IPL trophy 2023
The IPL trophy: The Tata Group renewed their five-year title sponsor contract for 2.5 billion rupees ($310 million) — the highest in IPL history. Image Credit: Sportzpics for IPL

The Indian Premier League is back. The 17th season of the Twenty20 cricket tournament starts on Friday (March 22) at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium, the home turf of the Chennai Super Kings, who begin their title defence against the Royal Challengers Bengaluru.

In the round-robin format, 10 teams in two groups will square off against each other, before the eliminators, qualifiers and the final. The Board for Control of Cricket in India have announced only the first 21 fixtures since national elections will run from April 19 to June 4. IPL organisers are expected to release the dates of the remaining fixtures soon. Day games will commence at 2pm UAE and night games will begin at 6pm UAE.

IPL and rise of the youth brigade

Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor

Cricket fever is too mild a word to describe the Indian Premier League. Cricket madness may be more apt. Simply because normal life goes out of the window when IPL matches are underway. Even after 16 seasons, the tournament has lost none of its aura or allure. IPL 17 won’t be different. It may even lure more viewers when the Twenty20 action starts on Friday.

What makes IPL tick? Is it the cricket stars on the pitch or the celebs in the stands? Or the party atmosphere? True, thumping music, chatty DJs and prancing cheerleaders contribute to the razzmatazz, but it’s the cricket on the field that keeps the spectators engrossed with tight finishes and edge-of-the seat dramas. Soaring sixes and the rattle of the stumps are greeted with unbridled joy, and the decibel levels in the stands can raise the roofs of stadiums. That attests to the popularity of the tournament.

It’s so popular that the world’s best cricketers are eager to catch flights to India. Some forgo the chance to turn out for their national squads. It makes IPL a magnet, the most successful and sought-after T20 franchise in history. The roaring success allows the 10 teams to hand out fat paycheques to buy the best.

The expensive buys of IPL

Mitchell Starc: He became the most expensive player in IPL history after the Kolkata Knight Riders spent 247.5 million rupees ($3.1 million) to buy the Australian fast bowler. Image Credit: Reuters

Mitchell Starc became the most expensive player in IPL history when the Kolkata Knight Riders splashed out 247.5 million rupees ($3.1 million) to buy the Australian fast bowler at the Dubai auction. Minutes earlier, Sunrisers Hyderabad had forked out 205 million rupees ($2.6 million) to secure Australian captain Pat Cummins. That’s some serious money.

At 17, IPL is a professional operation. No bluster, no missteps. Everything is crafted carefully for maximum impact. Advertisers love it. And it has gone global. Last year, Visit Saudi Arabia was a lead sponsor. Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways are team jersey sponsors. It’s marketing wizardry at its best. Little wonder that it’s one of the richest tournaments in history. The Tata Group renewed their five-year title sponsor contract for 2.5 billion rupees ($310 million) — the highest in IPL history.

For a white-ball limited-overs cricket tournament, the IPL has become a cradle for Indian talent. All the new arrivals in the Indian national squad have been forged in the searing cauldron.

New talents on the IPL block

India's Yashasvi Jaiswal celebrates after scoring a century
Yashasvi Jaiswal: The Rajasthan Royals' opener was in full flow in the Test series against England recently, hammering back to back double centuries. Image Credit: AFP

IPL attracts some of the best exponents of the game. Young Indian cricketers learn from them, allowing the talent pool to mature faster. The international success of Yashasvi Jaiswal, Sarfaraz Khan, Dhruv Jurel, Rinku Singh and Devdutt Padikkal is ample proof. More are in the pipeline.

Sadly, teams aren’t keen to pick young overseas players. Only Dewald Brevis of South Africa seemed to have had some success after being drafted by the Mumbai Indians. Left-arm chinaman bowler Noor Ahmed of Afghanistan made an impression last year for Gujarat. But beyond that, we are yet to see some good overseas talent.

Some Indian youngsters have gone on to become vital cogs of their teams. The Chennai Super Kings rely on Ruturaj Gaikwad’s opening salvos to rack up tall scores. Jaiswal plays a similar role for the Rajasthan Royals. Tilak Varma’s rescue acts for the Mumbai Indians belie his age (he’s 21 now). Shubman Gill has been a steadying influence for the Gujarat Titans.

