Kings face battle to beat off pretenders

Indian Premier League preview.

By Liam Warren

FAF du Plessis and the Royal Challengers Bengaluru will provide the first stern test to Chennai Super Kings’ bid to retain their Indian Premier League crown when the world’s biggest T20 tournament returns.

The 17th edition of India’s favourite tournament promises to be a real great tournament, with plenty of teams in the mix to go on and lift the crown.

It has adopted a group stage and playoff format for this current season, with two groups (groups A and B) of five teams each (10 teams in total) with the top four teams with the highest aggregate points totals qualifying for the knockout rounds.

The Mumbai Indians, a team who are consistently known for their ability to win games at will, have now gone three straight seasons without going all the way to the finish line. They finished bottom of the standings in 2022, but bounced back to playoff contention last season.

They were beaten by the Gujarat Titans in Qualifier 2, which ended their comeback run in the last campaign. However, when you’re as good as the Indians of Mumbai are, little success is not good enough when you won five out of eight championships between 2013 and 2020.

The biggest change for them this season is the captaincy, with Rohit Sharma standing aside to allow ball-striking bombardier all-rounder Hardik Pandya to take the reins, who returns to the side after a two-year spell with the team that eliminated Mumbai last year.

Their bowling attack outside of the prolific quick Jasprit Bumrah is facing some difficulties though, with Jason Behrendorff ruled out of the tournament (replaced by Luke Wood) and new acquisitions Dilshan Madushanka and Gerald Coetzee set to spend a period on the sidelines. Coetzee will remain with the squad, while the Sri Lankan left-armer is set to be replaced by Kwena Maphaka.

Their spin attack also lacks a bit of effectiveness, so that could be a weakness their opposition look to exploit going forward.

Last campaign’s champions Chennai also have some early injury concerns of their own, as Kiwi opening batter and their leading run scorer in IPL 16 will also have a period out.

His compatriots Daryl Mitchell and Rachin Ravindra have joined the title holders this season and both strengthen the all-rounder group which already contains Ravi Jadeja, Moeen Ali and Shivam Dube.

Led as always by the legend that is MS Dhoni and looking balanced from top to bottom, it’s fair to say that they will be there or thereabouts again.

Royal Challengers Bengaluru, who have gone 16 seasons without a trophy surprisingly, come in with a good squad as expected.

Virat Kohli quite obviously stands out (as he always does), but he will be joined by the likes of captain Faf du Plessis, Australian all-rounders Glenn Maxwell and Cameron Green, England’s Will Jacks, pacer Lockie Ferguson of New Zealand and his India teammate Mohammed Siraj.

They’re quite stacked in terms of the pace attack and batting lineup, but not having a specialist spinner could be their downfall this time round.

The Gujarat Titan’s batting lineup obviously took a hit following the departure of Pandya back to Mumabi, but they will have Kane Williamson returning from injury to bolster their top order. Shubman Gill, who was last season’s leading run scorer and Orange Cap winner, will now lead the Titans into battle following Pandya’s departure.

Rashid Khan, who is arguably the best white-ball spinner in franchise cricket this world has, will lead their bowling ranks and while they’ll miss Mohammed Shami through injury, they have more than enough talent in their group to make another playoff push.

The Rajasthan Royals this season are a dark horse to win it all though, with a blend of young talent and experienced veterans being a deadly combination.

Yashasvi Jaiswal, who announced himself on the international stage in the recent Test series against England, will be looking to bring that good form with him and also build upon a good season from last time out where he scored 625 runs.

Their batting lineup is lethal with the likes of Jaiswal, Jos Buttler, Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Sanju Samson and Dhuruv Jurul, as well as having the best spin attack in the competition with Ravi Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal. They would’ve had Adam Zampa too, but he withdrew from this year’s campaign.

They also have left-arm swing bowler Trent Boult and rocketman Avesh Khan to call upon in terms of pace this time round as well.

Who will win the Orange Cap? Is it Jaiswal versus Gill?

Jaiswal and Gill definitely shone brighter than any other batters playing the recent Test series between India and England, as they scored plenty of runs with frightening intent and conviction.

It’s clear that they could be the heir to Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli’s places in India’s batting lineup in the future.

However both youngsters will be looking to bring their great form other into their respective franchises, with Gill looking to retain his cap at Gujarat while Jaiswal will be hot on his heels for Rajasthan.

Gill’s 890 runs (second highest run tally for a campaign in IPL history) last time out in Titans’ surge towards the final against Chennai. He scored three centuries and four half-centuries in 17 innings last year. Who knows what the 24-year-old could go on to do this time out!

However, Jaiswal was very close in terms of runs tally, scoring 625 runs at an average of 48.07 with one century and five half-centuries to his name last time out. He also had the second highest strike rate in the tournament with 163 .61, which means he can be very destructive at times and seemingly could do so at will this upcoming campaign. Will Jaiswal usurp as the IPL’s leading batter this season? It’s going to be close!

Who will take the Purple Cap home? No clear winner and wide open?

Mohammed Shami was last season’s Purple Cap winner with 28 wickets, but will miss this edition of the tournament due to injury.

Gujurat had the best bowlers in the tournament last year, as Mohit Sharma just finished behind Shami in the wickets column and Rashid Khan wasn’t too far behind his pacemen teammates.

Khan could be a huge favourite for the Purple cap this time round, but quicks Jasprit Bumrah and the returning Aussie left-armer Mitchell Starc (his first campaign in India’s premium T20 franchise competition since 2015) could be potential challengers for him in that regard with their skills.

Which English internationals are playing at this year’s IPL?

Moeen Ali is the sole Englishman playing at Chennai Super Kings and the offspinning all-rounder will be looking to claim back-to-back titles with the team in all-yellow.

Other English players on their own at certain franchises include batter Phil Salt (Kolkata Knight Riders), left-arm bowling all-rounder David Willey (Lucknow Super Giants) and left-arm quick Luke Wood (Mumbai Indians, replacing Australia’s Jason Behrendorff)

The Punjab Kings have the most English players on their roster (four) of any team, which will see Jonny Bairstow, Sam Curran, Liam Livingstone and Chris Woakes all link up there.

Royal Challengers Bengaluru boast three England internationals, including Sam’s brother Tom, Will Jacks and Reece Topley.

Last but not least, the Rajasthan Royals just have two English players – that being England white ball captain Jos Buttler and Somerset’s Tom Kohler-Cadmore.