IPL-III is 11 matches and 1 week old as I write this piece.
Right at the outset, let me state that I will not be surprised if either Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) or Mumbai Indians (MI) or Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) meet in the finals of IPL-III.
And while I am putting my neck at great risk, let me also stick my neck further out and state that I expect so see Rajasthan Royals (RR) and Kings Eleven Punjab (KEP) to bring up the bottom two.
This then leves one of Delhi Daredevils (DD), Chennai Super Kings (CSK), and Deccan Chargers (DC) to join RCB, KKR and MI in the semi-finals.
I believe there are a few too many gaps to fill in the Deccan Chargers team when compared with DD and CSK. This then means a toss up between DD and CSK for one other semi-finals spot. I back CSK purely on the basis of leadership excellence and the presence of a fewer “holes”. Moreover, in my view, the presence of two “game changers” in their midst (MS Dhoni and Matthew Hayden) will swing it for CSK.
KKR have Sourav Ganguly at the helm of affairs this year. More importantly, KKR do not have either John Buchanan or his tomes on Sun Tzu or Zen anywhere near their dressing room! I think we will see — and are alredy seeing — KKR play with much pride and slef-confidence. They will want to put their last two (poor) seasons and leadership experiments behind them for IPL-III. KKR has also started the campaign well with wins against last years’ finalists: Deccan Chargers (DC) and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). KKR has made a few smart purchaces in the off-season and so has the MI team. While, DD have also commenced their campaign well, I think this year will be about the bouncing back of teams that have had their pride hurt. The teams that have suffered maximal pride-pucture in the last two seasons are KKR and MI.
I also believe that IPL-III will be less about the 4 overseas recruits playing well and more about how well the remaining 7 Indian players will play in the on-field team. One of the reasons for KKR performing poorly in previous seasons was the poor performance of local players. Ajit Agarkar got a few KKR gigs. Enough said! But with the acquisition of Manoj Tiwary in the off-season from DD and with Cheteshwar Pujara available for IPL-III, I think KKR have plugged a few holes in their armoury.
The other difference in IPL-III is the presence of players from the now defunct ICL. Players like Rohan Gavaskar (KKR), Rajagopal Satish (MI), Ambati Rayadu (MI), Sridharan Sriram (RCB), et al, will be seeing IPL action for the first time in their careers. Here again, I think MI has made some good ICL recruitments to strengthen their domestic player content.
That said, let us review each team (in no particualr order):
Royal Challengers Bangalore:
This is a solid team with some dependable competitors like Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble and Jacques Kallis and some young turks like Manish Pandey, Virat Kohli and Robin Uthappa. While Kevin Pietersen was a disappointment in IPL-II, I think he will be a different player in IPL-III. He is coming into form, albeit against a weak Bangladesh! Eoin Morgan has been a good recruit and Steven Smith is, in my view, a poor replacement for the injured Jesse Ryder. However, with a richness of overseas players, I am not sure if Steven Smith will get a game! Sridaran Sriram could add some ICL-lustre. I expect the team to be:
Manish Pandey / Sridharan Sriram /Shreevats Goswami
Kevin Pietersen / Eoin Morgan / Ross Taylor
Roelof van der Merwe / Dillon Du Preez / Cameron White
Anil Kumble / K. P. Appanna
Praveen Kumar / A Mithun / B Kumar / B Akhil / Vinay Kumar
Dale Steyn / Steven Smith
This is a reasonably well-balanced team, and under Anil Kumble, it has resillience, steel and a stomach for a fight. The key to this teams’ balance is Jacques Kallis. He gives the team tremendous options in both batting as well as bowling. He is, in my view, the most under-rated performer of the last decade in International cricket. Given that Kallis has commenced IPL-III in style, I think RCB will go far.
In IPL-II RCB experimented with Robin Uthappa behind the sticks. This did not quite work. It appears that for IPL-III, the team has dumped that experiment and commited to place its faith in Mark Boucher and Shreevats Goswami. After performing very well in the U-19 championships a few years ago, Goswami cannot even get a game for his State team, in which Wriddhiman Saha ‘keeps wickets!
For RCB to do well though, the “locals” have to do well: Goswami, Kohli, Uthappa, Pandey, Dravid, Kumble, Praveen Kumar, Vinay Kumar, Mithun, et al. This is not really a bad list of “locals” — Praveen Kumar has already taken IPL-III’s first hattrick!
If RCB’s “young turks” — Kohli, Pandey and Uthappa — do well, RCB can go places. In the past, Kohli and Uthappa have flattered to deceive in the IPL. If they fire, I think RCB should reach the semi finals.