Hardik Pandya heads leadership shuffle

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Hardik Pandya: The new captain of the Mumbai Indians, who are desperately seeking a turnaround in fortunes. Image Credit: Reuters

Gill will lead Gujarat this season after Hardik Pandya returned to captain the Mumbai Indians, who are desperately seeking to revive their fortunes. Mumbai had a coach change last year, with Mark Boucher replacing Mahela Jayawardene. Now Pandya takes over from popular skipper Rohit Sharma, who led them to five titles.

Five titles, that’s never enough. There’s no time for complacency. Mumbai’s quest for the sixth win unravelled over the last few years, and they thought it was time to ring some changes at the top. That’s where Pandya comes in.

Pandya and Gill are not the only new captains. Rishabh Pant returns to action after missing IPL 16 due to severe injuries sustained in a car crash to take over from David Warner, who captained the Delhi Capitals in the Indian wicketkeeper’s absence. Shreyas Iyer, who was kept out last by a back injury, will lead Kolkata, who were served by Nitish Rana. Cummins will replace Aiden Markram at the Sunrisers Hyderabad.

The Dhoni magic of CSK

Chennai Super Kings' Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Mahendra Singh Dhoni: Talismanic captain of the Chennai Super Kings. Image Credit: AFP

There’s no change at the Chennai Super Kings. Why would they? Especially after having won their record-equalling fifth title last year. Mahendra Singh Dhoni may be 42, and he may have a dodgy knee, but he will captain Chennai this year too. They wouldn’t want a repeat of the ill-fated experiment with Ravindra Jadeja. Chennai don’t seem to be in a hurry with its owner N. Srinivasan saying that the coach and the captain will decide on the new captain. And that is not happening this season.

Changes are not limited to captains. There have been new arrivals and rearrangements in the coaching staff, too. Andy Flower moved to the Royal Challengers Bengaluru, and his place at the Lucknow Super Giants has been taken up by Justin Langer. Daniel Vettori replaces Brian Lara in Hyderabad, while RCB head coach Sanjay Bangar moved to the Punjab Kings. And Gautam Gambhir is now Kolkata’s mentor.

How will these impact teams and their fortunes? It’s too early to say. But increasingly, franchises don’t have the patience to build teams with an eye on the future. Chennai is an exception. Mumbai used to do it until the trophy drought.

The induction of Gujarat and Lucknow two years back has added an element of surprise. Let’s see what’s in store this year.

The opening act of IPL

Hark, you can hear the whistling. It’s the Whistle Podu (blow the whistle) army at work. The sharp and shrill sound emanates from the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chepauk, Chennai. It’s the CSK net session, where thousands turn up to watch the players practice. The yellow brigade will be in force on Friday when the Chennai Super Kings take on the Royal Challengers Bengaluru in the Southern Derby.

It’s the opening act of Season 17. You couldn’t ask for a better lung opener than a clash of traditional rivals. Chennai’s title defence couldn’t have started at a better venue than Chepauk, where the full-throated support and incessant whistling of CSK supporters can unnerve rivals. Bengaluru are familiar with that, but beating Chennai in Chennai is tough. Especially when Dhoni’s at the helm.

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Chennai Super Kings players celebrate after winning the 2023 IPL title in Ahmedabad last year. Image Credit: AFP

IPL 2024: Complete analysis of 10 teams

A.K.S. Satish, Sports Editor

Some teams in the Indian Premier League have a habit of winning the title. Five-time champions Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians should start as favourites. Rajasthan Royals, Lucknow Super Giants and Royal Challengers Bengaluru are the dark horses. With Season 17 beginning on Friday, here’s a Gulf News analysis of the 10 teams and their prospects.

Chennai Super Kings

Chennai Super Kings
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Like in the past, the defending champions start as one of the favourites. The buzz around the retirement of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his invaluable contributions as a player and captain have been Chennai’s biggest strength. The five-time champions, once dubbed the Dad’s Army for having several retired players in the squad, defied every prediction to keep winning. Youngsters like Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shivam Dube, and debutant Rachin Ravindra are exciting talents in world cricket. However, the CSK suffered a setback when Devon Conway was ruled out for at least the early part of the season. Allrounders Ravindra Jadeja, Deepak Chahar and Shardul Thakur, who have returned to the CSK, make them formidable.

