IPL Season 14 matches start on April 9. Image Credit: IPL

The Indian Premier League has lost none of it allure after 13 years. As Season 14 begins on April 9, the Twenty20 league with eight teams continues to enthrall cricket lovers worldwide. Even COVID-19 couldn’t dent its popularity.

The spectators may be absent from the stadiums, but the hype, hoopla and the intensity of competition remain undiminished. That was what IPL-13 in the UAE showed us.

So in the run-up to IPL-14, we asked two of our journalists and two cricket enthusiasts two questions: What IPL means to them and which team they expect to win this year? This is what they told us.

I expect the Mumbai Indians to win this year

Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor

What IPL means to me?

The Indian Premier League is a pure entertainment package for me. It’s where Bollywood meets cricket. Where glitz and glamour raise the sport to the stratosphere. Too much razzmatazz; that was precisely my problem.

So, the IPL never really enthused me in the early days. I thought the infusion of glamour robbed cricket of its purity. A cricketer in my younger days, I still love Test cricket. But I understand One-Day Internationals and Twenty20 matches have given cricket a lifeline. Still, I believed cricket took a back seat in the IPL.

IPL matches have a carnival atmosphere with blaring music, gyrating cheer-leaders, flame-throwers and colourful festoons. That’s a far cry from the cricket stadiums, where spectators’ applause barely rise above the din in appreciation of the boundaries and wickets. I thought the sideshows are distracting us from the cricketing action, which is the main fare. But I’ve made my peace with the trappings of IPL glamour.

For, the positives were numerous. The IPL raised the profile of cricket and cricketers in India. It brought the world’s best to the country. High-quality thrillers and breathtaking performances made me an IPL addict. It’s undoubtedly the best T20 league in the world.

Mumbai Indians squad celebrates with the trophy of Indian Premier League (IPL) 2020
The Mumbai Indians celebrate after winning the Indian Premier League 2020 at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on November 10, 2020. They are heavy favourites to retain the title this year too. Image Credit: Sportzpics for BCCI

Why I back Mumbai Indians to win IPL 2021?

I’ve always backed the Royal Challengers Bangalore simply because the city has been very close to my heart. But having watched the Mumbai Indians’ dominant performance last year, I pick them to win their sixth IPL title this year.

Mumbai have what Bangalore lack: consistency. With a formidable bench strength, they didn’t even feel skipper Rohit Sharma’s absence in a couple of games.

They are a complete side. Well-balanced too. It will take some extraordinary performances to upset the Mumbai Indians. And I don’t see that happening this year.

Mumbai had some hiccups last year, but none significant enough to derail them. But then in a tournament that stretches over two months, there are bound to be ups and downs in form. Which is why consistency is very important. And Mumbai’s consistency is unmatched.

That’s where the Delhi Capitals failed last year. They have a talented side, but some bad losses put their position in jeopardy, although they recovered well to make the final. But an injury to their inspirational leader Shreyas Iyer may be affect their fortunes this year.

The Chennai Super Kings are the first to create a winning formula, with a mix of talent and experience. And they relied heavily on their stalwarts to forge wins. It worked for them, and they have three titles to show. The CSK are in rebuild mode this year, so they may not be the same force although Suresh Raina is back. But if they make the knockout stage, Chennai can be very dangerous.

Mumbai adopted Chennai’s template and refined it. When they a built a team around Rohit Sharma, Mumbai ensured adequate replacements for everyone. So an injury to a player won’t upset the well-drilled team. Look at how an injury to Saurabh Tiwary opened an opportunity for Ishan Kishan, whose performances made him irreplaceable last year. So when Sharma was injured, Tiwary returned. At no point was the team’s balance compromised.

So, there’s every reason to back Mumbai to win this year too. Even though my heart bleeds for Bangalore.

Virat Kohli
India's Virat Kohli hits a six to win the match against England in the second T20I, at Narendra Modi Stadium, Ahmedabad. Image Credit: Reuters

I am backing Royal Challengers Bangalore

Anis Sajan, Special to Gulf News

What does IPL mean to me?

IPL means a fairy tale to me, which was born in 2008 when dreams were sowed by Lalit Modi, the man whose brainchild IPL was. The fruits of that were borne by players, coaches, support staff, BCCI, team owners and everyone associated with IPL.

It's a two-month carnival, which will be in its 14th edition starting from April 9 this year, when the world will come to a standstill and follow their superstars and their favourite franchise with passion and fervour. It's the biggest franchise league in world cricket, where upcoming Indian players are able to rub shoulders and share the dressing room with the very best.

Anis Sajan

Every year, we see a new star born and with every passing year the standard of cricket in the IPL gets better and better. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the IPL was a big hit with the TRP ratings breaking all records, and it won't be a surprise if the trend continues this year too.

Why I am supporting RCB?

