 matches. Former Mumbai Indians all-rounder Yuvraj Singh and CSK’s Sam Curran occupy the second and third spots with two and one hat-trick respectively.
#KKR’s Sunil Narine holds the record for most four-wicket hauls. He took four wickets or more six times in 110 matches at an economy of 6.67. Malinga, who also took six four-wicket hauls, is in the second position with an economy rate of 7.14.
#Former India seamer Praveen Kumar, who has played for multiple IPL teams, bowled 14 maidens in 119 matches, the most by a bowler in the history of the tournament. Former pacer Irfan Pathan (10) and Mumbai Indians’ Dhawal Kulkarni (8) are second and third in the list.