Mumbai Indians players celebrate
A familiar sight in IPL: The Mumbai Indians celebrate with the trophy after their victory over the Chennai Super Kings in the 2019 Indian Premier League final in Hyderabad on May 13, 2019. Image Credit: AFP

If you are an IPL buff, hold on to your seat. The Indian Premier League 2021 will be another wild ride from Sunday (September 19, 2021). The UAE are the new hosts after Season 14 was suspended following a COVID-19 outbreak in India. The change of venue will have a significant effect, and the 2021 edition will chart a different course from the one that started in India.

Well, that’s to be expected. The warm weather and dry pitches promise a twist in the plot. Which means there will be a change in fortunes. The leaderboard will soon wear a new look as some sides will find the UAE more to their liking. Especially the teams with quality seamers.

We saw that last year, during Season 13, when Jasprit Bumrah, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Deepak Chahar and Trent Boult returned rich hauls. A replay cannot be ruled out. But they will have to halt a resurgent Chennai Super Kings, while Delhi Capitals and Royal Challengers Bangalore chase their maiden title.

The long break has impacted the availability of several overseas players. All the franchises were quick to sign replacements, and that will affect some teams. The new arrivals will only be too keen to impress and retain the places in the playing XI. That competition is healthy for the teams.

Spectators too will be back, although UAE stadiums will be operating at limited capacity. Even then, the atmosphere will be electric. Teams too will be energised by the full-throated backing of their fans. And it will be arenaline that propels players to perform at their peak of prowess.

Let’s look at how the teams are placed ahead of the resumption of IPL 2021 in the UAE.

Mumbai Indians captain Rohit Sharma
Rohit Sharma will be looking to steer Mumbai Indians to their sixth IPL title. Image Credit: AP

Mumbai Indians — Aiming for a hat-trick

Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor

Five-time champions Mumbai Indians are gunning for their third title in a row. They have always been slow starters and the 2021 campaign hasn’t worked well for them. But the defending champions wouldn’t be too worried since they are in the top four and within striking distance of their rivals.

In Rohit Sharma, Mumbai has an unflappable captain who leads a bunch of stroke players, with big hitters Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya coming late in the order. They will love the UAE pitches, but their pacers would relish better. Jasprit Bumrah, Trent Boult and Nathan Coulter-Nile will be rubbing their hands in glee.

Spin too is secure in the hands of leggie Rahul Chahar, who helped pulled off unlikely victories this year, and left-armer Krunal Pandya. So it will take a brave man to bet against a Mumbai win this year too.

Changes: None

Captain: Rohit Sharma

Head coach: Mahela Jayawardene

Owner: Reliance Industries Limited

Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli will be pulling out all the stops to land Royal Challengers Bangalore’s first IPL title. Image Credit: AFP

Royal Challengers Bangalore — Best chance yet

Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor

Despite being a glamorous side, the Royal Challengers Bangalore have never won the IPL. This season, Virat Kohli’s side seem keen to rectify that aberration. They are in the third spot behind the Delhi Capitals and the Chennai Super Kings, with 27 league matches left in Season 14.

Unlike the previous editions, RCB forged into the lead quite early in the tournament and kept their chances alive with a string of fine victories. Although the batting revolved around Kohli and AB de Villiers, last season’s discovery Devdutt Padikkal continues to be an asset.

More heartening was the performance of their bowlers, who survived some stern examinations. Kyle Jamieson’s arrival has helped staunch the run deluge at the death, and Mohammad Siraj’s India appearances have boosted his confidence.

After the matches were suspended, RCB lost quite a few players. While allrounder Washington Sundar was injured, Finn Allen, Adam Zampa, Daniel Sams and Kane Richardson pulled out. Wanindu Hasaranga, Tim David, Akash Deep, Dushmantha Chameera and George Garton are the replacements.

Head coach Simon Katich too stepped down, but Mike Hesson has taken over the reins, so the change should be seamless.

In: Wanindu Hasaranga (Sri Lanka), Akash Deep (India), Tim David (Australia), Dushmantha Chameera (Sri Lanka) and George Garton (England)

Out: Washington Sundar (India), Adam Zampa (Australia), Finn Allen (New Zealand), Daniel Sams (Australia), Kane Richardson (Australia), and head coach Simon Katich (Australia)

Captain: Virat Kohli

Head coach: Mike Hesson

Owner: United Spirits

Rishabh Pant
If Rishabh Pant can lead Delhi Capitals to their first title, that will be an IPL fairytale. Image Credit: Sportzpics

Delhi Capitals – Maintaining momentum will be the challenge

Gautam Bhattacharyya, Senior Associate Editor

Delhi Capitals, runners-up in 2020, will be hoping that their momentum in the first half of the season doesn’t desert them when they resume their campaign in the UAE.