I generally support all teams, but this year I am backing the Royal Challengers Bangalore and hoping them to win their first ever IPL. There are many reasons to it, first and foremost Virat Kohli, the King Maker, has a point to prove to everyone doubting his credentials as a T20 captain for not winning even once this coveted IPL trophy in its history of 13 years.

Secondly, with the T20 World Cup happening in late October this year, Kohli would know at the back of his mind how much confidence he would get, if he wins the IPL heading in to the T20 World Cup in front of his home crowd. Kohli has got into great form against England in the recently concluded T20 bilateral series leading from the front and also making a statement that he would also be opening for RCB this year, along with Devdutt Padikkal who scored five centuries in the recently concluded Vijay Hazare Trophy. 360 Degree Player AB De Villiers, X factor and Showman Glenn Maxwell along with young Mohammed Azharuddeen and all-rounder Shabaz Nadeem makes the batting order very imposing.

Moreover, RCB has got Kyle Jamieson of New Zealand, who along with Mohammed Siraj, Yuzvendra Chahal, Washington Sundar, Navdeep Saini and Daniel Sam to boost the bowling. Finally, the biggest plus is that RCB won't be playing at the small ground of M Chinnaswamy Stadium, where defending a total was a big headache for Kohli’s bowlers in the past and it will give his spinners the extra cushion playing on other grounds. Hence, I believe and back Angry Young Man Virat Kohli’s team to lift their first title this year.

— Cricket enthusiast and businessman Anis Sajan is the Vice Chairman of Danube Group

Chennai Super Kings players
Chennai Super Kings will be looking to thrive on the Indian conditions with their own formula again. Image Credit: BCCI

Chennai Super Kings will win this year

Gautam Bhattacharyya, Senior Associate Editor

What IPL means to me?

Love it or hate it, but you cannot ignore it — that in a nutshell — was my first impression about the Indian Premier League (IPL) when it became a runaway hit in its first edition in 2008. After 13 years of a tumultous journey during which it has weathered a many a storm, my strongest feeling is that it had been one of the most spectacular stories in brand-building out of India which has changed the landscape of cricket throughout the world.

While Lalit Modi, the cavalier founding chairman of IPL, is given a lot of credit for giving birth to an unique concept on the lines of English Premier League football, some of the best creative minds of the country’s marketing and advertising industry had been at work over the years to build this exceptional product. No amount of scandal, recession or even uncertainty over the event has been able to cast a negative impact on the product’s appeal — which has formed a robust business model over the years.

At another level, the IPL has lived up to its theme which is carved out in Sanskrit on the glittering trophy which means: ‘‘Where talent meets opportunity.’’ While most of the biggest names of the sport want to prove themselves on the IPL stage for the fat pay cheque, it’s also a platform where we have seen so many rags-to-riches stories. Be it the Pandya brothers from the dusty streets of Baroda, or a Mohammed Siraj — the son of an autorickshaw driver in Hyderabad — there are simply no end to such fascinating stories of wish fulfillment. This is also another plus for me from the IPL.

Why I think Chennai Super Kings may make amends

It’s always a million-dollar question as to who will win the title. After the dominant performance of Mumbai Indians in the UAE on their way to a fifth title, one would be tempted to go with them but I would like to stick my neck out and count on Chennai Super Kings to bounce back for a shot at what could be their fourth title. A combination of factors led to their undoing last time when they finished seventh — the lack of enough quality batsmen in the middle order to give their innings momentum, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s abysmal form with the bat and the spinners lacking teeth made them lose their way on the unfamiliar terrain of Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi.

Suresh Raina, whose absence at No.3, was felt acutely last time, is back while Chennai has roped in two experienced campaigners in Cheteshwar Pujara and Robin Uthappa. They may not exactly look like hot properties on paper, but can provide the spine that CSK were lacking so sorely last time. The new ball attack rests on the capable hands of Deepak Chahar, wily Shardul Thakur and the ever-improving Sam Curran.

The spin department has also received a fillip with the arrival of Moeen Ali, who along with Ravindra Jadeja and Karn Sharma, can prove to be a different kettle of fish on Indian conditions!

I am rooting for Chennai Super Kings

Sahil Sajan, Special to Gulf News

What does IPL mean to me?

Sahil Sajan

The IPL is a tournament I always look forward to, as I get to see fantastic players, not only from India but also from around the world. Since 2008, when the first season of IPL had begun, it has always given us such interesting matches to witness and also see world-class players in action.

Why I am supporting CSK?

The team that I am rooting for this season is the Chennai Super Kings. Only for one reason: MS Dhoni. I can definitely agree on the fact that he did not score many runs last season and his team had ended up in the 7th place, but his captaincy plays a massive part in the team as he always ends up making shrewd decisions for his team. This season they have signed veteran players like Moeen Ali and Robin Uthappa, who can be very useful in many aspects, such as handling pressure in tough situations. They also retained star players like Sam Curran, Ravindra Jadeja and Suresh Raina returns to Chennai Super Kings squad, after not being a part of last season.

— Sahil Sajan is a cricket enthusiast based in UAE