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Nishant Majithia

The biggest extravaganza of the cricketing world, World Cups aside, is upon us. For the avid IPL fans, who were on tenterhooks this time last year with the event shrouded in uncertainty thanks to the pandemic, a second IPL in 5 months has come as a windfall. Yes, it is that time of the year again.

THE LARGER PERSPECTIVE 

When the country was struggling to smile amidst the novelty of the novel coronavirus, the news of the IPL happening, albeit a little later than usual, came as a whiff of fresh air. In the seven weeks of IPL 2020, even if momentarily, people started to come out of the mental bubble of the previous seven months. They were distracted from terms like RT-PCR, sanitiser, quarantine, isolation, lockdown, shutdown, night curfew et al which was much-needed.

While IPL 2020 gave the people something else to talk about apart from the pandemic, the 2021 edition could well show the path towards ‘living with the pandemic’. A lot of experts believe that COVID is not going anywhere soon and in such a scenario, it becomes paramount that we learn to live with it. The build-up to the IPL has somewhat been a glimpse of the world in the post COVID era.

Players and support staff tested positive, were isolated and some came back to the bubble after two back-to-back negative tests. Probably, that is how life is going to be. Try your best to take all precautionary measures, if it still hits you then take the remedial measures and come back for the battle.

THE GAME’S PERSPECTIVE

Philosophy aside, the cricketing aspect of IPL also holds a lot of significance. There are many questions that people are looking for answers to. Will this be Dhoni’s last IPL? If so, will he make it a memorable swan-song? Will it finally be “Ee sala cup namde” for RCB? Will the Pant-Ponting pair help Delhi go past the final hurdle? Will Rajasthan Royals’ bold decision to make a young Sanju Samson captain reap rewards? Will a change in names bring a change of fortunes for Punjab Kings?

Will the Sundars, the Natarajans, the Krunals, the Sirajs, the Axars, etc carry on with the momentum of their high-flying maiden season? How will the likes of Raina and Harbhajan react to the long hiatus? And finally, will Mumbai Indians score a hattrick?

MY STARTING ELEVENS

With the IPL starting tomorrow, I am sure all of you have read a lot of team previews and worked your heads around a lot of information. There can’t possibly be much to write that you have not read already. So instead of giving you more gyaan on what the teams’ SWOTs are, I am jumping into my preferred elevens for each side. Those in bold are the overseas players.

Mumbai Indians (MI):

Rohit Sharma (c), Quinton de Kock, Ishan Kishan, Suryakumar Yadav, Kieron Pollard, Hardik Pandya, Krunal Pandya, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Trent Boult, Jasprit Bumrah, Rahul Chahar.

The top 6, maybe 7, is unshakeable. It is the bowlers that MI might want to play around with. If they wish to go with Piyush Chawla instead of Chahar, we might see Milne replacing Coulter-Nile because Chawla is a decent bet at 8.

Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB):

Devdutt Padikkal, Virat Kohli (c), AB de Villiers, Glenn Maxwell, Mohammed Azharuddeen, Rajat Patidar, Washington Sundar, Daniel Christian, Kyle Jamieson, Yuzvendra Chahal, Navdeep Saini.

Kohli’s team has always struggled with balance. The presence of the likes of Maxwell, Christian and Sams, and the form of Sundar might give them that this season. While the presence of both Patidar and Azharuddeen might make the middle order look a bit inexperienced, Maxwell and de Villiers will make up for it.

Tip: If Mohammed Azharuddeen gets enough chances, I will not be surprised if he ends up being the Emerging Player of the Tournament.

Chennai Super Kings (CSK):

Faf du Plessis, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Suresh Raina, Robin Uthappa, Moeen Ali, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (c), Ravindra Jadeja, Sam Curran, Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar, Imran Tahir.

If the top order delivers, the team think tank might want to try Lungi Ngidi in place of Curran for a few games. The other toss-up could be between Robin Uthappa and Ambati Rayudu. I was tempted to pick the latter, but with the top order jam-packed, Uthappa might fit better for the job of finishing.

Delhi Capitals (DC):

Shikhar Dhawan, Prithvi Shaw, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant (c), Shimron Hetmyer, Marcus Stoinis, Axar Patel, Ravichandran Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje.

Rahane becomes a must in the eleven in the absence of Iyer. However, given that coach Ponting has hinted at Smith getting a few chances in the top three, Rahane could bear the brunt as he might be wasted below number 3. In that case, Smith replaces Hetmyer and I would bring in the exciting Vishnu Vinod in place of Rahane.

Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH):

David Warner (c), Johnny Bairstow, Manish Pandey, Kane Williamson, Kedar Jadhav, Abdul Samad, Rashid Khan, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jagadeesha Suchith, Sandeep Sharma, T Natarajan.

Considering the opening duo of Saha and Warner which did well towards the end of last season, it would feel apt to continue with that but with Bairstow hitting white ball form against India recently, it will be difficult to leave him out. But again, Bairstow sitting out opens an overseas option which can be filled in by either Holder or Nabi in which case Saha comes in for Suchith. In the absence of a support spinner for Rashid, Nabi might get the nod ahead of Holder. SRH has some tough calls to make.

Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR):

Shubman Gill, Rahul Tripathi, Nitish Rana, Shakib-al-Hasan, Eoin Morgan (c), Dinesh Karthik, Andre Russell, Pat Cummins, Harbhajan Singh, Prasidh Krishna, Varun Chakravarthy.

With Sunil Narine neither getting runs nor picking up wickets in the last season, this could well be the season for Shakib who might finally be assured of a place in the eleven. As for the others, I don’t think KKR will tinker much. Prasidh, Nagarkoti and Mavi might be rotated around and they might throw in a game or two for Kuldeep Yadav and Pawan Negi. However, don’t be surprised if you see Sunil Narine coming in at the top with Gill at the expense of Shakib and the others dropping down a number.

Rajasthan Royals (RR):

Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Sanju Samson (c), David Miller, Riyan Parag, Rahul Tewatia, Chris Morris, Shreyas Gopal, Jaydev Unadkat, Mayank Markande, Kartik Tyagi.

The absence of Jofra Archer is going to be massive for RR. They might decide to go in with Mustafizur in his absence or even Andrew Tye but that would mean relying on far too many all-rounders and the English duo at the top. Thus, the presence of Miller or Livingstone will be better for them. Yet, if they decide to give Morris some support in the form of an extra overseas quickie, we might see Shivam Dube coming into the side at the expense of one of the Indian bowlers.

Punjab Kings (PK):

KL Rahul (c), Mayank Agarwal, Chris Gayle, Prabhsimran Singh, Nicholas Pooran, Shahrukh Khan, Deepak Hooda, Jhye Richardson, Riley Meredith, Mohammed Shami, Ravi Bishnoi.

A big time Gayle fan, I would pick him in any eleven. However, in the recent past, he has not been a certain starter at least in the IPL. In that case, the apt replacement for him will be Fabian Allen or Moises Henriques to add an extra bowling option.

All said and done, teams in particular and IPL in general has the habit of throwing in a lot of
surprises. While the cricket analyst in me would want most of my predictions to come true, the fan in me would love a few to go wrong. Because, what is an IPL without a few big surprises?

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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