Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor
The Indian Premier League is back. Matches start in the UAE on September 19 as Season 14 resumes after a COVID-induced break. For the second time in two years, the UAE is hosting the IPL games. While Season 13 matches were played in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah last year, the 2021 edition restarts in the UAE after it was suspended in May when several players came down with coronavirus infection.
After 29 matches in India, the Delhi Capitals have their noses in front with 12 points from eight games. Chennai Super Kings and Royal Challengers Bangalore are breathing down Delhi’s necks with 10 points and a game in hand. Defending champions and favourites Mumbai Indians with eight points are in fourth place, but they will be relishing the prospect of playing in the UAE, having won their fifth title here.
The UAE stadiums are a different proposition than in India, where matches in the south tended to be low-scoring affairs. But runs were on offer in the games in Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Delhi.
The pitches in the UAE are loaded with runs, but pace bowlers can get some life if they bend their backs. Fingers spinners haven’t had much success last time around, though the leggies did hold their own.
More than the strips, it’s the size of the stadiums that will impact the run-scoring. Sharjah’s short boundaries will provide a deluge of runs, while sixes will be fewer in the longer Abu Dhabi boundaries. All this will force the teams to rejig their strategies.
The three-month break also will affect the composition of the teams. Many players are not available due to injuries, some others withdrew citing the crowded calendar, while Simon Katich has stepped down as RCB coach. The franchises have signed up several new players as replacements.
So the second half of IPL 14 will not be an extension of the Indian leg in terms of cricketing action and results. There are far too many variables. The return of spectators adds more spice to the mix. And that makes for exciting tussles ahead. The Twenty20 matches suddenly became more unpredictable. So hold on to your seats and keep your eyes glued on the action.
WHO WILL WIN?
Mumbai will win their sixth IPL title
Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor
I will stick with my earlier prediction of a win for Mumbai Indians. They might be in the fourth spot after playing seven games, but they are a champion side. Not for nothing have they won five IPL titles. They are very resilient and have always started poorly only to finish on a high. So I expect them to scale the podium a sixth time.
Delhi Capitals have been impressive, and the Chennai Super Kings seem to have returned to their ruthless winning ways. Even Royal Challengers Bangalore have looked good enough to land their maiden title after the arrival of Glen Maxwell and Kyle Jamieson.
Delhi and Bangalore are chasing the elusive maiden title, but remember, Mumbai became champions a fifth time in the UAE last year. The pitches offer pacers Trent Boult and Jasprit Bumrah enough encouragement, and Rohit Sharma’s side has ample batting power to see them through.
In the next 31 games, Mumbai would be the side to beat. They will be a far different from the side that struggled in India. So when the final on October 15 is over, Mumbai Indians will be whooping for joy.
Royal Challengers Bangalore will break the duck
A.K.S. Satish, Assistant Editor
Hailing from the southern Indian city of Chennai, my heart always beats for Chennai Super Kings. This year, I have the strange feeling that Virat Kohli’s Bangalore Royal Challengers will beat Chennai in the final for their maiden title.
I am basing my predictions on a variety of reasons.
Firstly, the top four teams are ideally placed to clinch the play-off slots. Secondly, RCB quickly signed up in-form players such as Sri Lankan leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranga and Australian Tim David as replacements. But what makes RCB more dangerous is their skipper Kohli, who after a ‘lean patch’, will be eager to prove his detractors wrong. And the Royal Challengers are only a few wins away from making the next stage.
Plugged the gaps
Usually, the strength of the Indian players determines the outcome of IPL matches, especially in the crunch games — a formula that the CSK and Mumbai Indians have perfected over the years. This year, RCB and Delhi Capitals seemed to have plugged the gaps, which is why they occupy the top four spots midway through the season.
Mohammad Siraj, Navdeep Saini and Devdutt Padikkal have now gained international exposure and complement the dangerous AB de Villiers and Glenn Maxwell. The only blip is the late withdrawal of Washington Sundar after failing a fitness test at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru. The spinner would have enjoyed bowling in the UAE conditions, restricting the opponents bowling in tandem with Yuzvendra Chahal. So I think RCB will go all the way.
