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

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 captain Rohit Sharma
Rohit Sharma leads a Mumbai Indians' side filled with some very talented and highly competitive players. Image Credit: AP

Who will 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 a setback to their fortunes this year.

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The Chennai Super Kings are the first ones 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 dangerous opponents.

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.