Thursday, March 11, 2010

IPL-3 predictions

In spite of all my problems with T20, IPL and Lalit Modi, I do find the annual event to be a wonderful distraction to look forward to. And one of the things I like to do most is stick my neck out and make predictions. So far, I have a perfect, 100% record – before IPL-1 I said the one thing that is certain is that Rajasthan will come last; last year, I made a similarly confident pronouncement about Deccan and the wooden spoon. So at least we know one thing – whoever I write off here has a tremendous chance of lifting the trophy this time around.

I’m going to do this preview in two parts. First, I’m going to note some essential ingredients for success in this format, and see who has it and who doesn’t. Then, I will do my team by team analysis based on that.

PART I – ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS

So, in terms of essential ingredients, I would list the following:

1. New signings. These will indicate how different a team is this year from last, and what key players might exist to make a significant difference to a team’s fortunes.

2. An explosive top order, which probably counts for more than a strong middle order. In 50-50, 4, 5, and 6 are probably the pivotal positions. These are the people who provide solidity in the middle and are capable of accelerating at the end. In T20, 4, 5 and 6 often don’t get much of a bat, and a strong top 3 counts for a lot.

3. One batsman who can really take the game away from the opposition single-handedly. The accumulators are all very useful, but a team needs someone who has the ability to consistently score at a strike rate of 200 – whether than means 40 off 20 balls, or 100 off 50.

4. All rounders. In 50-50, 4 bowlers and a couple of part-timers can do the trick. In T20, having 7 or 8 bowlers who can be called upon to bowl is pretty much a must. And it helps to have batting ability down to 8 or 9.

5. One genuine fast bowler. The value of a wicket is far greater in T20 than in 50-50. So while in 50-50, accurate wicket-to-wicket bowlers are an asset, and genuine quicks a potential liability because they can go off the bat quicker, in T20 that potential liability is offset by the enormous advantage one can get from a bowler who can take flat tracks out of the equation and just burst through with two or three early wickets.

6. Quality spinners, for the same reason. In 50-50, spinners are a defensive option. In T20, they are an attacking option, since batsmen tend to go after spinners and the chances of losing a wicket increase. Teams that have quality spinners tend to prosper.

7. The captain. There is so little recovery time in T20 that having a captain who is calm, who can think on his feet, and who is one step ahead of the game counts for a lot. Think of the difference that Shaun Pollock made to Mumbai when he took over the captaincy for a few games in IPL-1; or that Anil Kumble made to Bangalore’s fortunes last year as captain. In addition, for something like IPL, which has players from many different nationalities and backgrounds, a captain who is able to get players to gel, play together and play above themselves can make a huge difference.

8. Finally, Indian talent. At the end of the day, all the teams have quality foreign players. But 7 out of 11 of the team are still Indians, and the quality of the Indian talent counts for a lot. A team like Kolkata Knight Riders floundered enormously last year because there just wasn’t quality Indian talent for them to call upon.

So let’s see how the teams fare on each of these counts:

New signings

The three high profile signings this year, of course, are Kieron Pollard, Shane Bond and Wayne Parnell. Of the three, I think Parnell is the best. He has been extremely impressive in this form of the game, and is a youngster with enormous potential. Bond of course is a class act, and would have been the best fast bowler of this decade had his career not been crippled with injuries. But that is precisely the problem – he rarely goes three games without breaking down. If Bond can stay fit, he will be an enormous asset for Kolkata. Pollard, I think, is the most doubtful of the three. There is no doubting his talent, and he will certainly win the odd game for Mumbai. But there will enormous pressure on and scrutiny of him, more than for anyone else, and how a 21 year old will handle that remains to be seen, given that other high profile signings in the past who are more experienced, like Symonds, Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff have so far been moderate successes at best. Parnell too is a youngster, but he is less glamorous, and won’t face the same amount of media attention and pressure. And Parnell is joining an already successful outfit to bolster it. Pollard has been acquired to turn Mumbai’s fortunes around. That’s a big ask of him, and there’s a good chance he’ll be found wanting.

Often, though, it’s not the high profile signings that make the most impact, but the less expensive ones. And there are three to look out for, who are three potential stars of this IPL. The first is Eion Morgan, an excellent all-round acquisition for Bangalore for only 220K. He is a star in the making, and will add immense value to the Bangalore side. The second is young Adrian Barath, acquired by Punjab for just 75k outside the auction. Barath’s batting has the effortless flair of Gordon Greenidge’s. He and Shaun Marsh certainly won’t be the most experienced opening pair in the league, but they will be amongst the most attractive to watch. And the third, quite under the radar, is Kolkata’s acquisition of Ganapati Vignesh, whom I tip to be one of the stars of the tournament. Vignesh was one of the best players in the ICL, opening the batting and bowling with great success. It will be interesting to see how he translates those efforts into the IPL, but he certainly has the potential to add X-factor to Kolkata’s lineup. Indeed, a strong showing here should be of great interest to Indian selectors in their quest for all-rounders who can don national colors.