Gujarat Titans

Gujarat Titans
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The 2022 champions have been badly hit by the loss of skipper Hardik Pandya to the Mumbai Indians in an off-season trade-off. The injury to ace pacer Mohammed Shami makes things worse for the new captain Shubman Gill. However, it is a big opportunity for the 24-year-old Punjab batter to stake his claim as a future leader. The previous year’s runners-up also have some shrewd brains in Kane Williamson and able hands in David Miller, Rashid Khan and Rahul Tewatia. After winning the title in their debut season and making it to the final last year, it will be difficult for Gujarat to repeat their performance.

Lucknow Super Giants

Lucknow Super Giants
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The 2022 debutants have made the playoffs in their first two years under the leadership of KL Rahul. The Karnataka batter thrives under pressure, and he will have new coach Justin Langer to guide him. All eyes will be on West Indian sensation Shamar Joseph, who will be steaming in after his stunning show against Australia in the final Test in Brisbane in January. The team has some big matchwinners in Quinton de Kock, Nicholas Pooran and Kyle Meyers. However, the spin department looks weak, with Ravi Bishnoi being the lone specialist and allrounder Krunal Pandya.

Mumbai Indians

Mumbai Indians
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The five-time champions start a new era under Hardik Pandya. After a two-year slump, they made it to the playoffs last season, but it lost in the Eliminator. Pandya has a huge task, but with former skipper Rohit Sharma in good touch and Jasprit Bumrah at his best, Mumbai will be a strong contender. With Suryakumar Yadav fighting for fitness, players like Ishan Kishan and Tilak Varma need to take up the extra responsibility. Gerald Coetzee, Jason Behrendorff and Dilshan Madhushanka provide depth in the bowling, especially on pitches that assist seam bowling.

Rajasthan Royals

Rajasthan Royals
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It is puzzling why such a strong team cannot dominate the league? They are still searching for their second IPL title after Shane Warne guided them to victory in the inaugural edition. Young India sensation Yashasvi Jaiswal will be eager to continue his international form. The addition of Rovman Powell should lend the batting much-needed depth to the squad, which has Sanju Samson, Jos Buttler, Shimron Hetmyer and new India’s stalwart Dhruv Jurel. The bowling is led by the spin duo of Ravichandran Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal, with pacers Nandre Burger, Trent Boult and Avesh Khan capable of demolishing the rivals. But a lack of consistency is worrying.

Royal Challengers Bengaluru

Royal Challengers Bengaluru
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The Bengaluru fans must be once again hoping that the team will be able to break the jinx that had stopped them from winning the title in the last 17 editions. The three-time finalists have had the best players in the world to serve them, but still, the trophy has eluded them. The addition of Cameroon Green should bolster the batting along with the likes of Virat Kohli, who returns after staying away for the birth of his second child, Glenn Maxwell, skipper Faf du Plessis and Dinesh Karthik. Indian players like Rajat Patidar, Suyash Prabudessai and Anuj Rawat will be the key to ensuring that there are no holes to sink the ship. New coach Andy Flower has promised to do everything in their control to claim their first crown. Also, their women counterparts’ recent winning the WPL title should be a big booster.

Kolkata Knight Riders

Kolkata Knight Riders
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The Knight Riders will be boosted by the return of skipper Shreyas Iyer and the inclusion of Australian pacer Mitchell Starc. One problem the team could face is the lack of star Indian performers in batting and bowling. The team relies heavily on foreign imports, and apart from Rinku Singh, none have been in the thick of things recently. Nitish Rana, Venkatesh Iyer, Manish Pandey and Shikhar Bharat will have to be at their best to ensure Knight Riders move into the playoffs. In Sunil Narine and Andre Russell, they have some talented allrounders. Gautam Gambhir, who has returned to Kolkata team management, should provide valuable input.

