Sticking to their formula of punting on domestic talent and not splurging on expensive overseas recruits, Mumbai Indians (MI) had clinched their fifth IPL title last year.
Like most seasons, MI also gave the national team two stars, Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan, who went to live up to their IPL hype while wearing India blues. An intimidating line-up that has Rohit Sharma, Quinton de Kock, Kieron Pollard, Hardik Pandya, Jasprit Bumrah and Trent Boult at its core, the champion side reaped the benefits of having the right man for the right job.
Though, form books in T20 cricket come with a disclaimer, not many are betting against MI captain Rohit Sharma lifting the trophy for the sixth time.
What the seven challengers can hope is to catch the champion side on their off-day. Here’s looking at the Achilles’ Heel of the seven challengers.
Shreyas Iyer void: Despite their implosion against Mumbai Indians in the 2020 final, Delhi Capitals are by far the second best team in this tournament. However, they are without last season’s captain and their top scorer Shreyas Iyer, who is nursing a shoulder injury. Rishabh Pant will take charge of this team, but Iyer’s absence will be felt. They can paper over this crack by promoting all-rounder Marcus Stoinis as an opener with Shikhar Dhawan. If Ajinkya Rahane and Shimron Hetmeyer step it up, Delhi, with their balanced attack, can hope to win their first-ever IPL title.
No lower-order finisher: The David Warner captained team have made it to the playoffs in every edition since 2015. The team’s bane has been their misfiring lower middle-order, which lacks the firepower of Mumbai Indians. Priyam Garg, Vijay Shankar, Abhishek Sharma and Abdul Samad are talented individuals. However, they lack the experience and skill to handle the pressure of big-ticket matches.
Chennai Super Kings
Old guards lack match time: Suresh Raina’s return gives the squad a wealth of experience, but he could be rusty. Meanwhile, Faf du Plessis, following his international retirement, has featured in just three Pakistan Super League games. There are question marks over their captain MS Dhoni as well, who has not played any competitive cricket since CSK’s tepid exit from the group stage last year.
Missing injured Archer: Fast bowler Jofra Archer was the lone bright spot for the Royals in IPL 2020. He picked 20 scalps from 14 games. But that didn’t stop the Royals from finishing the last season at the bottom of the table. In his absence, they have South African all-rounder Chris Morris and Bangladesh’s wily left-arm seamer Mustafizur Rahman. Together, they are incisive and provide this team with credible options for death bowling. However, on their own, they don’t quite possess Archer’s match-winning ability.
Royal Challengers Bangalore
Death bowling, a problem area: Virat Kohli’s team have a well-rounded bowling attack comprising Washington Sundar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Navdeep Saini and Mohammed Siraj. On the face of it, RCB’s bowling attack seems to have all the bases covered. Not quite. Having let go of Morris at the auction earlier this year, RCB don’t have a skilful bowler at the death. They would be hoping that Kyle Jamieson, their big-ticket buy, gives them the control at the fag end of the innings.
Kolkata Knight Riders
Sunil Narine conundrum: In 2017, Kolkata Knight Riders propped up Sunil Narine in the role of a pinch-hitting opener. Narine’s promotion gave Kolkata batting flexibility and depth. Things came to the fore during the last season, when Narine failed to provide his team with starts he was known for. Even his bowling has gone off the boil. The addition of Bangladesh all-rounder Shakib-al-Hasan and mystery spinner Varun Chakravarthy, gives them ample options in the spin department.
Who beyond the Fab 4: Unlike Mumbai Indians who have a posse of heavy-duty big-hitters from Nos 1-7, Punjab Kings are essentially a top heavy side, banking on their Fab Four — captain KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Chris Gayle and Nicholas Pooran — to score bulk of their runs. If Punjab harbour hopes of going deep in the tournament, they need batsmen beyond the top four to step up. They would hope that Moises Henriques, Dawid Malan, Fabian Allen and Shahrukh Khan would click.