When IPL 2021 was suspended in early May in India due to COVID-19 cases among the teams, Delhi were sitting pretty atop the table with six wins from eight games. The team management has tried to ensure that the players are in good condition and are acclimatised to the hot and humid conditions in the UAE.

They were one of the early birds to land in the UAE — after Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings — while Shreyas Iyer had reached even earlier. Having recovered from shoulder surgery, his return to the key number four position will stabilise the Delhi middle order, which appeared fragile despite the flying starts from openers Shikhar Dhawan and Prithvi Shaw in India.

Their bowling line-up is easily the most well-rounded of the eight teams, with Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje, the South African pace aces, promising to be more effective on the UAE wickets than India. The slow bowling department is well equipped with Ravi Ashwin and left-arm spinner Axar Patel being capable of bowling in the Powerplay overs. Let’s also not forget the wily leggie Amit Mishra, who had to return home early after a finger injury last year.

There was speculation on whether Iyer would regain captaincy or Rishabh Pant will be allowed to continue after a decent job in the Indian leg. However, the team management has opted for continuity by asking Pant to captain the rest of the season too.

Delhi would also benefit from the availability of all but one overseas player in the second leg; Australian allrounder Ben Dwarshuis will replace England’s Chris Woakes.

In: Ben Dwarshuis (Australia)

Out: Chris Woakes (England)

Captain: Rishabh Pant

Coach: Ricky Ponting

Owners: GMR Group, JSW Group

Sanju Samson of Rajasthan Royals
Captain Sanju Samson should be at his consistent best if Rajasthan Royals have to turn around their fortunes. Image Credit: BCCI

Rajasthan Royals — Can they turn the tide?

Gautam Bhattacharyya, Senior Associate Editor

Rajasthan Royals, who are sitting in the fifth spot of the IPL table, will be hoping to shrug off the absence of star players for the UAE leg. The biggest investments — the England trio of Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer — are not available. Buttler wants to be with the family for the birth of his second child, Archer is injured, and allrounder Stokes is on a break to focus on his mental well-being.

Another blow is the absence of Australian fast bowler Andrew Tye, who was one of the vocal critics of the IPL when the second wave of COVID-19 raged in India.

Replacing such marquee names is not easy, but the Royals have not done too badly. Evin Lewis is Buttler’s replacement, chinaman bowler Tabraiz Shamsi comes in for Tye, Oshane Thomas for Stokes, and Glenn Phillips steps into Jofra Archer’s shoes. They are very useful performers, and South Africa’s Shamsi, the world’s No.1 ranked T20 bowler, can lend the X-factor to the attack.

The other takeaway from the first part of their campaign was the discipline — something which they possibly owe to the arrival of Kumar Sangakkara as the Director of Cricket.

However, the lack of depth in batting will be their biggest concern, and it’s time that the so-called promising youngsters like Yashasvi Jaiswal, Riyan Parag and Shivam Dube take more responsibility in the top order instead of sparkling cameos. South Africa’s senior pro David Miller and the expensive allrounder Chris Morris will have to up their game if the Royals have to finish in the top four.

In: Evin Lewis, Oshane Thomas (West Indies), Glenn Phillips (New Zealand), Tabraiz Shamsi (South Africa)

Out: Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer (England), Andrew Tye (Australia)

Captain: Sanju Samson

Coach: Trevor Penney

Owners: Manoj Badale, Lachlan Murdoch

Eoin Morgan, captain of Kolkata Knight Riders, plays a shot.
Eoin Morgan's task is not easy. His batting is crucial for Kolkata Knight Riders, so is his captaincy. Image Credit: BCCI

Kolkata Knight Riders — The shining armour is missing

Gautam Bhattacharyya, Senior Associate Editor

The Eoin Morgan-led franchise had a miserable run in the first phase with just two wins in seven matches. Languishing at the seventh spot, they need to win at least five out of the remaining matches to harbour any hope of making the last four.

The two-time champions, who narrowly missed the fourth spot in the last two years, betrayed a lack of direction in their campaign. The inability of the think-tank to have a stable middle order and some inexplicable captaincy moves compounded the problems.

Strangely enough, there is no dearth of impact players. Morgan, who led the white ball revolution in England, the Caribbean powerhouse Andre Russell, the experienced Dinesh Karthik, Lockie Ferguson and a varied spin attack came up short repeatedly in India.

However, the wickets in the UAE will give the Knights’ pace attack more bite. Pat Cummins, the Australian speedster, has opted out, and veteran Kiwi Pacer Tim Southee replaces him. Southee had often led the Kiwi attack and can provide valuable inputs on bowling in this format.

There are plenty of question marks around the batting and the fitness of Shubman Gill, who returns after a shin injury. At 22, he is no stranger to stardom, but Gill has to take responsibility and silence the critics about his strike rate.

