Can purple reign or is the future orange? Kolkata and Sunrisers stake their IPL claims

Bhuve Kumar in good health to lead the Sunrisers attack

Vishak Shankaranarayanan

In the third part of our IPL teams preview we turn our attention on two sides looking for improvement this season

Sunrisers Hyderabad

Go Go Go Go, Here you go, we are the Orange Army – as their anthem says, the Orange Army, aka Sunrisers Hyderabad, have been very consistent, making the playoffs almost every season except in 2014 and 2015. They have won the title once – in 2016 – and finished runners-up three years ago. They have a very strong leadership group and the ability to play as a unit under pressure, with David Warner, their skipper, leading the way with the bat; he has won the Orange cap three times. They arguably have the best bowling line-up, with the likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Natarajan, Sandeep Sharma and Rashid Khan in their ranks. Can the sun rise for Hyderabad in 2021?

Recap of last year: SRH began their campaign on a terrible note with back-to-back losses and were at one point looking down and out with just four wins from 11 games. They were also plagued by injuries to some of their key players, such as Bhuvneshwar Kumar. What followed then was a remarkable turnaround as they collected three wins on the trot, one of them a 10-wicket thrashing handed out to Mumbai Indians in their last league match that ensured their qualification for the later stages. It looked like SRH had the momentum going into the playoffs as they handsomely beat RCB to set up a clash with Delhi Capitals in the second qualifier. However, Delhi beat them by 17 runs and SRH had to be satisfied with a third-place finish.

How did they fare at the 2021 auction? SRH were the Mumbai Indians of every other season in this auction. They released five players who were surplus to their needs but kept a relatively settled squad by retaining the biggest number of players – 22. Their only one objective was to identify a good Indian middle-order batsman and they had INR 10.75 crore in their kitty. They were relatively quiet, buying Kedar Jadhav for the equivalent of £197,000, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Afghanistan's mystery spinner, for £148,000 and Jagadeesha Suchith, a left-arm spinner who has seen little IPL action since taking 10 wickets for Mumbai Indians in 2015. The addition of Kedar Jadhav will help the balance of the side, but they might have gone harder to secure Shivam Dube instead. Late on, Mitchell Marsh opted out and they replaced him with Jason Roy.

Strengths and weaknesses: SRH are a top-heavy side with the likes of David Warner, Jonny Bairstow, Kane Williamson and Jason Roy at their disposal. All these can win matches single-handedly. They also have the best Indian pace bowling battery in the franchise which boasts the likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Sandeep Sharma, T Natarajan, Khaleel Ahmed, Siddharth Kaul and Basil Thampi, in addition to the best spinner on the T20 circuit, Rashid Khan. Their middle order looks a little weak with Manish Pandey in awful form, Kedar Jadhav coming of a forgettable last season with CSK and Vijay Shankar being injury prone. They play nine of their 14 matches in Chennai and Delhi, venues which are expected to assist spin.

Key players: Leader of the bowling pack – Bhuvneshwar Kumar – is back from injury, looks fresh and seemed to have regained his mojo against England in the limited-overs series. His performances with the new ball and at the death will be crucial. Sandeep Sharma, his new-ball partners, has been the leading wicket-taker in the powerplay. Jonny Bairstow after having a poor Test series against India looked a completely different player in the white-ball cricket, being man of the series in the recently concluded ODI series. The man from a small village called Chinnapampatti, T Natarajan, known for his exceptional yorkers, was brilliant in last season's tournament and has now made his debut for India in all three formats. His death bowling will be crucial. Despite Kedar Jadhav's poor 2020 IPL, he had a decent run with Maharashtra in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy recently and could be the answer to Sunrisers' middle-order problems while providing some of his low-slung off spinners. Finally, their two star overseas players – skipper David Warner and ace leggie Rashid Khan. David Warner somehow finds a way to churn in special performances when he plays for this franchise and captaincy seems to bring the best out of him. Rashid was one of SRH'Sr top performers last year with 20 wickets with an economy rate of 5.37. He is also a handy bat and can strike some lusty blows down the order.