So, in terms of new signings, I would rank the teams as:

Kolkata
Delhi / Bangalore / Punjab
Mumbai
Rajasthan / Deccan
Chennai

Top order

For top order, you just can’t do better than Delhi Daredevils, whose top 4 reads Gautam Gambhir, Virendra Sehwag, Tillakratne Dilshan and A.B. de Villiers. Gambhir and Sehwag form the best opening combination in world cricket; Gambhir and Dilshan have, over the past 12 months, been the most in-form batsmen in world cricket in all 3 forms of the game; Sehwag and Dilshan can each take the game away from the opposition single-handedly. And de Villiers is a class act, coming off 2 hundreds in Indian conditions in the recent one-day series. Nobody can match the power at the top that Delhi brings to the table.

At the other end of the spectrum are Chennai Super Kings. For the last 2 years, they have struggled to find a suitable opening partner to Matthew Hayden – Parthiv Patel, S. Vidyut and Aniruddha Srikkanth have all been found wanting. This year Murali Vijay is a likely starter, but he is not primarily a player for this format. [In this regard, I am shocked that Abhinav Mukund, who is so promising and a naturally attacking batsman, is not in their roster of 23. That is just one of a number of shockers in Chennai selection this year]. On top of that, Hayden himself hasn’t played competitive cricket for over a year. So Delhi has 4 of the best in the business at the top of the order (with the explosive David Warner in the wings). Meanwhile, Chennai will rely on a rusty 38-year old to provide it early momentum. That is a huge differential.

Here, I would rank the teams as:

Delhi
Kolkata / Punjab
All the others except Chennai
Chennai

Match-winning batsmen

Here, most teams are quite well endowed, but Delhi and Deccan probably most so. Any of Delhi’s top 4 can score at 200 or nearabouts on their day, while Deccan has Adam Gilchrist, Andrew Symonds and Dwayne Smith (and possibly Herschelle Gibbs, if he makes the playing 11). Most other teams have at least one such big hitter – Yuvraj Singh for Punjab; Yusuf Pathan for Rajasthan; Chris Gayle (and later, Brendon McCullum when he becomes available) for Kolkata; Pollard for Mumbai; Mahendra Dhoni for Chennai. The one team that might struggle initially in this department is Bangalore, which has many class batsmen but not a match-winner of this caliber. Last year, Ross Taylor was that player, but this year, he will only be available after March 25. He is one of the most integral cogs in Bangalore’s wheel, and they will miss him at the start of the tournament.

Here, rankings:

Delhi
Deccan
Kolkata
All the other teams except Bangalore
Bangalore [until Taylor joins]

All rounders

As with match-winning batsmen, Deccan is on top of the pile in all-round strength, with Symonds, Smith and Ryan Harris providing both batting and bowling all-rounder options. In addition, Gilchrist himself is a genuine all-rounder, certainly still the best keeper-batsman in the league, and further adding value as captain. The other teams that sort of match up are Bangalore, Mumbai and Kolkata. Kolkata has a nice mix of quality all-rounders in Gayle, Vignesh and Angelo Matthews; Bangalore does as well with Jacques Kallis, Morgan and Roelof van der Merwe; while Mumbai has Pollard, Dwayne Bravo, Sanath Jayasuriya (possibly past his best) and Abhisekh Nayar. The only problem is that all of Mumbai’s all-rounders are batting all-rounders, so their all-round strength is not as versatile as that of the other teams mentioned above.

On the other hand, the other teams have worries in the all-rounder department. Chennai has three in Albie Morkel, Jacob Oram and Thisara Perera; but Morkel and Oram are notoriously inconsistent, so Perera might be their best bet. He is a hard hitter of the ball, but not likely to make anyone quake with his bowling. [Again, it is shocking that they overlooked Vignesh, who is from Chennai. He would have solved their top order problems and their all-rounder problems, while coming from their catchment area. Disastrous selection number 2 for Chennai]. Yusuf Pathan can bowl a bit; but Rajasthan really will be waiting for Shane Watson’s arrival with bated breath, and will miss Ravindra Jadeja badly. Punjab will depend heavily on Irfan Pathan for all-round ability, but Pathan is under pressure to prove himself and will in any case likely miss the first few games due to injury. And Delhi, so strong with their top-order batting, has a distinct lack of quality all-rounders. Rajat Bhatia just doesn’t stack up against the likes of Kallis and Morgan, Gilchrist and Symonds. Delhi is a team that has gone the specialist route. The strength of their top order is awesome, but the lack of players who can fulfill both roles could hurt them in crunch games.

