Chennai Super Kings will miss Raina and Harbhajan, writes Gavaskar

CSK will undoubtedly miss the big hitting of Suresh Raina and the experience of Harbhajan Singh, but, as always, it will fly under the radar and strike when it’s required.

The 13th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) will finally take off in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The earlier dates between March-end and May took a beating because of the COVID pandemic, and only after the International Cricket Council (ICC), after dilly-dallying for a while, decided that the World Twenty20 will be postponed to the following year did a window open up for the IPL.

All over the sporting world, action has begun tentatively with little or no crowds at all, and as of now, the IPL will also be played in front of empty stadiums. If the COVID situation in the UAE improves by the end of October, then maybe for the knockout games some crowd could be allowed in the stadiums.

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It will be a different experience altogether for the players to play in front of nobody apart from their teammates cheering for them and it could take getting used to. Mind you, those who play domestic cricket know what it feels to play in near empty stadia, but for those internationals who hardly play domestic cricket, it will be a novel experience indeed.

There are three teams that haven't won the IPL in the dozen years that it's been played and they will be hoping that luck favours them this time around. While they wouldn’t want anything like what happened to Novak Djokovic at the US Open to happen to their opponents, it’s the way that fortune sometimes opens up opportunities that they will be looking for. Djokovic’s disqualification meant that there would be new champ at the US Open and, who knows, one of the three teams that haven’t got their name on the magnificent trophy might do so this year. Thirteen would not be unlucky for them if they do so.

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Out of those three, the Delhi Capitals team looks to have the best chance as it has some of the most explosive batsmen in the world. Its bowling attack can also prosper on the slow surfaces of the Emirates which will get slower as the tournament progresses. Whatever the final result, Ricky Ponting being the coach should enormously toughen up the exciting talent like Shreyas Iyer, the captain, Rishabh Pant and Prithvi Shaw, to name just three. They will learn from him how every match matters and how not to be satisfied with anything less than a 100 percent effort in every game.

Why a team like Royal Challengers Bangalore hasn’t won the title as yet is a puzzle. Any team that has Virat Kohli and A. B. de Villiers should never be short of runs and maybe that’s also a problem, for when these two failed, as humans sometimes do, then the others haven’t put their hands up. They have a new coach and will be hoping that this will be their year.

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On pitches that will get slower, it may be a good idea to have both the champion batsmen open the batting while the ball is hard and new and will come on to the bat nicely than when the spinners are operating. Leggie Yuzvendra Chahal could be a match winner for RCB on those pitches.

King XI Punjab has two exciting openers in skipper K. L. Rahul and Chris Gayle, and if they get going, then it’s going to be mayhem for the opponents. With R. Ashwin gone, the bowling attack will be less sharp, so it will be imperative for the side to post big scores if it bats first.

The other teams have won the trophy at least once, with Mumbai Indians winning it four times. However, the defending champion didn’t have a great time when a part of the tournament was played in the Emirates in 2014. No team does more backroom work than MI does and that’s one of the reasons for the team’s success.

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Chennai Super Kings’ reputation is that of a team that doesn't do much of the research stuff that other teams, especially Mumbai, do. That’s because it believes in the instinct of its captain and looking at its record of three titles and as many appearances in the finals, it has worked for the side. CSK will undoubtedly miss the big hitting of Suresh Raina and the experience of Harbhajan Singh, but, as always, it will fly under the radar and strike when it’s required.

Sunrisers Hyderabad has a top team and having a World Cup- and IPL-winning coach is going to be a huge boost to its ranks. Its main issue is going to be who is the overseas player it has to leave out of the playing XI.

Rajasthan Royals was the winner in the inaugural edition of the IPL, but it has not risen to those heights subsequently, mainly because there was none like Shane Warne to inspire and lift it to greater heights of performance. The absence of the game-changer Ben Stokes at least for the start of the tournament will hamper RR, though in Jos Buttler and Jofra Archer it has match winners.

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The Kolkata Knight Riders team has the biggest buy of the last auction in Pat Cummins. On the slow pitches, his pace may not be effective and he will have to look at other varieties to give his team the necessary breakthroughs. He can bat usefully too, but there’s no doubt that most eyes will be on how he lives up to his huge price tag. KKR’s coach Brendon McCullum will encourage the team to play fearless cricket and in Andre Russell the side has the biggest game-changer in this format. Eoin Morgan will lend tremendous clout to the top order and his tactical acumen will be a big plus, too. Don’t be surprised if he takes over as captain in the middle of the tournament if early results don’t pan out.

That said, this format is full of surprises and that’s why it’s virtually impossible to predict the winner. All that the cricketing world will be hoping for is that it’s an incident-free, healthy tournament.