KKR and Hyderabad? Stranger things have happened
Anis Sajan, Special to Gulf News
Come September 19, the IPL 2021 will restart in the UAE after being suspended in May. 29 matches have been played and four teams are leading the way. Delhi Capitals, Chennai, RCB and defending champs Mumbai are the four teams in the mix. One team that has a lot to do is Sunrisers Hyderabad, who lag behind KKR.
It might be a timely break for the bottom-placed teams as they can regroup themselves but it’s not going to easy for Hyderabad, KKR and the likes of Rajasthan Royals and Punjab Kings too to make up the lost ground. The top three teams only need three wins out of their seven remaining games to make the play-offs.
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to predict who will make the play-offs but stranger things have happened in the past and this delay in tournament might be just the break needed to change the momentum in the favour of the underdogs.
Big finals experience
If I had to pick two teams to make the final, I would pick Chennai Super Kings and Delhi Capitals, with Chennai pipping their rivals because of their experience of winning big finals — something Delhi have failed to do. Chennai have all their players for the restart, which will be a plus point for them. Moreover, their ‘local’ players Rituraj Gaikwad, Deepak Chahar and Ravindra Jadeja all look in good form and if captain MS Dhoni joins the party, it would be the perfect icing on the cake for CSK.
Only time will tell which team will walk away with the coveted title on October 15, but I would back the experience of Chennai and the guile of Dhoni, Fleming and Michael Hussey in guiding their team to their fourth title.
Delhi Capitals are a sure-fire bet to win for first time
Gautam Bhattacharyya, Senior Associate Editor
A four-and-a-half month gap can change the momentum of teams, but I am ready to put my money on Delhi Capitals to win IPL 2021. Delhi, sitting pretty atop the standings with 12 points after eight matches, are a certainty to make the play-offs. A tally of 16 points is usually enough to make the knockout stage and last year’s runners-up look well-poised to go past that from the six more league games in the UAE.
Their performance in the UAE was bit of an anticlimax last year — both in the qualifier and final against Mumbai Indians — but the team have what it takes to win the big games. The rebranded Delhi team’s turnaround from 2019 after seasons of disappointment has been laudable — a play-off followed by a runners-up finish — and the fairytale would be complete if they end on the podium this season.
There is something refreshing about this Capitals side that has endeared to their fans in recent times. Which other team can boast of two of the most exciting talents in contention for the captain’s post? Last year's captain Shreyas Iyer is back after recovering from a shoulder injury and the dashing Rishabh Pant has led the team very well in Iyer's absence, and he will continue to lead Delhi in the UAE.
The return of Iyer at number four shores up their middle order, while the Capitals will also benefit from the services of two seasoned campaigners who missed IPL 2020 due to injuries. The experience of Ishant Sharma and the guile of Amit Mishra on the slower UAE wickets will make the Delhi attack more potent.
Everyone loves an underdog, especially one with Kohli on board
Matthew Smith, Sports Editor
We are at 14 years and counting and poor old Virat Kohli and Royal Challengers Bangalore are yet to claim the Indian Premier League title. I think that is all about to change and the India skipper will finally get his hands on one of the few pieces of silverware to elude him thus far in a glittering career. RCB are primed with a deep squad and some handy replacements after the hiatus. My one concern is if they cannot do it this time around then it may be gone forever. KKR, Rajasthan and Hyderabad will come back stronger, Mumbai and Chennai are not going anywhere so it will only get tougher.
They have done the hard work, and now RCB need to get over the line once and for all.
Ground realities in UAE
How the pitches will play to team’s strengths and weaknesses
A.K.S. Satish, Assistant Editor
As the IPL 2021 resumes in the UAE, the pitches in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah will come under scrutiny. Even though the wickets are fresh and sparingly used over the last few months, some pitches could be set aside for the Twenty20 World Cup.