Rankings:

Deccan
Bangalore / Kolkata
Mumbai
Rajasthan / Chennai
Punjab
Delhi

Genuine fast bowlers

Again, most teams have one, but some are in better positions than others. Punjab possibly has Brett Lee (subject to fitness); Delhi has Parnell; Rajasthan has Shaun Tait; Kolkata has Bond; Mumbai has Lasith Malinga; Deccan has a choice of Kemar Roach and Ryan Harris; and Bangalore has Dale Steyn. Again, the one team that doesn’t have a quick of this quality is Chennai; while the other teams will be led by bowlers of the caliber above, Chennai’s new ball attack will likely comprise Sudeep Tyagi and Manpreet Gony. It amazes me that they didn’t go for a quality fast bowler. A signing like Umar Gul or Mohammad Aamer would have been invaluable, had there not been the unstated conspiracy amongst franchises to keep Pakistani players out; or even someone like Doug Bollinger, who would only have been available for the latter half of the tournament, could at least have added value at key stages. That’s a third disastrous piece of thinking from the Chennai management.

Of the above, some are better prospects than others. Punjab will really be sweating on Lee’s fitness, because without him and an injured Pathan, they will be relying on Sreesanth to shoulder the burden of their seam attack – a scary thought. Similarly, Malinga has missed a lot of cricket due to injury, and Bond is always in danger of breaking down. Steyn has so far not done justice to his ability in the IPL. So the strong players here are yet again Deccan, especially with Harris; and Rajasthan, for whom I think Shaun Tait could be the person to look out for. Tait has bowled really well in the shorter format this Australian summer, and he could provide real strike bowling capability for the Royals.

Rankings:

Deccan
Rajasthan
Delhi
Bangalore / Kolkata
Mumbai / Punjab
Chennai

Quality spinners

Here, Bangalore has the most potent spin attack, with the ever-competitive duo of Anil Kumble and van der Merwe, who are both spinners with fast bowlers’ mentalities and extremely difficult to get away. Not many other teams have two-spinner options. Only Punjab has the option of playing Piyush Chawla and Ramesh Powar, though they have tended to leave Powar out of the line-up too often for my liking. If Jadeja had been allowed to play for at least some games, then he and Shane Warne would have formed a good combination for Rajasthan, again indicating how much Rajasthan will miss Jadeja.

In terms of the other teams, Mumbai has Harbhajan Singh, Delhi has Amit Mishra, Deccan has Pragyan Ojha, Chennai has a fading Muthiah Muralitharan and Kolkata has Murali Kartik [with the choice of Ajantha Mendis in the wings]. I think that Ojha is the best bet here. He has bowled beautifully under Gilchrist’s leadership, showing that when he is backed by the team leadership and assured of his place in the side, he is a class act in the shorter formats of the game. Last year, even though South African conditions were not particularly spin-friendly, he just got better and better with each passing game, constantly tossing the ball up, attacking, and looking for wickets. Mishra can be a wicket-taker, but he can also be very expensive, and one of Delhi’s problems is that they don’t really have a good back-up for him in the squad. [Neither does Deccan for Ojha, but, unless Ojha gets injured, they are unlikely to need to drop him]. Harbhajan has done nothing so far other than maintaining his friendship to Sachin Tendulkar to suggest that he is a good bowler in this format, and I expect him to be out-bowled by the other India aspirants in the tournament. And I would look out seriously for Murali Kartik, who has been overshadowed by Ojha and has probably lost his chance of playing for India again. But he is a veteran of the English county circuits now, and is still a quality bowler. If he can come on to bowl after some early pressure has been created by the likes of Bond [a luxury that wasn’t available to him in previous years], then he won’t be an easy bowler to contend with.

Rankings:

Bangalore
Rajasthan / Deccan
Kolkata / Punjab
Chennai
Delhi
Mumbai

The captain

We have already seen what a difference a good captain can make, and Rajasthan and Deccan are helped enormously by having Warne and Gilchrist at the helm. In Deccan’s case, Gilchrist has allowed a talented but temperamental team to gel; Warne meanwhile gets a largely inexperienced team to play well above its game. Anil Kumble has brought a no-nonsense spirit to Bangalore, bringing out the South African tenacity in the large number of South Africans in the side, and preventing the young Indians from relaxing or taking it easy. And Dhoni remains Chennai’s biggest [indeed, possibly only] asset, both as batsman and captain. [Ultimately, though, a captain is only as good as his team, and the question for Dhoni is going to be how much he can get every player in his side to give 120% in every game. Chennai will need that kind of consistent surplus effort from each player to make a mark this year].

