Tomorrow sees the Indian Premier League return for its 14th season, with the non-stop tournament providing 60 Twenty20 matches in just 52 days. Eight teams compete in this cricketing frenzy, where 100 metre Sixes, one-handed catches and Super Overs seem to be the norm. If we are being honest, this year, there are four serious contenders for glory, whilst the other four are along for the ride and the fight to avoid last place.
CHENNAI SUPER KINGS @ 7/1
Chennai failed to make the play-offs for the first time last year, however they will be boosted by the crucial return of Suresh Raina, one of just 5 players with 5,000+ IPL runs. Moeen Ali was a smart buy in the auction, dangerous with bat and ball and criminally underused by RCB last year, however it is his English teammate Sam Curran who is Chennai’s main threat, fresh off a stunning ODI 95* against India. CSK’s middle order of Raina, Ravindra Jadeja and skipper MS Dhoni does contain valuable experience, however they are out of match practice, whilst the absence of Josh Hazelwood is a blow to the bowling side. Unfortunately for Chennai, it’s 2021, not 2011, meaning MS Dhoni is no longer the best finisher in world cricket, and I think their glory days could be behind them.
Chennai Super Kings to finish bottom @ 11/2
RAJASTHAN ROYALS @ 8/1
Rajasthan had a disappointing IPL last year, finishing rock bottom despite an array of talent in their ranks. Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler provide obvious firepower, however I fear they will both need to play out of their skin to mount a play-off push. With Steve Smith now at Delhi, new captain Sanju Samson is also an exciting talent, and Chris Morris will look to live up to his price tag after becoming the most expensive player ever bought at the IPL auction; slightly baffling. However, the simple fact is Rajasthan Royals will not be able to win the IPL without Jofra Archer. 2020’s Player of the Series seemed unstoppable; that was until he met his match in the form of a smashed fish tank. Jofra’s tournament now remains in doubt after undergoing hand surgery last week, as does Rajasthan’s IPL hopes as a result.
Jos Buttler to be Top IPL run scorer @ 14/1
KOLKATA KNIGHT RIDERS @ 15/2
Eoin Morgan’s KKR head into the tournament with a strong overseas outfit. Joining the England skipper are West Indians Sunil Narine and Andre Russell, with the latter’s perfomances crucial to the sides success, evident through a disappointing tournament for both Dre Russ and KKR last year. Furthermore, all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan returns, boosting a strong batting line-up that also includes Shubman Gill, Nitish Rana and Dinesh Karthik. KKR will be looking for more from Pat Cummins to lead their bowling attack, with the World’s number one Test bowler managing just 12 wickets in 14 games last season. Inconsistency seems the problem for Kolkata, and their big hitters will have to find form at the right times to mount a challenge this year.
Kolkata Knight Riders to finish in the top 4 @ 11/10
PUNJAB KINGS @ 9/1
The Punjab Kings possess one of the most exciting batting line-ups in the IPL, with Chris Gayle and Nicholas Pooran providing explosive hitting that saw 48 sixes hit between them in just 21 innings last year. The World’s number 1 ranked T20 batsman Dawid Malan also adds to the lineup, and will hope to provide stability around the carnage. However, the Kings’ star is undoubtedly KL Rahul, with the Indian scoring a ridiculous 670 runs last tournament at an average of 55.83. The problem with this squad lies in their bowling, with Jhye Richardson and Mohammed Shami not enough to mount a title challenge. Don’t be fooled by their change in name, this is the same Kings team, and they still don’t have enough bowling to back up KL Rahul and Co.
KL Rahul to be Top IPL run scorer @ 8/1
HYDERABAD SUNRISERS @ 13/2
The Sunrisers will come into this year’s IPL confident after ending last year’s well, and nearly securing a last gasp dash to the final. Rashid Khan bowled ridiculously well last year, with an average economy of 5.37, whilst Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Bhuvneshwar Kumar will make for a solid bowling line-up. David Warner’s side are certainly not short of overseas talent, with Jonny Bairstow, Jason Roy, Kane Williamson and Jason Holder joining the Australian and the bowlers as options. With only 4 overseas players allowed per game, there’s bound to be some selection headaches throughout, which could work against the Sunrisers in the later stages, if they are unsure of their most effective team.
Rashid Khan to be top IPL wicket taker @ 10/1
DELHI CAPITALS @ 9/2
Beaten in the final last year, Delhi have already been provided with a huge blow, as captain Shreyas Iyer will miss the whole tournament through injury. The pressure will consequently mount on replacement Rishabh Pant, who continues to impress on the World stage with a range of bold and fearless shots. A well-balanced Delhi team sees Shikhar Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane this year joined by new signing Steve Smith, whilst Marcus Stoinis and Shimron Hetmeyer can send the ball to all parts of the boundary later on. The surfaces will see success to spinners Ravi Ashwin and Axar Patel, who will be backed up by South African pace duo Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada, with the latter picking up the most wickets in the competition last year, with 30 from just 17 games.
Delhi Capitals to finish in the top 2 @ 9/4
ROYAL CHALLENGERS BANGALORE @ 11/2
Any team containing Virat Kohli, AB De Villiers and Glenn Maxwell is going to be dangerous, and these three could form the base of a team that can provide a serious challenge to Mumbai. Kohli has exciting spin options through Washington Sundar and Yuzvendra Chahal, whilst impressive International perfomances from Mohammed Siraj and Navdeep Saini could see RCB form a bowling attack finally capable of matching its ever-present batting prowess. The purchase of the criminally underrated Dan Christian was genius business, and I’d expect RCB to be a stronger outfit this year. Could it finally be Virat’s time to bring home the IPL?
AB De Villiers to hit the most sixes in the IPL @ 14/1
MUMBAI INDIANS @ 5/2
Finally, Rohit Sharma’s Mumbai Indians come into the 2021 IPL looking for their record third successive title, and start as favourites. If Rohit and Quinton De Kock fail, Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan are next to stroll out, both of whose quality was seen in a recent series against England. Another couple of quick wickets and you’re then met with power hitters Hardik Pandya and Kieron Pollard. It’s this never-ending batting order that makes Mumbai so hard to break down, however it’s not just the bat they are handy with, as Jasprit Bumrah and Trent Boult so often take early wickets with their pace and swing, whilst Piyush Chawla was brought in to strengthen the spinning options.
Suryakumar Yadav to score the most runs for the Mumbai Indians @ 9/2
It is hard to see a scenario where Rohit Sharma isn’t once again lifting the IPL trophy on the 30th May, however, as we know, anything can happen in Twenty20 cricket. Kohli’s RCB and Pant’s Dehli Capitals are likely to be Mumbai’s biggest contenders, and with as many match winners as there are present, it is all about timing.
Will Mumbai Indians retain their title? Probably.
But will the next 60 matches be predictable? Absolutely not.