Test cricket is the highest level of the game. World Cup is the pinnacle of white-ball cricket. Both have a rich and deep history cultivated over decades of incredible results and painful defeats. It has a special place in the pantheon of cricket and will continue to do so for a long time.
And at the other side of the cricketing world there is an entity that has grabbed its corner of the landscape through brute strength – the Indian Premier League.
Absolutely nothing about the league is subtle. From the player outfits, cheerleaders and Bollywood patrons to million-dollar contracts, six-hitting sessions masquerading as T20 matches and sky-high TV ratings, the IPL is a force of nature.
It has been ten years since the idea that was first brought to life by the now-banned Indian Cricket League got turbo-charged by Lalit Modi. What started as an attempt to popularise and monetise a format invented in England exploded onto the scene with the force not even its most ardent proponents had expected.
The IPL is singularly responsible for the rise of T20 leagues across the globe that run parallel to the international calendar, opening up a whole new revenue stream for cricket boards, players and advertisers.
It is the IPL that has brought different cricketing cultures together, putting the best players on the planet in one dressing room and facilitating an incredible exchange of views and perspective, resulting in the elimination of at least a few misconceptions about rival players, mindset and cultures.
And most importantly, players who deliver in the IPL, Indian or otherwise, find themselves fast-tracked into the senior national team more often than not.
But IPL’s unprecedented rise has brought about its own set of problems.
Journeymen players are now a thing and cricketers around the globe are opting for white-ball only domestic contracts to make themselves available for IPL and other such T20 leagues.
Test cricket, or even international cricket, is not a priority for a number of young players in India as a handful of years in the IPL is more than enough from a financial point of view.
And then we have the controversies. IPL’s then chairman and commissioner Modi was unceremoniously shown the door in 2010 over allegations of administrative misconduct by the Indian board.
Then BCCI chief N Srinivasan got embroiled in a conflict of interest saga as he was also the head of the company that owned the Chennai Super Kings franchise.
Two separate spot fixing scandals – in 2012 and 2013 – not only resulted in bans for eight cricketers but also tainted the image of the league and raised questions about its efforts to keep corruption out of the game.
The biggest scandal – the 2013 spot fixing saga – saw Chennai and Rajasthan team owners and officials implicated in corruption and the franchises were suspended for two years in 2015.
In between, franchises were formed and disbanded. The city of Pune had two franchises – Pune Warriors India and Rising Pune Supergiant – while we also had Gujarat Lions and Kochi Tuskers Kerala for brief periods.
FASTER, HIGHER, STRONGER
Which brings us to 2018, where we are back to the same eight cities from where the IPL was first launched in 2008.
The 11th edition of the tournament has all the ingredients for a keenly contested affair between eight teams, not only because all teams have the best players on the planet – among those who are fit and available for selection – but also because franchises have become smart with regards to player selections and team matrix.
No doubt the absence of superstars like Steve Smith and David Warner through suspensions and injuries to star bowlers Mitchell Starc and Kagiso Rabada, among others, have taken some sheen off the IPL 2018.
But for Indian fans, the return of two beloved franchises – Rajasthan Royals and especially Chennai Super Kings – plus the availability of all Indian superstars and Under-19 World Cup winners provide adequate razzmatazz to stay glued to the TV screens for nearly two months.
And that is what it all boils down to. The IPL has survived numerous controversies, which might have crippled other tournaments, and even defied market logic by pulling in $2.55 billion by way of broadcast rights for the next five years.
As the rest of the cricketing world hits the pause button for the start of the T20 jamboree in India, let’s tip our hat to the league that can truly claim to be ‘everything-proof’.
Over the years, a host of international and Indian stars have taken the IPL by storm in their debut seasons. This season too, there will be no shortage of the most exciting of talents in the cricketing world undertaking their IPL baptism.
Here, we look at 10 such players worth keeping an eye on.
SANDEEP LAMICHHANE (DELHI DAREDEVILS)
The teenager is the first Nepalese cricketer to win an IPL contract and will be raring to make an impact for the Delhi Daredevils. The 17-year-old leg-spin prodigy has played a big hand in Nepal’s meteoric rise in the past two years, culminating with the attainment of a maiden ODI status for the landlocked nation.