In: Tim Southee (New Zealand)

Out: Pat Cummins (Australia)

Captain: Eoin Morgan

Coach: Brendon McCullum

Owner: Knight Riders Group, Red Chillies Entertainment, Mehta Group

Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Mahendra Singh Dhoni did well to pull Chennai Super Kings out of the wreckage of last year. They are ideally placed to have a shot at the title this year. Image Credit: PTI

Chennai Super Kings — Yellow Lions ready to move in for the kill

A.K.S. Satish, Assistant Editor

The Chennai Super Kings generally gather steam in the second half of the tournament, just when everyone thinks they are unlikely to make the playoffs.

CSK have had an excellent start to IPL 2021 and are ready to go for the kill. The Super Kings are among the top four, well-placed to make the knockout stage. More importantly, the players would be very keen to make amends for last year’s disappointing show. Last season, for the first time in IPL, the Super Kings finished at the bottom of the table, tied on points with Rajasthan Royals (CSK finished seventh due to a marginal difference in the net run rate).

Chennai have not been affected by the withdrawals of players. On the contrary, they have been bolstered by the availability of Australian pacer Josh Hazlewood.

Most players are in good form, and the Yellow Lions skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni would want them to carry that form into the UAE leg. Ruturaj Gaikwad must be looking to stamp his class on the league after some nervy displays. Donning the India colours in Sri Lanka would have eased the pressure.

On current form, Chennai should make the playoff, and once they make the knockout, it will be difficult to stop them.

In: Josh Hazlewood (Australia)

Out: None

Captain: Mahendra Singh Dhoni

Coach: Stephen Fleming

Owner: India Cements

Kane Williamson of Sunrisers Hyderabad
Sunrisers Hyderabad will need Kane Williamson's steady batting and calm leadership for a revival. Image Credit: BCCI

Sunrisers Hyderabad — Looking for a revival of fortunes

A.K.S. Satish, Assistant Editor

If one team that’s troubled the most, other than Rajasthan Royals, that must the Sunrisers Hyderabad. Stranded at the bottom of the table, the Sunrisers have already an uphill task to climb with two points from seven matches. To compound their misery, Hyderabad have lost their key batsman Johnny Bairstow, who was one of the many withdrawals from the UAE leg of the Indian Premier League.

If that’s not enough, ace spinner Rashid Khan and allrounder Mohammad Nabi must be distracted after openly displaying their unhappiness on the happenings at home in Afghanistan.

However, it’s not all gloom for Hyderabad. On a positive note go-to-man Bhuvneshwar Kumar returns from the injury break and must have got into this rhythm with a couple of matches under his belt against Sri Lanka. Hyderabad always had the bowling might to restrict opponents with the likes of Natarajan, Khaleel Ahmed and the mystery spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman.

Among the batsmen, it’s a big opportunity for Manish Pandey, who was out of the Indian team, to once again prove his worth. Vijay Shankar and Kedar Jadhav will aim to catch the selectors’ eyes. It’s also time for youngsters like Abdul Samad, Abhishek Sharma and Priyam Garg to show that they are ready to carry the team on their shoulders.

Skipper Kane Williamson is a cool customer in batting and captaincy. His leadership carred New Zealand to the 50-over World Cup final and to the Test championship title. He sure will have some aces up his sleeve.

In: Sherfane Rutherford (West Indies)

Out: Johnny Bairstow (England)

Captain: Kane Williamson

Coach: Trevor Bayliss

Owners: Kalanithi Maran, Sun TV Network

KL Rahul's batting has been phenomenal, but the Punjab Kings will need other batsmen to contribute well. Image Credit: PTI

Punjab Kings — Batsmen need to show consistency

A.K.S. Satish, Assistant Editor

Punjab Kings’ batting was at times brilliant, but there have been occasions when it was merely mediocre. The inconsistency pushed them into a perilous situation despite the presence of some star players. But consistency has never been Punjab’s forte, and that’s why their IPL trophy cabinet has remained empty.

In eight games, the Kings scored over 190 runs twice but finished under 135 three times. Although pitches and other conditions can impact the scoring, a team that boasts of KL Rahul, Chris Gayle, Mayank Agarwal and Nicholas Pooran should have done better. The first three batsmen scored the bulk of the runs, and Pooran, the West Indian left-hander, managed only 28 runs in seven matches. The Kings will want him to regain his touch to enhance the middle order’s contribution.

Dawid Malan and Jhye Richardson have pulled out of the second leg, and that could be a blessing in disguise for Punjab, who have roped in England leg-spinner Adil Rashid and South African batsman Aiden Markram.

Punjab need to win at least four of the remaining six games even to have a mathematical chance of qualifying for the playoffs. So now it is up to the batsmen to support the impressive and varied bowling attack led by Mohammed Shami.

In: Aiden Markram (South Africa) and Adil Rashid (England)

Out: Dawid Malan (England) and Jhye Richardson (Australia)

Captain: KL Rahul

Coach: Anil Kumble

Owners:  Preity Zinta, Ness Wadia, Mohit Burman and Karan Paul