In my last blog on this forum (http://cricketblog.aol.in/2009/04/14/ipl-preview-1/ ), I had previewed the chances of the Punjab Kings XI, the Delhi Daredevils, and the Rajasthan Royals in the upcoming edition of the IPL. Of the lot, I had bet only on the Daredevils making it through to the semifinals. In this blog, I shall preview the remaining teams in the tournament.
The Bangalore Royal Challengers made news in last year's tournament with the sacking of their CEO Charu Sharma for the team's disastrous performance. This year also there is already a buzz about the team given that the Royal Challenger's made history by buying Kevin Pietersen at USD 1.55 million. However, this does not necessarily translate into more wins for the Royal Challengers since Pietersen will not be available for more than 50% of the league stage (on international duty for the series against West Indies in early May 09).
Jesse Ryder is a good acquisition given his recent scores in international cricket and this would add to the batting strength of the side (Dravid, Kallis, Uthappa & Vira Kohli) even in Pietersen's absence. But with Zaheer Khan moving to the Mumbai Indians in exchange for Robin Uthappa, the bowling department will be largely dependent on Dale Steyn. This and how they will field their four best foreign players with Pietersen and Chanderpaul around, adds to their problems.
The losing finalists from last year – the Chennai Super Kings should continue their good run into this year's tournament. Their acquisition of Andrew Flintoff (also at USD 1.55 million) should pay rich dividends till the time he is available (off on international duty for the series against West Indies in early May 09). Also with Mathew Hayden, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Suresh Raina expected to bludgeon bowling attacks into submission, it would be difficult to stop the Super Kings from winning the second edition of the tournament. The presence of Makhaya Ntini, Manpreet Gony, Albie Morkel and Muttiah Muralitharan also gives a well rounded feel to their bowling attack. It would be a huge disappointment if this side underperforms and crashes out after the league stages of the tournament.
Herschelle Gibbs may have returned to form with a timely century for South Africa in the fourth game of the one day series against Australia, but the chances of his form improving the fortunes of his IPL team viz. the Deccan Chargers seem bleak. On paper, the Chargers seem the weakest side in the tournament. Their best batsman Andrew Symonds shall be on tour to Dubai and Abu Dhabi for the series against Pakistan and will hence miss out on the tournament. Their other batsmen -VVS Laxman (the ex captain) , Adam Gilchrist (the current captain) and Scott Styris are way past their prime. Rohit Sharma seems to be struggling to come to terms with his potential. R P Singh and Nuwan Zoysa cannot be expected to blow away sides with their pace and so it would indeed be commendable if the Chargers finish anything but last in this edition.
The Mumbai Indians look another competent side in the tournament. In fact had it not been with for Tendulkar's injury and Harbhajan's suspension, the team may well have made it through to the semi finals in 2008. Nevertheless, Tendulkar and Jaysauriya will look to continue opening the batting and with the addition of Jean Paul Duminy, Shikhar Dhawan (from Delhi in exchange for Ashish Nehra) and the hugely talented Mohammed Ashraful, Mumbai should be a very strong batting outfit.
And even though Shaun Pollock may not lead the bowling attack any more, the inclusion of Zaheer Khan (traded for Robin Uthappa) in the pace department alongside Lasith Malinga augurs well for the bowling strength of the side. Harbhajan too should add to the mix given his experience and success in this format of the game. Accordingly the Mumbai Indians should be considered a safe bet into the semi finals.
Which brings us to the last team in the tournament – the Kolkata Knight Riders. The Knight riders underperformed in the last edition of the tournament, given that they managed only 5 wins while having some of the biggest names in their side - Chris Gayle, Shoaib Akhtar, Umar Gul. This year they seem to be marginally better placed even if the Pakistani players are not available to them. Chris Gayle would be available for the first 4-5 games of the league and Brendon Mc Cullum would be available for the entire duration of the tournament.
The addition of Mashrafe Mortaza should bolster the all round capability of the team and with Ishant Sharma, Ashok Dinda, Ajit Agarkar and Ajantha Mendis - the Knight Riders look a decent bowling unit. The problem lies in the middle order for the Knight Riders and it will be up to Ganguly and the fast rising Cheteshwar Pujara to hold the team in good stead in that area.
So in the final analysis one can be quite certain of the Delhi Daredevils, the Chennai Super Kings and the Mumbai Indians qualifying for the semi finals. The Punjab Kings XI and the Deccan Chargers seem certain casualties after the league stage. So in deciding the fourth team to make the semi final cut between three evenly matched sides' viz. the Rajasthan Royals, the Bangalore Royal Challengers and the Kolkata Knight Riders - I would perhaps go with the Knight Riders. This more an indication of my loyalty towards Sourav Ganguly than anything else.
Without further ado, let the games begin.