There are interesting questions of a number of the other teams. Punjab has done the right thing by handing over the captaincy to Kumar Sangakkara, who is a far better thinker of the game than Yuvraj. But T20 requires the ability to respond instinctually to situations, not just the ability to plan a game, and Sanga showed in the Test and ODI series in India that he is still learning that aspect of leadership. So it will be interesting to see how he fares. So too will it be interesting to see how Gambhir fares leading Delhi, which could be a pointer to whether he is a future Indian captain in the making. Ganguly of course has been a successful captain in the past, and his leadership will help bring the entire city of Kolkata behind the team. Certainly, with a revamped management structure, there should be a more settled and unified air about team management than there has been in the past for KKR.

The biggest weakness here lies with Mumbai. For all my admiration of Sachin, I still don’t think he is a good captain. He is such an overpowering presence with his brilliance that he is unable to get others to play to (let alone beyond) their potential. That was his problem when he led India, and that has been his problem leading Mumbai these past couple of seasons. And that is the difference between Sachin and Warne. Indeed, Mumbai looked a far better side for the few games in IPL-1 when they were led by Shaun Pollock; there was just a buzz about the team that was lacking with Sachin at the helm. In the long term, I think Mumbai’s best bet is to hand over the leadership to Dwayne Bravo. But Sachin is a figure of such stature that he will never be removed from captaincy unless he himself asks to step down, even if a different captain might be better for the team. This is why I once again feel that Mumbai, while a strong team on paper, will end up playing below its potential.

Rankings:

Rajasthan
Deccan
Bangalore / Chennai
Kolkata
Punjab
Delhi
Mumbai

Indian talent

Having good Indian talent is really important to fill in the cracks in a side, and turn it from being a team of four superstars to being one of 11 players. But for Bangalore, it is not about crack-filling – their Indian talent is superlative, far better than any other teams. [And by that, I mean not just the superstars, but the youngsters, the fringe players, the India aspirants]. In addition to Rahul Dravid and Kumble, Bangalore has Praveen Kumar and Virat Kohli, who are current India players [with Kohli a far improved product from last year]; Robin Uthappa, who has been a let-down but who has India experience; and three of the most successful cricketers on the domestic circuit this year in Manish Pandey, Abhimanyu Mithun and R. Vinay Kumar. Mithun has already played the odd game for India, and both Pandey and Vinay are players who should be on the selectors’ radars. Also, these three players have been part of an extremely successful Karnataka Ranji side, who played with flair and aggression and who definitely deserved to be Ranji champions had it not been for the stupid 1st innings lead rules that allowed a defensive team like Mumbai to reach the finals. So with the South Africans, the India players and the Karnataka youngsters, there is a culture of winning in this side going into the tournament.

All the other teams have varying degrees of fringe India talent. Warne of course has been famous for getting his young Rajasthan players to play above their game, though again, Jadeja is a crucial part of that India talent who will be missing, and that will hurt them. Kolkata really missed having decent India talent in their ranks last year, but the signings of Vignesh and Manoj Tiwary [returning to his home ground] will help, while in Varun Aaron, they have a young fast bowler who is very quick. Punjab has signed Luv Ablish, who is returning from ICL, and who had a very successful Ranji season. And one of the most interesting ICL returnees to look out for will be Ambati Rayudu, who has interestingly been signed not by Deccan but by Mumbai. Not long ago, he was being touted as an India prospect, but didn’t show the mental strength required to fight for a middle order spot. Will he be able to make more of an impact the second time round?

Rankings:

Bangalore
Rajasthan
Kolkata
Others

PART II – TEAM-BY-TEAM

What this means, overall, then, is the following. On paper, Deccan looks the most rounded team going into the tournament, while Delhi has certain phenomenal strengths (especially in its top order) that should make for a strong showing. Bangalore looks every bit as strong as Deccan, though they need Ross Taylor to complete the picture, and might struggle a little initially without him. Watch them grow in strength as the tournament proceeds. Chennai is the one semi-finalist from last year who won’t repeat, and my prediction is that their place will be taken by Kolkata, with Rajasthan as dangerous floaters. I don’t think that Punjab has the strength to compete with some of the other teams, especially in bowling if Lee and Pathan are missing for chunks of the tournament (with some injury concerns also for Marsh and Barath, and Yuvraj just returning from injury). I expect Mumbai to turn in a below-par performance again, which will, if these predictions hold, make them the only team to have failed to make the semi-finals after three editions of the tournament, in spite of all of Mukesh Ambani’s riches. And my confident prediction of wooden spoon holder goes to Chennai.

