Perennial champions and perennial underachievers come together as Mumbai Indians and RCB contest the opening game of the IPL on Friday. Over the next few days we consider how each of the eight teams might get on the second edition within just five months
Duniya hila denge hum – We will conquer the world – was the anthem of Mumbai Indians. And conquer they have, winning the IPL trophy five times since 2013. Rohit Sharma cannot get enough of it. The only way it seems they can now be defeated is at the mega auction table in 2022, when they are able to retain only limited number of their stars. A team capable of fielding seven Indian internationals – credit to them for having groomed the domestic talent – with power-hitters throughout, excellent bowlers for any stage of the game and terrific fielders who convert sixes into catches, Mumbai can stake their claim as the best franchise team globally – if they haven't already. Can they make it a hat-trick of titles?
Recap of last year. They lost to Chennai Super Kings in the opening game of the season but ended up topping the table with nine wins from 14 league games. They were taken apart by the individual brilliance of Ben Stokes for Rajasthan and the collective strength of SRH's bowling attack. These abberations aside, they had an excellent run through the league stages of the tournament and beat the Delhi Capitals twice – qualifier one and the Final – to lift the cup yet again.
How did they fare at the 2021 auction? Mumbai released most of their foreign fast bowling recruits ahead of the auction, which made it pretty clear for other teams in the auction what their strategy would be. With a budget of INR 15.35 Cr, MI could not have aimed for any high profile names. They, however, did get back Nathan Coulter-Nile at a lower price after releasing him. To bolster the spin department they have acquired the services of the third highest wicket-taker in IPL history, Piyush Chawla (156 wickets), while two New Zealanders in Adam Milne and James Neesham) make for valuable back-ups. As always, they have invested in unknown talents – young Indian seamers Yudhvir Charak and Arjun Tendulkar – son of Sachin – and South African pace bowler Marco Jansen, all at their base prices.
Strengths and weaknesses. Their power-hitting ability throughout stands out. If there is any weakness at all, it would be the performance of their third seamer behind Trent Boult and Jasprit Bumrah along with their ability to extract overs out of Hardik Pandya as a sixth bowling option. Hardik has recently returned to bowling full tilt and it will be crucial for MI to manage his workload throughout the tournament. Chennai and Delhi will be hosting nine out of their 14 league matches which means spin will have to play a major role this year – can the likes of Rahul Chahar, Piyush Chawla, Anukul Roy and Krunal Pandya spin a web on the batsmen?
Key players. This IPL could be all about SKY (Suryaumar Yadav). Ballistic performances in Syed Mushtaq Ali and Vijay Hazare Trophy were followed by millions of tweets praying for his selection in the Indian team. A wide range of shots and the courage to play those at any stage of the game makes him a treat to watch. Jasprit Bumrah doesn't need any introduction. He's been there done it before for India and MI. Four overs for not many with wickets guaranteed nine times out of 10 – he is Rohit's go-to man whenever they are in dire straits. His partnership with the charismatic Trent Boult will make it tough for all other teams. Ishan Kishan made his debut for India in the recently concluded T20I series vs England and what a debut that was. He took apart every England bowler in an enterprising knock. Sat out initially last year for Saurabh Tiwary but when he got his chance there was no looking back. Whenever MI are in trouble with the bat, Hardik Pandya and Kieran Pollard turn the game in their favour with their hitting. Hardik credits Pollard for his improved strokeplay over the years. They are also gun fielders and chip in with crucial overs whenever needed. What more can you ask for from your key allrounder?. Rohit Sharma in the IPL seems a pale shadow of his International self. He has not had a great IPL season since 2016 – when he averaged 44; he averages only 26 since. If MI are to make it a hat-trick of titles, their captain's performance will be crucial.
Predictions. Can the MI Paltan0 make it six titles? We will know in two months. But one thing is guaranteed, there will be no shortage of high-voltage matches when MI are involved. Considering current form, fitness and their run in the last two years, we are predicting them to make it to the final this year too, unless they get hit by a roadblock in the knockouts.
Royal Challengers Bangalore
E Sala Cup Namde – This time the Cup is ours. Somehow Royal Challengers Bangalore have been the perennial underachievers under the captaincy of Indian skipper Virat Kohli, despite seeming to have a very strong team every year. The problem until 2019 was that their batting and bowling never clicked together. They have been never short of stars, with the likes of Kohli and AB De Villiers (Mr 360 as he is fondly called), arguably the two best batsmen of current era. With them, you would expect them to win almost every tournament. Can RCB finally repay the faith and the patience of their fans who believe every year that it's their turn to win the trophy?
Recap of last year. RCB started off well, winning seven off their first 10 matches and were pitted to finish in the top two in the league. Everything seemed to be coming together and the need only one win from their last four matches to qualify for the play-offs. However, their usual problem came to haunt them back. There is a famous saying: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". RCB went against this formula and changed the winning combination and lost their next three, leaving them in a must- win situation against Delhi Capitals. They lost but into fourth place on net run rate. But they had lost their momentum: RCB played SRH in the eliminator and were comprehensively. What started promisingly tapered off with them losing five matches in a row.
How did they fare at the 2021 auction? RCB had released about 10 players going into the IPL auction 2021 including some star names such as Aaron Finch and Chris Morris etc so had plenty of gaps to fill. They had a whopping purse of INR 35.7 Crores to do so. They needed a good middle-order batsman to backup Virat and ABD and plumped for Glenn Maxwell for INR 14.25 Crore (£1.4m) and, in the big surprise of the auction, went hard for the flavour of the season and got the New Zealand allrounder Kyle Jamieson for another £1.48m, exhausting 80 per cent of their cash on two players. Elsewhere they went for some good Indian domestic Indian batsmen like Sachin Baby, Rajat Patidar, Mohammed Azharuddeen, Suyash Prabhudesai and KS Bharat. They finally capped off the auction by buying the man who has a habit of winning every T20 tournament he plays: Daniel Christian, hoping that some of his stardust will rub off on the franchise. They would have done well to pick up a good quality Indian pace bowler
Strengths and weaknesses. The addition of players like Maxwell, Christian and Azharuddeen relieves the pressure on Virat and ABD in the middle order. This will allow Virat to open along with Devdutt Padikkal, whose Covid-19 test proved to be a false positive. RCB have very good quality spinners in Yuvzendra Chahal, Adam Zampa, Washington Sundar and Shahbaz Ahmed. The addition of Christian gives them a good death-over option, a skill he has developed lately and very effectively. But Jamieson, with his high price tag, is an unproven commodity in T20 cricket, while RCB lack quality death bowlers. They have Navdeep Saini and Mohammad Siraj, two quality Indian pacemen but they have both been expensive in the final overs.
Key players. Although he has underachieved in the IPL, Glenn Maxwell can be a destructive hitter in the middle order and the finisher RCB is looking for. He can also bowl handy off spin and is a superb fielder. Washington Sundar bats in the top three for his state team and bowls his off spin very well in the powerplay. However, RCB have always under-utilized both his batting and bowling skills. It will be interesting how Virat utilizes Sundar's all-round skills this year. Daniel Christian will be hoping to solve their death bowling woes. Yuzvendra Chahal, the Indian leggie, who has been a star performer for RCB over the years, has had a rough few months on the limited-overs circuit. He will be looking to gain his captain's confidence and book his berth in the T20 World Cup squad. Virat Kohli himself will be looking to prove wrong those detractors who have criticised his leadership by winning the elusive trophy.
Predictions. We reckon they will finish in the top four. If all things fall into place, we may even see Kohli with the IPL Trophy, Test Championship trophy and the T20 World Cup in his possession by the end of 2021.