Punjab Kings

Punjab Kings
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The Kings have shown plenty of promise but failed repeatedly to deliver in crucial situations. Punjab also relies heavily on international players, with Jitesh Sharma and Prabhsimran Singh as the backup for skipper Shikhar Dhawan in the batting department. This could be the reason for Punjab’s failure over the years. The lack of firepower from the Indian ranks will haunt them. Unless they unearth some Indian star this season, the batting looks too weak. They have Liam Livingstone, Sikandar Raza, and Sam Curran, but the strength of the Indian players is the key to winning consistently. Arshdeep Singh, Harshal Patel, and Kagiso Rabada will be Punjab’s main weapons in the bowling department.

Delhi Capitals

Delhi Capitals
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The return of Rishabh Pant to the Delhi dugout should lift their morale. The skipper was missed last season after a near-fatal car crash that left him seriously injured. It remains to be seen how Pant will withstand the pressure of playing such a long tournament, along with his wicketkeeping role. The Capitals have a rich Australian flavour with David Warner, Mitch Marsh and the young talent Jake Fraser-McGurg in the batting department. At the same time, the impressive form of Kuldeep Yadav and Mukesh Kumar should boost their title aspirations.

Sunrisers Hyderabad

Sunrisers Hyderabad
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Australian skipper Pat Cummins will have to justify his hefty price tag after being given the task of resurrecting the Sunrisers’ fortunes. His job gets trickier as he has a set of Indian players who are either over the hill or who have been dropped after failing to grab their chances. Washington Sundar is still in the current scheme of things but has been hampered by injuries. The World Cup winner needs to convert this set of players into champions. He has to bank heavily on Aiden Markram, Heinrich Klaasen, Glenn Phillips, Marco Jansen and Wanindu Hasaranga. Explosive fast bowler Umran Malik was largely ineffective last season. Can Cummins bring turn him into a wicket-taker? That could have an impact on the team’s fortunes.

Eight players who could make an impact

A.K.S. Satish, Sports Editor

Virat Kohli

Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli: Bulwark of Royal Challengers Bengaluru Image Credit: Sportzpics for IPL

The star Indian batter has a point to prove this season. There’s talk of Kohli being dropped for the Twenty20 World Cup, and that may be an added motivation to prove his detractors wrong. Kohli loves challenges, and the pressure should spur the 35-year-old to raise his game. When he was written off before the 2021 Twenty20 World Cup, he came back stronger. The former Royal Challengers Bengaluru skipper is still searching for his first IPL crown and will be more eager to win after the RCB franchise clinched the Women’s Premier League. Kohli, who scored 639 runs at an average of 53.25 last season, is not at his best after scoring 973 in 2016. Still, you can never write off Kohli.

Rishabh Pant

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Rishabh Pant: Delhi Capitals’ captain courageous Image Credit: AFP

The wicketkeeper-batter has come back from a near-fatal accident on December 30, 2022. Pant is now cleared to play in the IPL, his first big game. Pant is ready to start his second innings. The left-hander is very important for the Delhi Capitals, and if he passes the rigours of playing in such a long tournament, he could be an asset for Team India in the Twenty20 World Cup this year.

Shubman Gill

Shubhman Gill
Shubman Gill: New Gujarat Titans captain Image Credit: Gujarat Titans/Twitter

Gill was considered a Test player, but the Gujarat opener showed his full potential by winning the Orange Cap for leading run-scorer last season. With the added responsibility of captaincy, the 24-year-old will be eager to perform well. Gill’s role has changed in the Indian team, as he is moved to the No. 3 spot. So, it remains to be seen if Gill will open or settle at No. 3. Either way, he is the key to the team’s fortunes.

Rachin Ravindra

New Zealand's Rachin Ravindra bowls during the 2023 ICC Men's Cricket World Cup one-day international (ODI) first semi-final match between India and New Zealand at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on November 15, 2023.
Rachin Ravindra: Chennai Super Kings’ exciting allrounder Image Credit: AFP

The young New Zealand opener showed he loves the Indian wickets by scoring at will during last year’s 50-over ICC World Cup. With fellow New Zealander Devon Conway missing this season, Ravindra is set to get a long run, which should help him settle and work on his game under the tutelage of Mahendra Singh Dhoni. His left-arm spin will come in handy in the Indian wickets. The 24-year-old recently became the youngest recipient of the Sir Richard Hadlee Medal, and with an impressive record in both formats, Ravindra will be keen to make his mark on the Twenty20 format as well.