Deccan

Their strengths are manifold. They have more quality all-rounders than any other team in the tournament. In Gilchrist, they have probably the best keeper-batsman in the tournament, even two years after his retirement. They have the confidence of winning behind them, and they have a bunch of fringe India players eager to prove themselves. Also, many of their key foreign players, especially Gilchrist and Symonds, are available for the duration of the tournament.

Their weaknesses are those than haunted them in IPL-1, which is that a lot of their players are temperamentally brittle. Rohit Sharma, R.P. Singh and Ojha are all players who haven’t been able to hold their India spots (though Ojha through no fault of his), which could mean that they are desperate to prove themselves, or could (in the case of Rohit and R.P.) point to temperamental failings that are yet to be addressed. Similar questions of temperament can be asked of Symonds, Gibbs and Dwayne Smith, and of Kemar Roach, who can be potent, but also very expensive. And while Harris has been outstanding in South Africa and Australia, his hit-the-deck bowling with extra pace could end up going off the bat quickly in Indian conditions. The more successful fast bowlers in India are the ones who can pitch it up and swing the ball at speed.

For me, the crucial question will concern Rohit Sharma. He was their X-factor last year, turning in match-winning performances not just with bat but also with the ball, and hence providing Deccan another all-round option from nowhere. If Rohit can repeat that kind of performance, Deccan will take some beating. But I myself think that is a long shot. Unlike with Kohli, there is no indication that Rohit has matured as a batsman over the past year; and while he may be good for the odd couple of overs here and there, I don’t think Deccan can go in with the expectation that he is a frontline all-rounder.

So:

Playing XI:

1. Adam Gilchrist © (W)
2. V.V.S. Laxman
3. Tirumalasetti Suman
4. Andrew Symonds
5. Dwayne Smith
6. Rohit Sharma
7. Y. Venugopal Rao
8. Kemar Roach / Ryan Harris
9. R.P. Singh
10. Harmeet Singh
11. Pragyan Ojha

Star player: Pragyan Ojha
X-factor: Rohit Sharma
Prediction: Definite semi-finalists, will top the pool stages. But fickle temperament could let them down in a knock-out game, leading to upset defeat in semis. I see them as one of the most intimidating sides, but somehow don’t see them defending their title.

Delhi

Their strength is their awesome top order. It doesn’t really get better than that. If one was to have a World XI containing T20 specialist batsmen, then Delhi’s top 5 would all be realistic candidates for the top 5 spots. They will beat teams by out-batting them.

Their weakness is the absence of a quality all-rounder. Rajat Bhatia is an honest cricketer, but in a format where versatility counts for a lot, Delhi doesn’t have as many multi-dimensional players as other teams do. There is also a certain one-dimensionality about their seam bowling, with 4 left-arm seamers in Parnell, Dirk Nannes, Ashish Nehra and Pradeep Sangwan – three of those 4 are likely to play most games. Daniel Vettori will add bowling strength and a good lower order batting option when he arrives – but Delhi hardly used him last year, for some reason.

Their X-factor is David Warner. He is one of the most explosive batsmen in the game in this format, but didn’t amount to much last year. If he can get going this year, then Delhi’s formidable line-up will be outright scary.

So:

Playing XI:

1. Gautam Gambhir ©
2. Virendra Sehwag
3. Tillakaratne Dilshan
4. A.B. de Villiers
5. David Warner
6. Dinesh Karthik (W)
7. Rajat Bhatia
8. Wayne Parnell
9. Amit Mishra
10. Ashish Nehra
11. Pradeep Sangwan

Star player: Tillakaratne Dilshan
X-factor: David Warner
Prediction: Definite semi-finalists, 2nd in pool stages. But I think their one-dimensionality and lack of quality all-rounders will see them getting knocked out for the third time just short of the finals.

Kolkata

Kolkata was a disaster last year, but expect that to change. They have made all the right moves, changing their management structure, and returning Ganguly to the helm. They have explosive batsmen in Chris Gayle and (later) Brendon McCullum, and good all-rounders in Gayle, Mathews and Vignesh, whom I predict as being the newcomer who will take the tournament by storm.

Their weakness does concern their bowling, in case Shane Bond breaks down. Ishant Sharma has struggled in this format, so they really need a fit Bond, or they need Wasim Akram to work wonders with the rest. But more than that, it is team atmosphere that will be the key. A lot of mistrust was generated last year, so if Whatmore and co. can get the team to bond and play together as a team, then this will be a team to watch.

For X-factor, I’d say look out for Murali Kartik. He is a forgotten, underrated spinner, but in fact one of the more experienced bowlers in this side. With the seam attack beyond Bond a little fragile, Kartik’s experience and his canny variations could play an important role.