MUJEEB ZADRAN (KINGS XI PUNJAB)
There is a reason Kings XI Punjab have splashed the big bucks on the Afghanistan spinner who has only recently turned 17. Having impressed in the ICC World Cup 2019 qualifiers, Zardan can bowl it all, be it off-spin, leg-spin or the googlies. Played a big part in Afghanistan’s march to the semi-final of the ICC U19 World Cup, too.
EVIN LEWIS (MUMBAI INDIANS)
The West Indies batsman has developed quite a reputation in T20 cricket already since making his international debut in 2016. The left-hander has cracked two T20I tons in only 14 matches and will line up for the Mumbai Indians for his IPL bow. As explosive a batsman as they come, Lewis comes into the tournament in fine knick.
D’ARCY SHORT (RAJASTHAN ROYALS)
The Aussie opener’s rapid rise in the past few months has been astonishing. He smashed the record for the most runs in a single Big Bash League (BBL) season by a country mile after scoring 572 runs for the Hobart Hurricanes. Has since made his T20 debut for Australia and blended in seamlessly.
HEINRICH KLAASEN (RAJASTHAN ROYALS)
The South African wicket-keeper batsman was an unheard of quantity before India toured the country recently. There, he toyed with India’s spinners, especially Yuzvendra Chahal, as he showed his T20 credentials with some exhilarating and and sometimes outrageous shot-making. That Royals decided to replace a batsman of Steve Smith’s pedigree with him shows the kind of impact Klaasen has already created.
MARK WOOD (CHENNAI SUPER KINGS)
The England pacer does not have a wealth of T20 cricket experience but his pedigree cannot be doubted. The Englishman’s raw pace makes him a dangerous customer on any track. Can comfortably clock 140kph on a regular basis and will be vital addition to MS Dhoni and his men.
JOFRA ARCHER (RAJASTHAN ROYALS)
Archer is another West Indies-born cricketer who has made rapid strides in T20 cricket of late. A huge hit in the recent BBL for Hobart Hurricanes, the all-rounder is one of the most sought after talents going around in T20 cricket currently. He is electric on the field and his skiddy fast-bowling has been a nightmare for BBL batsmen.
SHUBMAN GILL (KOLKATA KNIGHT RIDERS)
The teenager was picked up by the Kolkata franchise while he was lighting it up at the ICC U-19 World Cup in New Zealand. Gill finished as the player of the series, scoring a brilliant ton against Pakistan in the semi-final as India were crowned champions. He registered a first-class hundred in only his second Ranji Trophy match for Punjab last year.
KAMLESH NAGARKOTI (KOLKATA KNIGHT RIDERS)
Another Indian youngster who impressed in the U19 World Cup win, Kamlesh Nagarkoti has raw pace in abundance. He has fans back in India relishing the prospect of his senior debut already after clocking regularly in excess of 140kph in the World Cup where he picked up nine wickets. The 18-year-old had become the first Rajasthan player to claim a List A hat-trick last year.
PRITHVI SHAW (DELHI DAREDEVILS)
The skipper of India U19s at the World Cup, Shaw has been creating waves since he was 14 when he scored a mammoth 546 runs in a minor-cricket match in Mumbai. He has made an equally astonishing start to his senior career, scoring a ton for Mumbai on his Ranji debut before breaking Sachin Tendulkar’s record to become the youngest century-maker (17) on his Duleep Trophy debut.
It’s that time of the year when international cricket takes a break and they best players on the planet travel to India for some high-octane T20 cricket for a period of nearly two months.
With the Indian Premier League returning on Saturday, we analyse each of eight squads and give our prediction of where they will finish in the tournament.
