The 11th edition of the Indian Premier League is upon us with the nearly two-month long T20 extravaganza all set to get underway on Saturday.
While the IPL has drawn the most sought after cricketers in the world, there have been plenty of big names who have not featured in it. This year too, there are a few stars who will be giving the event a miss due to various reasons.
Here, we look at 10 of the biggest such names.
The now former Australia skipper was one the biggest casualties of the ball-tampering episode that rocked the cricket world. He was set to lead the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL after being retained on a mammoth contract but sadly for Smith, he will only be watching the competition from his television screen after he stepped down as the franchise’s skipper in the aftermath of the ball-tampering row.
Like Smith, Warner too saw his lucrative IPL contract with the Sunrisers Hyderabad put aside following the tampering saga. The most successful overseas batsman in the competition’s history, Warner’s absence will be felt by the Hyderabad side who he led to the title in 2016.
Unlike Smith and Warner, Starc’s absence from this year’s IPL has nothing to do with the ball-tampering controversy. One of the premier fast-bowlers in international cricket, the Aussie bowler was snapped up by Kolkata Knight Riders but will miss the tournament for the third time in a row after suffering a tibial bone stress in his right leg in the recent Test series against South Africa.
One of the biggest stars to miss this year’s IPL will be 22-year-old Proteas pacer Kagiso Rabada. The No1 ranked Test bowler in the world has established himself as of the best in cricket in a short span but a back injury in the series against Australia means that Delhi Daredevils will be without his services.
The veteran India pacer went unsold in the IPL auction, meaning he will be missing the competition for only the second time in its history after sitting out due to an injury in 2012. The Test ‘specialist’ has made up for that disappointment by signing up with English County outfit Sussex for a two-month stint.
When the England Test skipper threw his hat into the IPL auction ring for the very first time this year, he shockingly found no takers. Considering Root’s record in ODI and T20I cricket where he averages 51.1 and 39.1 respectively, it is the IPL franchises and Indian cricket fans who will be the ones missing out in the end.
The England limited-overs skipper was another one who went unsold in the IPL auction. The limited-overs specialist is a seasoned pro, having represented a host of franchises around the globe. With over 5,000 T20 runs to his name and the added experience of having participated in five previous IPL editions, Morgan finding no takers was surprising to say the least.
Now ranked fourth in the ICC T20 bowler’s rankings, Ish Sodhi was leading it just a few months back. The Blackcaps leg-spinner has a healthy career economy-rate of less than eight in the format and is a key figure in New Zealand’s T20 setup. Given the success wrist-spinners are currently enjoying in limited-overs cricket, the fact the Sodhi was not picked up by any franchise despite being available for a very nominal base price was astonishing.
The most successful batsman in T20I cricket with 2,271 runs to his name, Martin Guptill was another one who went unsold in the IPL 2018 auction. The Kiwi opener has long been a hit in the format but that has not translated into lucrative IPL deals. He showed the franchises what they will be missing out on as he slammed his second T20I ton and the fastest by a Kiwi (49 balls) in the series against Pakistan.
The Kiwi bowling all-rounder’s career economy-rate in the format is just seven and he is regularly ranked among the top T20I bowlers. He was set to make his maiden IPL bow after being picked up by Chennai Super Kings but a bone defect has ruled him out of action from cricket for nine months.
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For the Rohit Sharma led Mumbai Indians, it will be a case of getting their IPL campaign off to the perfect start in front of a packed home crowd. On the other hand, the MS Dhoni led Chennai Super Kings are making an emotional return to the IPL after serving a two-year suspension.
As two of the most successful sides in IPL history get ready to lock horns, we look at the key battles that could decide the outcome on Saturday.
SURESH RAINA V JASPRIT BUMRAH
One man has been synonymous with CSK’s success over the years and that is Suresh Raina. He has been the batting lynchpin for the franchise for some time and is the highest run-scorer in the history of the competition with 4,540 runs.
He will face up against his India T20 side team-mate Jasprit Bumrah, one of the best T20 bowlers in international cricket at the moment, let alone the IPL. With Bumrah’s ability to pick up early wickets and his excellent bowling at the death, his battle with IPL maestro Raina will be a rather intriguing one. With Lasith Malinga now taking up the role of a mentor, the onus of powering Mumbai’s bowling attack will lie on the young shoulders of Bumrah.
HARDIK PANDYA V HARBHAJAN SINGH
Ever since the IPL started, Harbhajan Singh has been a key figure for the Mumbai Indians. The off-spinner is the third most successful bowler in the tournament’s history with 127 wickets and has played a vital role in all three of the side’s title wins.
He will now line up for a different franchise and as fate has it, he will square up against his former employers in his very first outing in CSK colours.
His battle against Hardik Pandya will be a very important one given how destructive the India all-rounder is against the spinners. There is nothing Pandya likes more than using the long handle against the slower bowlers and Harbhajan will have to use all his experience to get the better of the 24-year-old Mumbai Indians star.
SHANE WATSON V PAT CUMMINS
If Australia’s Pat Cummins does lead Mumbai’s pace attack in the match, CSK opener Shane Watson will be up against his compatriot.
Cummins has been excellent in the past one year in the Test arena and gave a great account of himself in the subcontinent during Australia’s tours of India and Bangladesh. A fast-bowler willing to bend his back and bowl his heart out in every spell is what makes Cummins such a formidable foe for any batsman.
IPL veteran Watson, who will be making his debut for CSK, will burden the responsibility of getting the side off to a great start. The all-rounder was the player of the tournament in the inaugural edition in 2008 and will want to show that he is still a force to be reckoned with in T20 cricket.
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’.