Indian Premier League 2020: And play resumes

* Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, are the venues for the tournament

* Spin will be an important factor than it usually is in T20s

After months of speculation, postponements and sponsorship drama, the 2020 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) is set to start in Abu Dhabi tomorrow. The group stages will begin with a match between last year’s finalists, Rohit Sharma’s Mumbai Indians (MI) and MS Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings (CSK). The matches, of course, will mostly be watched on television, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. Cricketing boards around the world have given their players no-objection certificates this time (unlike in regular years, there are zero international games scheduled during the length of the IPL), so expect a full plate of superstars.

Here’s everything you need to know about this season.

The venues

Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, are the venues for the tournament. In 2014, too, the first one-third of the tournament (20 games out of 60) were played across these three venues. In 14 of these 20 games, the side batting first scored 160 or less runs, a pattern we usually see in the international games at these venues, too (although it should be pointed out that these T20 Internationals feature the Pakistani men’s team; bowling is their strong suit).

Team India opener Shikhar Dhawan pointed out last week that since the three venues will host the entire tournament this time, the second half of the group stages is likely to be played on (relatively) worn-out pitches — making spin an even more important factor than it usually is in T20s. Accordingly, most teams have stocked up on at least three high-quality spin options.

Delhi Capitals (DC) have Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel and Nepali international Sandeep Lamichhane (who played really well in the just-concluded Caribbean Premier League), backed up by former Team India spinner Amit Mishra. CSK, even after losing Harbhajan Singh, still have Imran Tahir, Ravindra Jadeja and Piyush Chawla in their ranks, backed up by spinning all-rounder Karn Sharma, while Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) have Sunil Narine and Kuldeep Yadav. But arguably the strongest spin line-up in the tournament belongs to Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) — it’s led by the Afghani internationals Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi, and backed up by Shahbaz Nadeem, one of the most consistent performers in the Indian domestic circuit over the last few years. Khan is widely acknowledged as the number one T20 spinner in the world right now, while all-rounder Nabi had set the Caribbean Premier League on fire, maintaining a superb economy of 5.1 runs per over across 12 games and winning three Man of the Match awards.


Players to watch for

Spinners apart, there are several international batsmen who’d fancy their chances this season. Explosive Australian all-rounder Glenn Maxwell has fond memories of the 2014 IPL, where he dominated the Abu Dhabi leg of the tournament — his first three innings that year with the Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) yielded eye-popping returns of 95 runs off 43 deliveries, an unbeaten 89 off 43 balls, and 95 off 43 deliveries respectively. Maxwell is back with KXIP now and will be hoping for an encore.

England ODI and T20 captain Eoin Morgan is playing his first-ever IPL, representing KKR. Very much in the last phase of his career, Morgan will be seeking to make an immediate impression. He’s been striking the ball really well of late — he scored a thunderous ODI century against Ireland last month and, more recently, an assured 66 against Pakistan in a T20I game. Andre Russell, the most feared T20 hitter in the game, will also be looking to repeat his heroics from last year, when he scored at a strike rate of 200-plus and won several games off his own bat.

Joining Morgan and Russell at KKR is Australian fast bowler Pat Cummins, one of the best all-format bowlers on the planet right now. He’s also playing his first IPL after being bought by KKR for a massive ₹15.5 crore, and he’ll be looking to justify the price tag — as will West Indian left-arm quick Sheldon Cottrell, another IPL rookie, bought by KXIP for ₹11 crore.


Team India will have an eye on…

IPL rivalries apart, Virat Kohli and the rest of the Team India management will be looking at how certain players fare this year. Topping this list, as always, is the dashing wicket keeper-batsman Rishabh Pant, whose continued failures at the T20I level are as mysterious as they are frustrating. KKR opener Shubman Gill, widely seen as the next Indian batting superstar, will be keen to reinforce that message. CSK bowlers Deepak Chahar and Shardul Thakur now have some international experience, without quite cementing their places in India’s first-choice T20 XI. The same holds true for Royal Challengers Bangalore all-rounder Shivam Dube, and his teammate Navdeep Saini, whose raw pace has made him an asset in captain Kohli’s eyes. MI spinner Rahul Chahar (cousin to Deepak) played exactly one international game last year, a T20I against West Indies. In spinner-friendly conditions he will be looking to catch the national selectors’ attention once again.

Who’s going to win, you ask? Smart money says Mumbai and Chennai are perennial favourites, having won seven out of the total 12 IPLs between them (and that after Chennai was banned for a couple of years). Shreyas Iyer’s DC have a well-balanced attack and a super-strong middle-order, and they did fairly well last year, entering the play-offs after seven years. But my personal wager would be on the SRH. With Rashid and Nabi leading the spin attack and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar in the pace department, their bowling is dependably excellent. And they have an even stronger opening pair in captain David Warner and Jonny Bairstow, one of the best white-ball openers around. Champions in 2016, SRH may well find themselves on the winner’s podium on November 8.

Aditya Mani Jha is a Delhi-based freelance writer


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