The Indian Premier League carnival is once again back in town. From April 9, eight franchises will embark on a 51-day journey to find the winner of the ninth edition. From defending champions Mumbai Indians to young-gun Delhi Daredevils, every team has a chance to lift the title on May 29.
In fact, from the defending champions Mumbai Indians to the newcomers Gujarat Lions and Rising Supergiants, every team looks strong – at least on paper. But do they? A deeper analysis of the teams and their strengths in the batting and bowling department reveals more and here are our picks for who seem the likely winners and losers as we head into IPL 2016.
Mumbai Indians, the defending champions, have unsurprisingly retained the core of their team and would make the top of any favourite list. However, CSK 2.0 or Rising Pune Supergiants, as they like to call themselves, have played both the initial draft and the auction like seasoned professionals and look stronger than Mumbai at present what with an enviable top order. Only RCB, which arguably has the best top-four in the world, seems a close competitor, at least on batting.
But Delhi Daredevils, who finished in the bottom quartile of the past three seasons, once again look set to form the rearguard. Despite spending the highest in the auction, they seem to have the weakest squad, but we hope their faith in youth comes through sometime in the near future, if not this year. For now, let's take a look at the batting and bowling ratings for each squad.
1. Mumbai Indians (Champions – 2015)
The defending champions chose to retain 19 players before the auction, including the entire XI which took on CSK in the final. To the already beefed up line-up, MI
The team looks the most settled and will once again be the favourites for the title. The luxury of having all-rounders of all kinds was a major reason for Mumbai’s title-winning run, and they have now added leg-spinning all-rounder Kishore Kamath, and left-arm spinner and handy middle-order batsman Krunal Pandya bringing, even more, variety.
Their weakness will be the absence of a top-order Indian batsman, who could replace Rohit Sharma, or Ambati Rayudu when needed. Also apart from Lendl Simmons, the team doesn’t have any foreigner, who could bat in the top-3, and the Caribbean's form will play a big part in Mumbai’s season.
The team could have signed Martin Guptill or Usman Khawaja for the opener spot, who went unsold in the auction, with one spot remaining
* for overseas players
2. Royal Challengers Bangalore (Third -2015)
RCB finished third last IPL after losing to CSK in the second qualifier. The team has always been top-heavy, and now with the addition of Watson to the trio of Gayle,
All-rounders and spinners will once again be the problem areas for the Bengaluru team. David Wiese and Stuart Binny are good with the bat, but their contribution with the ball is questionable. With the Chinnaswamy stadium being a high-scoring ground, the team could have gone for a top-class all-rounder. They will now be banking on Shane Watson to deliver with both bat and ball, but it could prove too much for the Aussie, who just returned to form in the India series.
Pragyan Ojha, who went unsold in the auction, could have been a decent addition to the team with two slots remaining in the roster.
3. Kolkata Knight Riders (Fifth – 2015)
The two-time IPL champions finished outside the play-offs last season. But the management has kept faith in them and retained 15 players. Even in the auction, the Kolkata side just bid for back-up players and opted out of the spend-fest using just Rs.5.7 crore in the auction, which saw a total of Rs.136 crore being spent.
Spin was KKR's strength in their title-winning season, and, this time, around also the fortunes will be dependent on Sunil Narine’s performance. The arrival of John Hastings and Jason Holder also gives KKR more options in the all-rounders department.
KKR’s struggles away from home have been down to the inability of their pace bowlers, and it doesn’t look rectified with only Umesh Yadav, Unadkat and Rajpoot in the team as Indian pacers. The lack of quality back-up options in the top order will also cause problems to the team in case of an injury.
Bengal's Ranji captain Manoj Tiwary, who went unsold, could have been a valuable addition to the middle order as a back-up.
4. Sunrisers Hyderabad (Sixth -2015)
The Hyderabad team finished sixth last season and said goodbye to their pace spearheads Dale Steyn and Ishant Sharma. In come, Yuvraj Singh and Ashish Nehra from India’s World T20 squad. The team looks much stronger, this time, around, and in fact, have an embarrassment of riches in the fast-bowling department with Nehra, Bhuvneshwar, Boult, Muztafizur and Sran in addition to Siddarth Kaul and Abhimanyu Mithun. The middle order also looks much better with Yuvraj Singh's arrival, giving them the much-needed Indian presence in the middle overs. The spin department looks a bit weak though with only Karn Sharma and Bipul Sharma.
Pragyan Ojha, who has taken 36 wickets so far in the Ranji Season, could have been a good addition to the team.
5. Delhi Daredevils (Seventh -2015)
After finishing near the bottom of the table, Delhi Daredevils went for a “Gen-Next” approach releasing high-profile stars like Yuvraj Singh and bidding huge amounts for youngsters like Pawan Negi, Sanju Samson and Rishabh Pant.
Their tactics to go for unproven and untested youngsters instead of high-profile stars may help them in the long run, although their chances for this season look bleak. The lack of high-profile or marquee stars is the only problem area for the Delhi team. They have enough options in all positions after buying voraciously in the auction.
6. Kings XI Punjab (Eighth -2015)
The 2014 runners-up finished bottom of the table last season and axed captain George Bailey. The punters predicted Kings XI going for a marquee player like Shane Watson or Aaron Finch to captain their side, but their biggest purchase has been Indian pacer Mohit Sharma for Rs. 6.5 crore.
The biggest problem for the team will be the captain, with no player standing out as captaincy material. Quality back-ups for Maxwell,
A good quality spinner to partner Axar Patel could have helped in the balance of the team. Kings XI also doesn’t have a back-up for wicketkeeper Saha.
Micheal Hussey, who went unsold in the auction, could have been a good option as a captain and an opener to the team.
7. Gujarat Lions
The newcomers did really well in the IPL draft, that took place in December, by picking Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Bravo and James Faulkner. With a strong T20 core in hand, the Rajkot-based franchise added 19 more players in the auction to string up a respectable squad.
Brendon McCullum-Aaron Finch
The lack of good Indian back-up batsmen will force the team to play India U-19 captain Ishan Kishan in the line-up. Also, the bowling line-up of the team does not look as threatening as their batting line-up, but
Indian batsmen Manoj Tiwary, Ishank Jaggi and Rohan Prem, who had good performances in the Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament, could have been good back-ups to the high-profile stars.
8. Rising Pune Supergiants
Rising Pune Supergiants has MSD captain and Stephen Fleming as coach. The similarity with CSK doesn’t end there, and they have inherited the same problem CSK had – the fast bowling. Ishant Sharma, RP Singh, Ishwar Pandey and Ashok Dinda are the Indian pacers for the Pune side, and none of them have gathered acclaim for their death bowling. Scott Boland is the overseas option apart from all-rounders Irfan Pathan, Albie
But on the batting front, everything looks perfect with the ever-reliable Ajinkya Rahane and Kevin Pietersen at the top. The T20 captains of Australia, South
(Also Read: From IPL to PWL: A country of Leagues)
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