The new season of the Indian Premier League (IPL), which commences on Saturday, brings with it fresh possibilities. Most of the teams have undergone big personnel changes, and there are two new entrants - Gujarat Titans (GT) and Lucknow Supergiants (LSG) - looking to rattle the old guard.
These are exciting times for six of the 10 sides, which feature new captains. The franchises who have chosen to retain their skippers - Rohit Sharma (Mumbai Indians), Sanju Samson (Rajasthan Royals),
Rishabh Pant (Delhi Capitals) and Kane Williamson (Sunrisers Hyderabad) - put their faith in stable continuity.
For Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), this 15th edition is the start of a new era. M.S. Dhoni, the face of CSK, has handed the captaincy baton to Ravindra Jadeja. The southpaw all-rounder has massive shoes to fill, for CSK (four-time champion and eight-time runner-up) has prospered immensely under Dhoni.
Unlike Jadeja, RCB’s Faf du Plessis will not be burdened by past successes. Du Plessis’ predecessor Virat Kohli certainly set the stage alight with his flamboyant batting, but his nine seasons as skipper did not yield a trophy. Can Du Plessis, earlier a proven performer for defending champion CSK, deliver RCB that long-awaited silverware?
The spotlight also turns to Mayank Agarwal (Punjab Kings) and Hardik Pandya (Gujarat Titans), who make their debuts as full-time skippers.
Keeping in mind the risks associated with COVID-19, matches will be held only in Mumbai and Pune. Lessons have been learnt from the first leg of the last edition (held across India), when a sharp rise in
COVID-19 cases among players and staff forced the league to be suspended.
Four grounds will be used - Wankhede Stadium and Brabourne Stadium (Mumbai), D.Y. Patil Stadium (Navi Mumbai), and MCA Stadium (Pune).
The pitches are bound to become slower and lower as the tournament goes on, given that there are 70 league matches set to be held over two months. Spinners will naturally hold sway, as will speedsters like Harshal Patel (RCB) and Jaydev Unadkat (MI), who can deceive batters with subtle pace variations.
Like the UAE leg of IPL 2021, a limited number of spectators will be allowed inside venues.
International commitments will keep some players out of the initial stages of the IPL. Australians Pat Cummins (KKR), David Warner (DC), Josh Hazlewood (RCB) and Glenn Maxwell (RCB), despite not being part of the white-ball squads for the tour to Pakistan, have not been allowed by Cricket Australia to join their franchises until April 6.
Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the IPL is that unheralded names are given the platform to gain stardom. The likes of Yashasvi Jaiswal (RR), Abhinav Manohar (GT), Rajvardhan Hangargekar (CSK) and Anuj Rawat (RCB) will be eager to set the stage alight and become household names.
The packed itinerary, featuring 12 double headers, could cause sensory overload. The entertainment on offer, however, is undeniable.
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