Teams in the fray

Deccan Chargers

The Hyderabad team is a perfect combination of some of the most ferocious belters of the ball in contemporary cricket. Adam Gilchrist, Shahid Afridi and Herschelle Gibbs will be tough to deal with in the opening overs, while the likes of Andrew Symonds and V. V. S. Laxman are capable of carrying on the relentless assault. Chamara Silva, Rohit Sharma and Scott Styris add to the awesome array of stroke-makers.

This is a side that can cause nightmares to the bowlers. Symonds is a finisher with a unique style. He likes to fight and there will be opportunities for him to win the hearts of the Indian masses. What is remarkable about the team is its ability to both set targets and chase them. The presence of players such as Gibbs and Gilchrist means the opposing bowlers would have to be on their toes right through.

The team has an ideal man at the helm. Laxman, one of the most elegant batsmen in Indian cricket, has the best possible side his bosses could have visualised. A lot depends on him. His form will be crucial to the Hyderabad outfit’s campaign in the IPL.

There is balance in the team’s attack with Chaminda Vaas, Rudra Pratap Singh and the Andhra fast bowler D. Kalyankrishna capable of causing discomfort to the opposition. The team also has a promising left-arm spinner in Pragyan Ojha.

The team’s fielding looks good on paper with Symonds and Gibbs capable of carrying the responsibility very well.

This could well be the team to beat. Its aggressiveness suits the profile of the team and it could prove to be crucial in the Hyderabad outfit’s progress.

Strength: Depth in batting and all-round fielding.

Weakness: Limited spin options.
* * * Bangalore Royal Challengers

The team has Sunil Joshi, 37, and K. P. Apanna, 19. Then there is J. Arunkumar, 33, Bharat Chipli, 25, Devraj Patil, 23 and R. Vinay Kumar, 24. Skipper and icon player Rahul Dravid did not forget his Karnataka team-mates when purchasing players in an attempt to strike a perfect blend of youth and experience.

The Bangalore outfit has a dream pace attack. Dale Steyn, Zaheer Khan and Nathan Bracken form a trio that can rip through the opposition. None of these fast bowlers has a negative approach and that suits Dravid, who has the privilege of using Anil Kumble whenever the situation demands.

Steyn generates great pace, while Zaheer can be the most difficult bowler on his day. Bracken is a clever left-armer known to thrive on challenges.

Steyn is a dangerous proposition. Even in slightly helpful conditions he is unplayable as he loves to attack. His accuracy demands greater concentration from the batsmen.

Dravid’s most valuable catch is Misbah-ul Haq, who is least bothered about the reputation of a bowler. His temperament allows him the freedom to play his shots at any juncture of the match and this quality should help him command a big following at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. The rest, Wasim Jaffer, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Jacques Kallis, are hardly names one would like to associate with Twenty20 cricket.

Strength: A batting line-up that has quality written all over it.

Weakness: Too many slow movers on the field.
* * * Kolkata Knight Riders

For all its collection of international stars and also some emerging ones, the team will need to guard itself against complacency. Being the team of the popular Bollywood star, Shah Rukh Khan, Knight Riders will be the one to watch out for. The pressure will be on Sourav Ganguly and his boys to perform.

It is not known if Shoaib Akhtar, who has been banned for five years by the Pakistan Cricket Association, will play, but his absence could take away the glamour from the line-up. Without him, the team’s attack will lose its sting.

Ajit Agarkar, Ishant Sharma and Umar Gul give the Kolkata team’s attack a balanced look.

Left-arm spinner Murali Kartik finds a place in Ganguly’s line-up. He can be most difficult to score off because he is one rare bowler who reads the opponent quickly and makes adequate tactical changes.

Having some of the best batsmen and bowlers in international cricket in its ranks, the Kolkata team could be the one to beat. Its batting looks formidable with Ganguly, Ricky Ponting and Brendon McCullum capable of decimating any attack. Then there is Chris Gayle who can finish the game on his own. David Hussey adds solidity but Gayle and Ganguly should decide the course of the match with their explosive starts.

Sharing the dressing room with stars like Ponting, Ganguly and Gayle would be inspiring for the youngsters of the team.

Strength: John Buchanan, as the coach, can mould the side into a winning unit.

Weakness: Lack of thrust in the middle-order.
* * * Kings XI Punjab

Its investment in youth and the presence of some trusted international stars make the Kings XI a team to watch. Players such as Yuvraj Singh, Kumar Sangakkara and Ramnaresh Sarwan can be very destructive against any opposition.

The team has little worries in any department and this gives it a distinct advantage over the others. However, it is in fielding that the Punjab outfit stands out. Its players are sharp, enthusiastic and athletic on the field. This could prove to be the key to the team’s progress in the IPL. Yuvraj leads the pack amidst high expectations from his fans. His exploits in the World Twenty20 Championship are well documented. His wide range of shots gives him a distinct advantage and the bowlers will have to be at the their best to stop this exciting left-hander.

James Hopes was an expensive signing but the Australian is a quality all-rounder in this brand of cricket.

The team’s line-up of international stars could make finalising of the playing XI difficult. Sangakkara, Simon Katich, James Hopes, Luke Pomersbach, Sarwan and Mahela Jayawardene provide the batting options. Brett Lee and Kyle Mills are the bowlers to pick from along with S. Sreesanth, V. R. V. Singh and Irfan Pathan.

Strength: Awesome batting line-up with superb bowling options.