So:

Playing XI:

1. Chris Gayle
2. Ganapati Vignesh
3. Sourav Ganguly ©
4. Brad Hodge
5. Manoj Tiwary
6. Angelo Matthews
7. Wriddhiman Saha (W)
8. Murali Kartik
9. Shane Bond
10. Ishant Sharma
11. Varun Aaron

[Brendon McCullum in the 11 once he joins the side, in place of Hodge or Matthews]

Star player: Ganapati Vignesh
X-factor: Murali Kartik
Predictions: I see them making the semis, at which point they become very, very dangerous. Because that will mean the team has started bonding, and it will mean that all of Kolkata will be behind them, probably giving them a passionate fan following that no other team can match. Ganguly is a dangerous leader in those circumstances, so if they reach the last 4, then they have it in them to go all the way.

Bangalore

Bangalore now looks a good, solid, tightly knit unit, well led by Anil Kumble and Ray Jennings, and full of South Africans who have recent experience of playing in India. But their biggest strength, in addition to the mental toughness of their key players, is the local talent they have available to them, which is far better than that available to any other franchise.

Their weakness, mentioned above, is that in the earlier stages of the tournament, they will miss Ross Taylor, who was their big match-winner last year, and who is their one batsman who can take games away from the opposition single-handedly.

This puts real pressure especially on Virat Kohli, whom I rate as their X-factor. Last year, Jennings talked about how Kohli puts himself above the game. Since then, he has matured as a batsman, showing not just flair but also a hunger for big knocks, and this year, Jennings has talked him up as a future India captain. He needs to really step up to the plate. I don’t think he can replace Taylor – no one in this line-up can – but if he plays above himself, he can minimize the impact of Taylor’s absence. I would personally have him, rather than Uthappa, opening with Kallis. Kohli made a lot of runs as opener in the Emerging Players’ Tournament in Australia last year, and generally looks a better player when he has more overs to play. He is certainly a far superior batsman than Uthappa is.

So:

Playing XI:

1. Jacques Kallis
2. Virat Kohli
3. Rahul Dravid
4. Manish Pandey
5. Eion Morgan
6. Robin Uthappa (W)
7. Roelof van der Merwe
8. Praveen Kumar
9. Abhimanyu Mithun / R. Vinay Kumar
10. Dale Steyn
11. Anil Kumble ©

[Ross Taylor replaces Dale Steyn or Eion Morgan when he arrives]

Star player: Jacques Kallis
X-factor: Virat Kohli
Prediction: They will struggle at the start, thanks to the absence of Taylor, winning some and losing some. But they’ll get better and better as the tournament progresses. If the start isn’t too bad, they should reach the semis. And if they reach the semis, they have what it takes to go all the way.

Rajasthan

I will never, ever again write off a team led by Shane Warne, and for any such team, a huge strength is obviously the great man himself. He has gotten his players to play above their game. Last year, that wasn’t good enough because many of the Indian batsmen didn’t have the technique to cope with South African pitches. This year, playing in India again, that won’t be such a factor.

However, on the whole, their biggest strength is not in their batting but their bowling. Most franchises have tended to beef up their batting line-ups, and in most of the team summaries I have mentioned bowling as a weak point for the teams. But this is not so with Rajasthan, who have genuine strike bowlers. Warne himself is one, as is Shane Watson when he joins the side, but for me the person to look out for is Shaun Tait. He has been bowling well this Australian summer, and someone who can bowl at his speed and pitch it up and swing it as he can is going to win games for his side. I also think the surprise purchase of Damien Martyn will turn out to be a good move. Rajasthan lacks experience in their batting, especially before Watson’s arrival, especially given that Graeme Smith has been unable to lift his game in the past for IPL. I think Martyn will provide important solidity.

Still, batting does remain their weakness, and in the first half of the tournament, Rajasthan will miss Watson as much or more than Bangalore will Taylor. The other person they will really miss is Ravindra Jadeja, who provides a second quality all-round option. This means that for half the tournament, Yusuf Pathan is their only all-rounder (and he really is just a batsman who can bowl a bit), and he is also their main batsman. Yusuf has played the big hitter role really well, but that is when Watson has been around to provide consistency. A key question is whether Yusuf has the maturity to combine his explosive batting abilities with the consistency to turn it on game after game. If he can’t do that, then Rajasthan’s batting will struggle.

Rajasthan is a dangerous floater, and so never count them out. Even if they don’t reach the next round, they have the ability to create big upsets and inflict crucial defeats on other teams that might be considered favorites, so they can at least play the role of spoiler.