Captain: MS Dhoni
Coach: Stephen Fleming
Best result: Champions (2010 and 2011)
Squad: MS Dhoni (c), Ravindra Jadeja, Suresh Raina, Kedar Jadhav, Dwayne Bravo, Karn Sharma, Shane Watson, Shardul Thakur, Ambati Rayudu, Murali Vijay, Harbhajan Singh, Faf Du Plessis, Mark Wood, Sam Billings, Imran Tahir, Deepak Chahar, Lungi Ngidi, Asif K M, N Jagadeesan, Kanishk Seth, Monu Singh, Dhruv Shorey, Kshitiz Sharma, Chaitanya Bishnoi
Strength: With Dhoni, Jadeja and Raina back in the mix, CSK make an emotional comeback after a two-year suspension. Du Plessis, Bravo and Watson provide stability. Have a superb spin attack in Harbhajan and Tahir.
Weakness: The only area they could have a problem is not having an experienced pace attack meaning the spinners will need to step up.
Captain: Gautam Gambhir
Coach: Ricky Ponting
Best result: Third (2009 and 2012)
Squad: Rishabh Pant, Shreyas Iyer, Chris Morris, Glenn Maxwell, Amit Mishra, Shahbaz Nadeem, Vijay Shankar, Rahul Tewatia, Mohammad Shami, Gautam Gambhir (c), Trent Boult, Colin Munro, Daniel Christian, Jason Roy, Naman Ojha, Prithvi Shaw, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Avesh Khan, Abhishek Sharma, Jayant Yadav, Harshal Patel, Manjot Kalra, Sandeep Lamichhane, Sayan Ghosh
Strength: Roping in two-time winner Gambhir as captain is a smart move for a squad that now has considerable batting strength with Roy, Maxwell and Munro in their ranks. Bowling look impressive with Boult and Shami leading the pace attack, while Nepal leg-spinner Lamichhane has the potential to make a big impact.
Weakness: Have a tendency to lose the plot if things are not going their way. Lack of success over a decade means team can crack under pressure.
Prediction: League stage
Captain: Ravichandran Ashwin
Coach: Brad Hodge
Best result: Runners-up (2014)
Squad: Ravichandran Ashwin (c), KL Rahul, Andrew Tye, Aaron Finch, Marcus Stoinis, Karun Nair, Mujeeb Zadran, Ankit Singh Rajpoot, David Miller, Mohit Sharma, Barinder Singh Sran, Yuvraj Singh, Chris Gayle, Ben Dwarshuis, Akshdeep Nath, Manoj Tiwary, Mayank Agarwal, Manzoor Dar, Pardeep Sahu, Mayank Dagar
Strength: Have a number of experienced players. Are being led by a bowler, which is pretty rare in cricket. Serious hitting power in Finch and Miller. Exciting young Afghanistan spinner Zadran comes into the tournament in top form.
Weakness: Yuvraj and Gayle are well past their prime. Take Finch and Miller out of the equation and batting looks thin. Apart from Tye and the captain, bowling looks lightweight.
Prediction: League stage
Head coach @BradHodge007 talks about the squad, player trainings and gives a special message to the fans 😉— Kings XI Punjab (@lionsdenkxip) April 4, 2018
Have a look to find out more.
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Captain: Dinesh Karthik
Coach: Jacques Kallis
Best result: Champions (2012 and 2014)
Squad: Sunil Narine, Andre Russell, Chris Lynn, Dinesh Karthik (c), Robin Uthappa, Kuldeep Yadav, Piyush Chawla, Nitish Rana, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi, Mitchell Johnson, Shubman Gill, Vinay Kumar, Rinku Singh, Cameron Delport, Javon Searless, Apoorv Vijay Wankhade, Ishank Jaggi, Tom Curran
Strength: Have the most destructive batsman in the world in their ranks – Lynn. However, his fitness will remain a concern. Possess an outstanding spin attack of Narine, Chawla and Yadav. The return of Russell a massive boost.
Weakness: Mitchell Starc has pulled out which has taken the sting out of their attack. Narine’s action has been reported so will have to perform under the spotlight.
