The stop-start nature of the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic over the last two years had inevitably carried over to the Indian Premier League (IPL), postponing the cricketing season which was in full swing in May this year due to the rise in COVID cases across India and subsequent breaches in bio-secure bubbles.
After almost five months of wait, the good news for the cricketing fandom is that the tournament is all set to start on September 19 with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) managing to schedule a window right before the T20 World Cup 2021 to carry out the second half of the much awaited cash-rich T20 league.
A Story of Contrasts – DC at the top, MI in the middle, SRH at the bottom
As the popcorn gets ready, here is a quick recap of three teams - Delhi Capitals (DC) aiming to win their maiden IPL Trophy, Mumbai Indians (MI) hoping to stage their signature comeback and stamp back their authority of being the defending champions and lastly Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH), a team in complete disarray.
The re-ramp called Delhi Capitals
A season which started as a huge blow for DC with its captain and top batter, Shreyas Iyer being ruled out due to shoulder injury quickly turned around with the team stepping up to deliver win after win under their new captain Rishabh Pant, ending the first half of the season on top of the table with 6 wins out of the 8 matches played.
Sticking to their formula of “Nayi-Delhi”, building a team around young spirited players under the coaching of Ricky Pointing, Delhi Capitals have risen from last place in the 2018 season to a steady climb reaching the playoffs in 2019, finals in 2020 and eyeing a maiden IPL win this year.
DC’s top player Steven Smith, in a recent interview to his franchise’s Youtube channel, stated the importance of continuing their good form and hinted that their best is yet to come.
"We have to pick up from where we left off. We were playing some really good cricket, getting the results we were after. And I think we can do even better so we should be playing our best cricket in the back end of the tournament. You have to play well enough to get to the final, but hopefully, we can play our best cricket in the final," the former Australia skipper said.
In their eight matches so far, DC have shown the ability to take the game away from the opposition and win convincingly as well as to absorb pressure and come out on top of matches too close to call.
Moreover, their squad’s players have been playing regular cricket and seem to be in good nick which should provide an easier transition to the IPL. Shikhar Dhawan is the current Orange Cap holder with 380 runs across 8 matches at an average of 54.28.
Prithvi Shaw, Delhi’s other opener, is also handsomely placed at number 4 in the run-scoring list of the 2021 season. To top it off, the now fit Sheryas Iyer would help provide stability to the side. Pacer Avesh Khan has been sensational this year and stands in the second position of the highest wicket-takers of the season.
Chris Woakes’s recent announcement of not taking part in the second leg of the IPL is an unfortunate development for DC but with Delhi’s seam options in Avesh Khan, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje and Umesh Yadav, the team shouldn’t feel the absence of Woakes. Nevertheless, DC has gone ahead to name Australian left-arm pacer Ben Dwarshuis as the English all-rounder’s replacement.
What remains to be seen is can Rishabh Pant, a relatively young, inexperienced captain, lead the roaring pack to their first IPL victory.
Mumbai Indians and the habit of winning
The most successful team in IPL is currently battling for its third consecutive tournament win to add to their existing tally of five titles.
The high-profile contingent surely knows one thing better than the rest: winning. In typical Mumbai Indians' fashion of slow starts, the team is currently placed fourth with 4 wins and 3 losses out of the seven matches played, regardless of which they remain favourites to bag the 2021 Trophy.
Six of their current squad have been named for the T20 World Cup squad for India which is testament to the quality of the group. Their core consisting of skipper Rohit Sharma, pacer Jasprit Bumrah and Kieron Pollard along with budding young talents and experienced overseas campaigners is what makes the team better than most.
Pollard, who had a slow start to his 2021 season came back to put in a match-winning performance against the Sunrisers Hyderabad and later his 87 (34) to successfully chase down 219 against arch rivals CSK went down as one of IPL’s iconic innings.
Rohit Sharma has been consistently performing at the top with a 35.71 run average while leggie Rahul Chahar has been able to out-do most batsmen with his clever deception taking 11 wickets to stand fourth in the wicket-takers tally.
There is no doubt that Mumbai Indians have one of the strongest sides in the competition and conditions in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have historically suited them well. Although, doubts regarding middle-order form and the fourth overseas spot remain, one would think they don’t need to get much right to retain their winning streak.
A team amidst confusion - Sunrisers Hyderabad
A team in disarray, Sunrisers Hyderabad who have been historically a strong team winning the IPL in 2016 and qualifying to the playoffs every year since, have lost 6 of their first 7 games, their worst start to the tournament.
SRH sacked their captain, David Warner, an all-time IPL great, in a hope to find better team balance while their highest run-scorer Jonny Bairstow has withdrawn from the UAE leg. Kane Williamson is given the captaincy for the remaining of the IPL 2021.
Although Sunrisers’ key issue of high dependence on their overseas players remain, some positive news in the availability of previously injured pacers Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Thangarasu Natarajan will help provide stability to the team.
Guyanese Sherfane Rutherford has been named as Bairstow’s replacement for the remaining season and his recent form in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) is another good addition to the team, although he will likely not play in place of David Warner.
With spin kings in leggie Rashid Khan and offie Mohammed Nabi, well suited to the UAE wickets, SRH might just be able to put in redeeming performances which we all know the team to be capable of doing.
The second leg of IPL 2021 starts on September 19 with the marquee clash between arch rivals three-time champions Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and five-time champions Mumbai Indians (MI) at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.
The tournament’s final at the aforementioned venue on October 15, 2021.