Only 31 matches remain in the IPL (8 in Abu Dhabi, 13 in Dubai, 10 in Sharjah), yet the spinners might play a more significant role as the tournament reaches the final stage. If the wear and tear of the pitch will help the spinners, their impact could be reduced by the dew, which makes it difficult to grip the ball while making the pitches sticky.
Let’s take a look at how these grounds will play out for the IPL.
Name: Sheikh Zayed Stadium; Opened: 2004; Capacity: 20,000
The pitch at the Zayed Cricket Stadium has always been two-paced, but the bounce has resulted in high scores. The highest number of runs scored in a match occurred when Chennai Super Kings (205) were beaten by Kings XI Punjab (206) in 2014. However, in this year’s Pakistan Super League, the ground witnessed a few 190-plus scores suggesting that the pitches offer more freedom for batsmen to play their shots.
Name: Dubai International Stadium; Opened: 2009; Capacity: 25,000
The pitches at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium are generally batsmen-friendly, with spinners getting some assistance from the cracks that could develop over time. The pacers can resort to variations by taking the pace off the ball to restrict the flow of runs. The team that win the toss and bat first tend to win with the dew slowing the wickets down.
Name: Sharjah Cricket Stadium; Opened: 1982; Capacity: 27,000
The Sharjah stadium is known for producing high-scoring games. The bounce is likely to be lower, allowing batsmen to play shots with ease, with sixes sailing over the short boundaries. So chasing stiff targets are never a problem.
The pitches at the Sharjah stadium now are an unknown commodity since the strip was re-laid as part of the upgrades in the run-up to the IPL and the T20 World Cup. So the team that win the toss could bat first and hope to capitalise on the deterioration of the fresh pitch.
Five stars to watch out for in IPL in the UAE
Gautam Bhattacharyya, Senior Associate Editor
The IPL had been always a Who’s Who of world cricketing talent, making it a difficult task to choose the ones to watch out for. While on one hand, the global giants of the white-ball game like Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers or Jos Buttler have enriched the quality of the competition, the big guns of Indian cricket have dominated the pecking order in terms of topscorers or wicket-takers.
However, the role of IPL has been crucial in showcasing the talent in Indian cricket — something which De Villiers finds ‘scary.’ Gulf News takes a look at five of them who have held their own in the competition in recent times and worth keeping an eye on.
Prithvi Shaw (Delhi Capitals): The talent of the pint-sized opener was never in question, but the way he was dumped from the Test squad during the last tour of Australia had surely acted as a rap in the knuckles. The Mumbai batsman continued his unstoppable form of domestic cricket into the first half of IPL 2021 and can be counted upon to give his side explosive starts in the UAE.
Suryakumar Yadav (Mumbai Indians): This year has been a turning point in the career of Suryakumar Yadav as his worth has been eventually recognised by the national selectors. At 30, ‘SKY,’ as he is called by his teammates, has been a pillar of strength for the five-time champions Mumbai at the pivotal No. 3 position.
Ruturaj Gaekwad (Chennai Super Kings): The disarming smile of this young Maharashtra opener belies his strength of character. After having stamped his class with four half-centuries at the fag end of Chennai’s campaign in the UAE last year, he is now a permanent fixture of ‘Yellove’ batting line-up and can provide the solidity up the order with Faf du Plessis.
Devdutt Padikkal (Royal Challengers Bangalore): The tall and graceful Karnataka opener, who was adjudged the Emerging Player of IPL in 2020 with an aggregate of 473, has grown in stature over the past year. His unbeaten century in the first part of IPL 2021 in India has been a talking point and he was rewarded with a call-up to the national team for Sri Lankan tour.
Chetan Sakariya (Rajasthan Royals): The 23-year-old left-arm pacer grabbed the limelight this year even in the limited opportunities he got for the Royals. The Saurashtra youngster withstood a tumultuous year on the personal front — losing his brother in a tragic manner and then his father to the COVID-19 pandemic but kept focus to be on the plane to Sri Lanka for the white-ball series.
HOW TO WATCH
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