So:

Playing XI:

1. Graeme Smith / Shane Watson
2. Swapnil Asnodkar
3. Faiz Fazal
4. Damien Martyn
5. Yusuf Pathan
6. Abhisekh Jhunjhunwala
7. Naman Ojha (W)
8. Shane Warne ©
9. Munaf Patel
10. Shaun Tait
11. Siddharth Trivedi / Kamran Khan

Star player: Shane Watson, even if he’s around for just half the tournament
X-factor: Shaun Tait
Predictions: Dangerous floaters. Had Jadeja been available, I would have said semi-finals. But they really will miss him as he adds both talent and balance to the side. So I would say that this is a team to beware of, but ultimately they will miss out. 5th.

Punjab

They have made the right move by appointing Sangakkara as captain, which means that their leadership team includes the likes of Sangakkara, Tom Moody and Mahela Jayawardene, who worked so well for Sri Lanka before. A middle order of Sangakkara, Yuvraj and Jayawardene is a class act, and in Shaun Marsh can be fully fit throughout the tournament, then a Marsh / Barath opening combination is as well. Punjab’s top 5 may not be as potent as the big name Delhi top order, but it is probably the prettiest line-up to watch in the tournament. Barath, in particular, is someone to look out for – he was brilliant in the Champions League, and is a real talent. Punjab has done really well by acquiring him.

The weakness is in the bowling. Punjab is even more dependent on Brett Lee than Kolkata is on Shane Bond, and Lee’s injury concerns at this point are more serious than Bond’s. If Lee plays most of the tournament, Punjab is worth watching. Without him, and with Pathan also in doubt initially, a bowling attack led by Sreesanth is likely to be nearly as weak as Chennai’s – and that is saying something. In addition, Irfan is their only all-rounder of any repute, so they have Delhi’s weaknesses in that regard. Irfan does remain their X-factor though. His being left out of the probables for the T20 World Cup is scandalous, now suggesting strongly that factors other than cricketing merit are at play in the way he is being treated. He has a point to prove, and if he can get fit and prove it, then that will make Punjab a dangerous team, even if it’s not a team that’s likely to get to the next stage.

So:

Playing XI:

1. Shaun Marsh
2. Adrian Barath
3. Kumar Sangakkara © (W)
4. Yuvraj Singh
5. Mahela Jayawardene
6. Mohammad Kaif
7. Irfan Pathan
8. Piyush Chawla
9. Ramesh Powar
10. S. Sreesanth
11. Luv Ablish

Star player: Adrian Barath
X-factor: Irfan Pathan
Predictions: 6th. Will cause a few upsets, but doesn’t really have the bowling strength to go further. Yuvraj himself said he was aiming for a semi-final berth. Most other teams have been talking themselves up as potential champions. There are just too many injuries and too many people recovering from injury.

Mumbai

They have always been strong on paper. And this year, the acquisitions of Kieron Pollard especially, but also Ambati Rayudu, make them stronger. Also on paper, they have India’s two senior bowlers, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh, leading the attack. And Sachin Tendulkar is batting as well as ever.

Nonetheless, I think Mumbai will under-perform yet again. A major reason, as I said earlier, is that I don’t think that Sachin is a captain who can get his team to play up to potential, let alone above itself. Their management structure has remained unsettled, as they have their third coach in three years (and Robin Singh, the latest incumbent, doesn’t come with the sorts of credentials that the likes of Moody, Jennings or Whatmore have). Pollard is going to have a huge amount of pressure on him because he was such a high-profile pick. And their bowling actually is less strong than it looks. Zak has never thrived in this format – he is more of a cunning bowler, who takes time to scheme batsmen out with variations, and a format where a bowler can only bowl 4 overs doesn’t help that. (Indeed, if the likes of Kumble and van der Merwe are spinners with the aggressive mentality of fast bowlers, then Zak is a fast bowler with the wily mentality of an attacking spinner). And Harbhajan is always worth less than the hype that surrounds him, even if he occasionally turns in a match-winning performance. I predict that a number of the other Indian aspirant spinners will out-bowl him in this tournament (though he will still get selected as the first choice spinner for the T20 World Cup regardless). And Lasith Malinga, who really provided strike power last year, has hardly played competitive cricket since due to injuries.

So:

Playing XI:

1. Sachin Tendulkar ©
2. Sanath Jayasuriya
3. Ambati Rayudu
4. Keiron Pollard
5. Dwayne Bravo
6. Abhisekh Nayar
7. Chandan Madan (W)
8. Harbhajan Singh
9. Zaheer Khan
10. Dhawal Kulkarni
11. Lasith Malinga

Star player: Dwayne Bravo
X-factor: Ambati Rayudu – can he be of national interest again?
Predictions: Underperform, finish 7th in the pool.