Predictions: The Orange Army start as one the favourites. With the return of their swing specialist and with a vast array of match-winning players, this could very well be their year. However, with the variety of quality overseas players in their line up, it will be crucial for them to get their playing XI right.

Kolkata Knight Riders

Owned by the man the media call the Badshah of Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan, the team in purple and gold have twice won the tournament, but not since 2014. In fact they reached the playoffs in only three of the next six seasons and haven't qualified at all for the past two. In 2019, they depended heavily on the muscle of Andre Russell and in 2020, they shuffled their middle order and changed their captaincy midway through the season, which affected their momentum badly. They hope that Eoin Morgan will be able to lead for a full season this time and that, with a more settled middle order, will aspire to Perform, Fight and Win as their anthem "Korbo Lorbo Jeetbo" orders.

Recap of last year: KKR started the season with Dinesh Karthik as their skipper and were among one of the pre-tournament favourites to reach the play-offs because of a very strong squad. They had a mixed start to their season, winning four of their first seven matches, but after two heavy defeats by RCB and MI, they had a poor net run-rate. They needed to replicate the performance from the first half of the tournament to qualify but sprung a surprise a day before their eighth match by replacing Karthik with Morgan as captain. They won only two of the next six, leaving them in the position of needing to win their last match by a big margin and wait on the results of the other match. They managed to do the first part well by beating Rajasthan handsomely but just lost out to RCB because of their net run rate.

How did they fare at the 2021 auction? KKR retained their core, coming into the auction looking for back-ups for a few slots and they had a purse of INR 10.85 Crore to accomplish that. They started by buying Bangladeshi star allrounder Shakib Al Hasan for just INR 3.3 Crore (£315,000), which was an absolute steal. Otherwise, they were selective, picking up Ben Cutting, Karun Nair, Pawan Negi, Sheldon Jackson, Venkatesh Iyer and Vaibhav Arora for more modest sums. They wrapped up with the capture of veteran Indian offie Harbhajan Singh for his base price of INR 2 Crore (£197,000).

Strengths and weaknesses: KKR have a good mix of experienced players and youngsters. They have a very strong batting line-up that boasts the likes of Shubman Gill, Karthik, Morgan, Shakib Al Hasan and Andre Russell, all match-winners on their day. Their spin department also looks very healthy with Varun Chakravarthy, Pawan Negi, Shakib and Harbhajan Singh. The addition of Shakib boosts that and the middle-order. On the pace bowling front, KKR will depend heavily on Pat Cummins, who failed to deliver last year despite being such an expensive buy. They have a few good Indian pacemen in Shavam Mavi, Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Prasidh Krishna, but they are inexperienced. Andre Russell, being injury prone, will be a big concern. KKR start the tournament in Chennai (three matches), move on to Mumbai for two more, then Ahmedabad (4) and Bengalore (5). They have the team to perform in any conditions but need their middle order to be consistent and to define specific roles for each batsman.

Key players: While they haves depended mostly on Andre Russell to bail them out when in trouble and for impetus, they have a 3-D player in their ranks this time – Shakib Al Hasan – who has had a welcome homecoming to a franchise with whom he has many happy memories. He can be used as a floater in the middle order, can give you three or four overs of handy left arm spin every game and is a fine fielder. Shubman Gill has made quick but smooth transitions through age group cricket, domestic cricket, IPL and finally international and is touted as a future star. He had a very good IPL last season. Pat Cummins struggled to pick up wickets in the 2020 edition of the IPL even though he bowled with good economy rates. He has been in good form for Australia and KKR will hope that he can continue that into the IPL. And, of course, he is a handy hitting down the order. Dinesh Karthik, relieved of captaincy, will have a point to prove as he still harbours dreams of making it into the squad for the T20 World Cup. Finally, the captain himself – Eoin Morgan – will have a full season to implement his plans unlike last time. He should now have a good understanding of the team and would like to lead by example by collaborating with his friend-cum-head-coach Brendon McCullum.

Predictions: We expect them to finish in the Top 4 and, if they have a bit of luck and get their act together, they could go all the way.

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