Prediction: League stage
Captain: Rohit Sharma
Coach: Mahela Jayawardene
Best result: Champions (2013, 2015 and 2017)
Squad: Rohit Sharma (c), Hardik Pandya, Jasprit Bumrah, Krunal Pandya, Ishan Kishan, Kieron Pollard, Pat Cummins, Evin Lewis, Suryakumar Yadav, Ben Cutting, Mustafizur Rahman, Rahul Chahar, Pradeep Sangwan, Jean-Paul Duminy, Saurabh Tiwary, Tajinder Dhillon, Akila Dhananjaya, Nidheesh M D Dinesan, Aditya Tare, Siddhesh Dinesh Lad, Mayank Markande, Sharad Lumba, Anukul Roy, Mohsin Khan, Mitchell McClenaghan
Strength: Have exceptional line-up with incredible options. Rohit and Lewis at the top, Duminy and Hardik in the middle and Bumrah and Rahman with the ball make for an incredible team.
Weakness: Lack experience in the spin department, which can maker or break a team’s campaign.
🗣 "That is the culture that we want to develop, of welcoming people and making them feel that they are at home"— Mumbai Indians (@mipaltan) April 4, 2018
Some thoughtful words from our captain on the newcomers in the team 👇#CricketMeriJaan pic.twitter.com/jGJxZLhDHV
Captain: Ajinkya Rahane
Coach: Paddy Upton
Best result: Champions (2008)
Squad: Ajinkya Rahane (c), Ben Stokes, Jaydev Unadkat, Sanju Samson, Jofra Archer, Krishnappa Gowtham, Jos Buttler, Darcy Short, Rahul Tripathi, Dhawal Kulkarni, Zahir Khan Pakteen, Ben Laughlin, Stuart Binny, Dushmantha Chameera, Anureet Singh, Aryaman Vikram Birla, Midhun S, Shreyas Gopal, Prashant Chopra, Jatin Saxena, Ankit Sharma, Mahipal Lomror, Heinrich Klassen
Strength: The services of Steven Smith will be missed but have a proven match-winners in Stokes and Buttler. Also have a number of impressive young stars in Archer and Short.
Weakness: Apart from Rahane, not a single first-choice Indian player in the team. Hardly any recognised spinner.
Prediction: League stage
Captain: Virat Kohli
Coach: Daniel Vettori
Best result: Runners-up (2009 and 2011)
Squad: Virat Kohli (c), AB de Villiers, Sarfaraz Khan, Chris Woakes, Yuzvendra Chahal, Umesh Yadav, Brendon McCullum, Washington Sundar, Navdeep Saini, Quinton De Kock, Mohammed Siraj, Colin De Grandhomme, M. Ashwin, Parthiv Patel, Moeen Ali, Mandeep Singh, Manan Vohra, Pawan Negi, Tim Southee, Kulwant Khejroliya, Aniket Choudhary, Pavan Deshpande, Anirudha Ashok Joshi, Corey Anderson
Strength: As is the case almost every year, Bangalore have a brilliant line-up with immense balance. A very good mix of all-rounders in Woakes, Moeen, Anderson and Sundar.
Weaknesses: All good pace bowling options are overseas players which puts the team in a tough position as De Villiers and De Kock simply have to play. McCullum losing his edge and Moeen enduring a horrid time.
Virat-Baz, QdK-Virat, Parthiv-Baz, Vohra-QdK, Mandy-Virat and so many more combinations! Who should keep up the opening legacy for RCB?— Royal Challengers (@RCBTweets) April 2, 2018
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Captain: Kane Williamson
Coach: Tom Moody
Best result: Champions 2016
Squad: Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kane Williamson (c), Manish Pandey, Rashid Khan, Shikhar Dhawan, Wriddhiman Saha, Siddarth Kaul, Deepak Hooda, Syed Khaleel Ahmed, Sandeep Sharma, Carlos Brathwaite, Shakib Al Hasan, Yusuf Pathan, Shreevats Goswami, Mohammad Nabi, Chris Jordan, Basil Thampi, T Natarajan, Sachin Baby, Bipul Sharma, Ricky Bhui, Tanmay Agarwal, Alex Hales
Strength: Despite the absence of David Warner, look strong. Williamson and Shakib provide a lot of solidity. In Bhuvneshwar and Rashid, have the best T20 bowlers in the world.
Weakness: With IPL icon Warner out, batting looks a bit thin. Pressure will be on Dhawan and Hales to deliver at the top.