IPL 2022: Countdown to 15th edition of the league of thrills begins
Chennai super kings
The disappointment in IPL 2020, where they couldn’t even make the play-offs, was just an anomaly. That’s what Chennai Super Kings proved last year when they secured their fourth IPL crown in style, dispelling talks of being a “Dad’s Army”.
The seeds of last season’s success, though, was sown late in 2020 itself when Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his men won their last three games of the league phase to finish on a better note, something that did help them prepare well for the 2021 edition.
This time around, like all the other teams, the Super Kings too have some new faces in the squad with the young guns eager to make a mark among the stars and stalwarts.
The expectation of the fans and the fraternity is one aspect the Super Kings will have to deal with once again. But make no mistake, the four-time champions will surely gun for another magical performance for a fantastic fifth title.
Last season, the opening combination of Ruturaj Gaikwad and Faf du Plessis was one of their strong points.
Du Plessis is no longer with the team, as he’s now leading the Royal Challengers Bangalore. But Gaikwad’s presence at the top order is for sure a huge boost. Agreed, he’s yet to make a mark in the limited opportunities (three T20Is) he has had in India colours, but in the IPL, the Maharashtra captain is an absolutely different player altogether.
His numbers (635 runs last year and 204 runs in 6 matches in 2020) prove so. Besides, he has played several long innings for his state after a dream showing in the previous IPL, which only reflects his further improvement as a batsman.
The Super Kings would seriously hope Devon Conway, who has been impressive so far for New Zealand, complements Gaikwad.
Another massive plus point for the Super Kings is their all-rounders, led by Ravindra Jadeja, who has been growing in strength and stature as a player. Jadeja has been a regular performer with the ball for the Super Kings and has also been a finisher coming late in the order.
There’s also Moeen Ali, who too can contribute with his all-round abilities. The England all-rounder may not be a prolific wicket-taker, but his off-spin is handy enough to give the team crucial breakthroughs and stem the flow of runs as well. And with the bat, he’s a clean hitter and can also anchor the innings.
The Super Kings worship him as their biggest strength, but captain Dhoni is certainly not the Dhoni of old.
For sure Dhoni is a brand, maybe even bigger than Virat Kohli, and his presence itself is good enough for the Super Kings to bring out their A game. Behind the stumps too, Dhoni still looks capable of doing a decent job in the shortest format. But what about his batting?
Will Dhoni, whose last competitive game was the 2021 final in Dubai last October, continue to be effective? Besides, in which position will he go out to bat? These are a couple of areas the Super Kings management will have to look into.
The coaching staff also needs to be careful in how they deal with Dwayne Bravo who, at 38, isn’t getting any younger.
But what could worry the Super Kings most is the unavailability of seamer Deepak Chahar, who has served the side really well with early inroads.
Chahar sustained a right quadricep injury during India’s recent T20I series versus the West Indies and his earliest possible return could be mid-April.
- Key men: Ravindra Jadeja, Moeen Ali, Ruturaj Gaikwad
Kolkata Knight Riders
At the recent IPL player auction, the presence of Shah Rukh Khan’s children, Aryan and Suhana, along with Juhi Chawla’s daughter, Jahnavi, was quite striking.
Juhi and husband Jay Mehta, who co-own the franchise with Shah Rukh, later went on to say that their children were not just the “future” but also the “present” of the franchise. The Knight Riders’ choice of players, it seemed, followed a similar doctrine — look forward and focus on youth.
The Knight Riders have been known to nurture youngsters. In choosing a captain in Shreyas Iyer, the team management has shown vision and foresight, attributes that will drive them in the coming years.
The Knights sprung a surprise in the second half of the IPL last season, a winning streak which landed them in the final before finishing second best to Chennai Super Kings. The bulk of the credit should go to Venkatesh Iyer’s scintillating batting display and some tidy spin bowling by Varun Chakravarthy and Sunil Narine.
Head coach Brendon McCullum’s attacking game plan also played a significant role and it is only expected that the Knight Riders would continue in the same mode this season.
A lot will depend on Andre Russell. The West Indies all-rounder remains the fulcrum to the Knight Riders’ strategy with his ability to control the middle overs with the ball and his destructive batting at the slog.
There has been a lot of talk about Russell being retained for a huge sum of Rs 12 crore given the serious doubts over his fitness. He was laid low by a hamstring niggle in the business end of the last edition and hasn’t been in the best of form since. Enormous faith in the Jamaican’s abilities prompted CEO Venky Mysore to retain him and Russell seems determined to repay the faith shown on him.
“I am proud to be back. During the last few seasons, you know, there has been a lot of talk. A lot has been said about me. But, what I will do to silence them is perform. You know, kill the negativity with kindness,” Russell said after joining practice on Wednesday.
The Knights spent the bulk of their Rs 48 crore purse on Pat Cummins, Shreyas, Nitish Rana and Shivam Mavi. Cummins and Aaron Finch, Australia’s Test and limited-overs captains, respectively, will miss the first few matches because of their national commitments in Pakistan.
The domestic players’ role will be crucial and how Baba Indrajith or Sheldon Jackson performs will hold the key. If Jackson can perform with the bat and keep wickets, it will solve a lot of problems for the Knights. If he is not successful with the bat, Sam Billings may have to keep wickets.
That will lead to complications in slotting their four overseas players in the XI. If Venkatesh, Finch and Shreyas get going at the top, it will be a lot easier. Cummins, Russell and Narine can then fill up the rest of the overseas slots with Tim Southee acting as a back-up.
Ajinkya Rahane’s availability is sure to help Shreyas with leadership support. The likes of Rana or Rinku Singh have never been consistent with the bat and Rahane’s form could be the key in sorting out the shortcomings in the middle order.
The Knight Riders reserves seem too inexperienced and the side could be let down by lack of batting firepower in the lower order.
Umesh Yadav is not very effective with the ball in this version and how he adjusts to the role will be important. Sunil Narine’s consistency will also have to be monitored closely.
Ramesh Kumar got a lot of mileage, post his recruitment by the Knights, for his exploits in tennis ball cricket in Punjab, but one has to wait and see how much of success he achieves in the IPL. The same applies for Ashok Sharma or Aman Khan.
- Key men: Shreyas Iyer, Andre Russell, Varun Chakravarthy