Weakness: No big names in the opening slots.
* * * Delhi Daredevils

Virender Sehwag is the towering figure in the team, which has the required depth in batting to regularly post big targets. Gautam Gambhir is an exciting proposition at the top. The Delhi team can be really explosive when Gambhir gets going. Though he has not got his due, the left-hander promises to make his presence felt in a big way in the IPL.

Sehwag, the team’s icon player, and Gambhir can be as devastating as any other opening pair in the tournament. Batsmen like Shoaib Malik and Dinesh Karthik add star value to the line-up. Karthik will be hoping to prove his mettle having been reduced to a spectator in the Indian dressing room for some time now. A versatile player who can bat at any position, Karthik’s innovative strokeplay can be an asset to his side.

The presence of Glenn McGrath adds glamour to the side’s bowling, but it would be interesting to see how this former Australian great copes with the demands of a game he is not familiar with. With Mohammad Asif, McGrath can form an effective pair. A lot, though, depends on how quickly Asif finds his bowling rhythm having been out of international cricket for some time owing to injury. A fully fit Asif can prove to be the most dangerous bowler in the tournament.

The team’s spin options are restricted to New Zealand’s left-armer Daniel Vettori and Sehwag.

By picking Manoj Tiwary, the team has placed faith in one of the best youngsters on the circuit, a batsman quite capable of winning a contest on his own. The under-rated Mithun Manhas, Shikhar Dhawan, a compulsive stroke-maker, and the ever-reliable Rajat Bhatia have all been picked by Sehwag. He knows their capabilities well.

Strength: Explosive batting at the top. Weakness: Lack of speed in pace attack.
* * * Rajasthan Royals

Given the overall structure of the team, Rajasthan Royals looks formidable. There is much at stake for Shane Warne, the player-cum-coach of the team that is touted as a strong favourite to win the IPL.

More than his bowling, it is his presence on the field that should endear the former Australian leg-spinner to his colleagues. A true professional, Warne’s prowess with the ball is well known. But what would really prove crucial to the Rajasthan outfit is the Australian’s captaincy and tactical inputs as coach.

It will be interesting to watch Justin Langer, who has been a tremendous cricketer having played 105 Tests for Australia. He has an amazing ability to graft and adapt.

Dimitri Mascarenhas is an exciting player to watch. Given his all-round skills, Warne definitely has a good option.

Graeme Smith and Yusuf Pathan are the big hitters in the side with Younis Khan and Kamran Akmal bolstering the middle-order. Taruwar Kohli, Pankaj Singh and Ravindra Jadeja provide the local flavour, while Shane Watson would be expected to come good with the bat and ball.

The focus would also be on Munaf Patel, who has often been lambasted for his poor fielding. He, however, can be lethal with his bowling, his nagging line and length.

Strength: The presence of Shane Warne. Weakness: Not the best of fielding side.
* * * Chennai Superkings

On paper a very formidable side. The team has a balanced look and revolves around its skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni. However, in reality, things could be different.

Dhoni commands a big price and has a huge fan following. Of late, however, he has slipped slightly in popularity, at least among the purists. His statements as India’s ODI captain, showing disregard for history and the senior players, have not r eally gone down well with the seniors. Dhoni would be the man under severe pressure. It is not that the team would depend solely on his ability to hit the ball hard. His impulsive strokeplay and instinctive decisions as captain could make or break his team’s aspirations.

But then, Twenty20 is a format that suits Dhoni’s style. So is the case with Matthew Hayden, Stephen Fleming and Suresh Raina. By picking Hayden, the Chennai team has made a rich investment. The burly Australian is likely to revel in the conditions because he has the capacity to adapt quickly. His form is very crucial to the team. Jacob Oram is an under-rated all-rounder. But there is reason to back this Kiwi, who has won many a battle single-handedly. A finisher like Michael Hussey, Oram is invaluable to the team.

Albie Morkel is another great buy. The South African is fast and positive. He and Makhaya Ntini form a great pace attack. And backing them up well will be the great off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan.

Strength: A solid batting line-up.

Weakness: The local collection does not inspire confidence.

* * * Mumbai Indians

The team has some of the top names in international cricket. The team will be backed heavily by both the fans and the connoisseurs of the game considering that it is led by Sachin Tendulkar. The little master may not have been the best of India’s captains, but he has the brain to create a winning situation.

It would be interesting to watch how Tendulkar approaches the Twenty20 format. Having opted out of the inaugural World Twenty20 Championship, fans will be eager to see how he fares in this version of the game.

The Mumbai outfit has an awesome batting line-up. It has plenty of stroke-players, especially Robin Uthappa who can play havoc with any attack.

Tendulkar and Sanath Jayasuriya are the team’s twin weapons. Shaun Pollock, an old warhorse, can use both the new ball and the old ball with equal venom.

Lasith Malinga is a dynamite with the ball at any given time.

Tendulkar has such wonderful options and this is one reason why Mumbai Indians could go the distance.

The presence of Manish Pandey and Saurabh Tiwary adds variety to the team’s batting line-up, not to forget Ashwell Prince, the exciting stroke-player from South Africa.

Bowling in the Twenty20 format can be very challenging and none knows it better than Harbhajan Singh, who has refused to buckle even when confronted with placid tracks.

He could prove to be the biggest asset for the side. Without doubt, the team boasts a fierce bowling attack where Pollock, Dilhara Fernando and Harbhajan lend quality, with Tendulkar and Jayasuriya capable of chipping in.

Strength: The team can make the best use of its bowling wealth.

Weakness: The middle-order could struggle in case the top-order fails.