Yashasvi Jaiswal

Yashasvi Jaiswal
Yashasvi Jaiswal: Rajasthan Royals prodigy Image Credit: Sportzpics for IPL

The left-handed opener has been taking huge strides since his debut in Sharjah in 2020 against Chennai Super Kings. The 22-year-old is on top of his game with two double centuries against England in the recent Test series. Jaiswal is a formidable threat to the rivals and is expected to better his 2023 aggregate of 625 runs. Watching Jaiswal opening with Jos Buttler for Rajasthan will be a treat. That won’t be a pleasing sight for the opposition, as the match could be lost in the first six overs.

Ruturaj Gaikwad

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Ruturaj Gaikwad: Matchwinner for Chennai Super Kings Image Credit: AFP

The Chennai Super Kings opener is another all-format player. The 27-year-old was making a mark on the international scene when a finger injury in December left him on the sidelines after scoring 500 runs in 19 T20 games. IPL has been a happy hunting ground for Gaikwad, who could beat the field with sheer timing. In 2021, he scored a whopping 635 and 590 last season. Whenever he scores, Super Kings seem to win the title.

Rinku Singh

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Rinku Singh: Devastating finisher of Kolkata Knight Riders Image Credit: AFP

The left-hander was the impact player for Kolkata Knight Riders last season, guiding the two-time champions to improbable wins. He scored five successive sixes off the last over against Gujarat Titans to find instant stardom and finished the 2023 season in the top 10 for leading scorers with 474 runs. He is a dangerous finisher, a role he continued to perform even for Team India. The 26-year-old middle-order batter has an average of 89 in 15 T20 matches for India and has a phenomenal strike rate. The international exposure and experience should give him more confidence.

Shamar Joseph

Shamar Joseph
Shamar Joseph: Pace spearhead of Lucknow Super Giants Image Credit: AFP

The West Indian pace sensation has made the headlines since his debut against Australia. His seven-wicket haul in the final Test in Brisbane ended the Caribbean’s barren run Down Under, and his rise to fame has been nothing short of a movie script. The former security guard has been making the batters hop with incisive pace. His IPL break came when England pacer Mark Wood pulled out of this season. Lucknow Super Giants soon announced the 24-year-old as a replacement, giving the team the much-needed firepower.

Schedule of matches from March 22 to April 7
March 22: Chennai Super Kings vs Royal Challengers Bangalore in Chennai, 6.30pm (UAE)
March 23: Punjab Kings vs Delhi Capitals in Mullanpur, 2pm
March 23: Kolkata Knight Riders vs Sunrisers Hyderabad in Kolkata, 6pm
March 24: Rajasthan Royals vs Lucknow Super Giants in Jaipur, 2pm
March 24: Gujarat Titans vs Mumbai Indians in Ahmedabad, 6pm
March 25: Royal Challengers Bangalore vs Punjab Kings in Bengaluru, 6pm
March 26: Chennai Super Kings vs Gujarat Titans in Chennai, 6pm
March 27: Sunrisers Hyderabad vs Mumbai Indians in Hyderabad, 6pm
March 28: Rajasthan Royals vs Delhi Capitals in Jaipur, 6pm
March 29: Royal Challengers Bangalore vs Kolkata Knight Riders in Bengaluru, 6pm
March 30: Lucknow Super Giants vs Punjab Kings in Lucknow, 6pm
March 31: Gujarat Titans vs Sunrisers Hyderabad in Ahmedabad, 2pm
March 31: Delhi Capitals vs Chennai Super Kings in Visakhapatnam, 6pm
April 1: Mumbai Indians vs Rajasthan Royals in Mumbai, 6pm
April 2: Royal Challengers Bangalore vs Lucknow Super Giants in Bengaluru, 6pm
April 3: Delhi Capitals vs Kolkata Knight Riders in Visakhapatnam, 6pm
April 4: Gujarat Titans vs Punjab Kings in Ahmedabad, 6pm
April 5: Sunrisers Hyderabad vs Chennai Super Kings in Hyderabad, 6pm
April 6: Rajasthan Royals vs Royal Challengers Bangalore in Jaipur, 6pm
April 7: Mumbai Indians vs Delhi Capitals in Mumbai, 2pm
April 7: Lucknow Super Giants vs Gujarat Titans in Lucknow, 6pm