Chennai

As already suggested, Chennai has nothing going for them this year except for Dhoni. Matty Hayden hasn’t played for a year. He never had a good opening partner, and the best that Chennai could have picked, Abhinav Mukund, is for some reason not in the squad. [Neither is Ganapati Vignesh, who also could have been drafted in]. Andrew Flintoff is missing, so their all-rounders are not of the caliber of those of other teams; Ntini and Muralitharan are fading. Their bowling attack, always their weak point, will be led by Sudeep Tyagi (at best, the 6th best fast bowler in India today) and Manpreet Gony (who is not even a serious contender for an India spot). Their traditional strength has been their middle order. But Michael Hussey will miss half the tournament, and Suresh Raina, since the last IPL, has been ruthlessly exposed against the short ball. (In ODIs, he bats down at 6 and comes in during the slog; but for Chennai, he will have to bat at 3, and play fast bowlers who are better than any he will face in the Chennai nets).

On paper, these are wooden-spooners, and only two things can save them from finishing last. One is Dhoni’s captaincy. A captain is only as good as his team, but Dhoni might be able to inspire enough to push Chennai ahead of Mumbai or Punjab. And the second is that I have predicted they will finish last, which has so far been a straight ticket to the trophy. If Chennai wins, it won’t be because of Hayden or Hussey or Dhoni or Murali, but because of this prediction, and I will take full credit for it.

So:

Playing XI:

1. Matthew Hayden
2. Murali Vijay
3. Suresh Raina
4. Mahendra Dhoni © (W)
5. Subramaniam Badrinath
6. Albie Morkel
7. Thisara Perera
8. Ravichandran Ashwin
9. Manpreet Gony / Laxmipaty Balaji
10. Muthiah Muralitharan
11. Sudeep Tyagi

[Michael Hussey replaces Morkel or Perera or arrival]

Star player: Michael Hussey
X-factor: Kaushik’s predictive capacities
Prediction: Haven’t I made myself clear already?

PREDICTIONS

So, I’m predicting that Deccan, Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore will reach the semis, probably in that order. Bangalore will be peaking around that time, and Kolkata, once they reach the semis, will be very dangerous. This is the point where Delhi’s lack of versatility will hurt them, and one bad game is enough to put Deccan out. [Last year, let’s remember, they played well at the end, but were hardly invincible].

So I then predict a Bangalore-Kolkata final, with Deccan beating Delhi to third place and a Champions League spot. Such a final would be very hard to call. Bangalore would be a stronger and more solid side on paper, while Kolkata will have the passion of a city behind them. So the result could in fact depend on three New Zealanders – whether Shane Bond is fit for Kolkata at that stage; and which of the two friends Taylor or McCullum fires on the day.

However, given that Bangalore is a South African-heavy side, it means it has a strong choke-quotient in big games. And it is led by Kumble, who has typified heroism in defeat as his defining character trait [think Johannesburg 1997, or Sydney 2004 and 2008]. Kolkata is led by Ganguly, whose defining character trait is leadership from the front when most written off. It is possible that Kolkata won’t gel this time around. But my head says they have a good enough team to make the last 4; and my gut says that if they get that far, they’ll go all the way.

So my predictions:

Winners: Kolkata Knight Riders
Runners-up: Bangalore
3rd: Deccan

4. Delhi
5. Rajasthan
6. Punjab
7. Mumbai
8. Chennai

Most runs: Jacques Kallis
Most wickets: Pragyan Ojha
Highest individual score: Jacques Kallis
Best bowling performance: Shaun Tait

Man of the series: Ganapati Vignesh

5 comments:

Maithreyi said...

So... at the end of it all, Chennai's gonna win.

Thank you, mate. :D

But really: great, exhaustive analysis. Yes, the selection blunders have been plenty for Chennai. And they don't have Abhinav Mukund in the team? Srsly? Have they at least tried bagging a few of the other ex-Chennai Superstars? Some of them were pretty good.

Maithreyi said...

Wait a sec: I just checked. I think ALL of the Superstars were taken up by other teams. It's pathetic.

vineet(rcb fan) said...

Great analysis and predictions but mistaken about bangalores batting.I think they have best batting line up even without dynamic taylor

sirji said...

Now I see why you've put Chennai at the last spot. You actually want them to win the IPL :)

satish said...

Wow, 3 out of 3! were you born with ESP or did a bolt of lightning strick you sometime before IPL 1? Totally surreal, da! incredibile.
P.S: alternate career beckons before IPL 4. am sure your skills will be highly in demand. go for it! :)
Post on IPL 3 post-mortem? when?