Delhi Daredevils (DD):
This is a really strong team in my view. I expected them to win IPL-II. Barring one bad game when it really mattered, they almost made it to the top of the tree. I expect DD to do really well and perhaps even lift the cup. I expect the team to be:
Tilekaratne Dilshan / David Warner
A. B. de Villiers / Brett Geeves
Mithun Manhas / Rajat Bhatia / Kedar Jadhav
Fervez Maharoof / Moises Henriques / Andrew McDonald / Wayne Parnell
Amit Mishra / Sarandeep Singh / Joginder Singh / Shashi Ranjan
Ashish Nehra / Sarabjit Ladda / Aavishkar Salvi
Pradeep Sangwan / Umesh Yadav / Yogesh Nagar / Yo Mahesh
The problem with this team is that the reserve ‘local’ players are not that strong. For example, I do not expect Sarandeep Singh, Joginder Singh and Shashi Ranjan to get a game. Sarabjit Ladda has played a few games already in the first week, mainly because of Ashish Nehra’s side strain. So apart from having a few extra “net bowlers” I do not quite know what these players are doing in the final list! If the team wants to play David Warner, Dilshan and de Villiers, it would be possible if Umesh Yadav or Aavishkar Salvi play instead of Dirk Nannes. However, that would weaken the bowling considerably. So, I do believe that although the overseas recruits are quite strong in this team, the one or two “local” bit-player strength in this team is not that strong. Of course, if Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir fire, given the strong middle order and the decent bowling attack, I do expect DD to do extremely well in IPL-III. It is interesting to note that Daniel Vettori and Glen McGrath have not been named in the initial DD team list.
Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR):
This is a team on the rebound. Watch out when Sourav Ganguly’s pride is hurt and watch out when he is mean and hungry. And after the antics of John Buchanan in IPL-II, Ganguly is mean and hungry. He has been given longer rope by his owners as well as his new — more grounded and less publicity hungry — coach, Dav Whatmore. KKR have quietly made some good recruitments in the off-season — particularly Manoj Tiwary from DD. In terms of overseas recruits, the purchase of Shane Bond was a good move from this team. KKR has also acquired Vignesh and Rohan Gavaskar (from the ICL) — the team looks balanced and set for glory in IPL-III. Moreover, with Cheteshwar Pujara available for the whole season, I expect a last-4 (if not a finals) finish from this new-look team. I expect the team to be:
Brad Hodge / Chris Gayle
Manoj Tiwary / G. Vignesh
Cheteshwar Pujara / Chirag Pathak
Owais Shah / Brendon McCullum / David Hussey / Mushrafe Murtaza
Laxmi Ratan Shukla / Harshad Khadiwale / Rohan Gavaskar / Eklak Ahmid
Murali Kartik / Iqbal Abdulla
Charl Langeveldt / Ajantha Mendis / Shane Bond
Ishant Sharma / Ashok Dinda / Ajit Agarkar / Varun Aaron
The attack looks solid IF Ishanta Sharma bowls well in tandem with Shane Bond — but even there, there is some backup for an off-day Ishant Sharma, with Ashok Dinda ready to rock up. MUrali Kartik is an underrated left-arm spinner. He is, in my view, much better than his CV suggests. The overseas recruits are also quite solid. I think this team has been largely lifted by the presence of Angelo Mathews. I expect KKR to do really well.
Chennai Super Kings (CSK):
I rate CSK as a semi-final chance mainly because of performance consistency, leadership excellence and team balance. CSK made the semi finals of the last two IPL editions and made the finals of the first edition. A real could be the non-availability of Andrew Flintoff and Jacob Oram (both out through injuries). The team has picked Hemang Badani from the ICL — not the most inspired of picks as, in my view, Vignesh (KKR) or R. Satish (MI) may have been better options to go for. Especially given the no-show of Andrew Flintoff and Jacob Oram, Justin Kemp was an inspired auction-pick by CSK. I expect the team to be:
Matthew Hayden / George Bailey
M. Vijay / Arun Karthik / Parthiv Patel
S. Badrinath / C. Ganapathy / Hemang Badani
Justin Kemp / Michael Hussey / Jacob Oram / George Bailey
M. S. Dhoni
Albie Morkel / Thisara Perera / Thilan Tushara
R. Ashwin / Shadab Jakati
Muthiah Muralitharan / Makhaya Ntini
Sudeep Tyagi / Manpreet Gony / Joginder Sharma
For me, the real concern for this team is the seam options. While Sudeep Tyagi has been good in spurts, I do not see him as a natural first-up bowler. His consistency — especially under pressure — will remain a big question mark over this team. Ditto L. Balaji. This team needs a “local” fast bowling option to cover for when Balaji and Tyagi (or Gony) go pear-shaped — and they repeatedly do!. Unless CSK plug this gap, I believe the team will consistently under-deliver after reaching the last-4. Other than that, this is a well balanced batting-dominated team, especially if the openers and Suresh Raina fire. To add to the batting depth is M. Vijay’s recent strong and consistent showing. So, while I expect CSK to do well, I still feel they are one player short of a great team and for them to go the extra mile, a lot will depend on M. S. Dhoni…
Mumbai Indians (MI):
After a few seasons of tinkering, this team — the most expensive IPL team thus far — has started to hit the right notes in my view. Some astute off-season purchases of ICL players including Rajagopal Satish, Ambati Rayudu, IShan Malhotra and Ali Murtaza as well as a smart auction-pick like Kieron Pollard have also helped. After finishing 7th in IPL-II, expect this badly hurt team to do much better in IPL-III. As I indicated at the start, I will not be surprised if MI meets KKR in the finals. I expect the team to be:
Sanath Jayasuriya / JP Duminy
Aditya Tare / Chandan Madan
Ambati Rayudu / Shikar Dhawan
R. Satish / Abhishek Nayar
Dwayne Bravo / Graham Napier / Dilhara Fernando / Ryan McLaren
Zaheer Khan / Dhawal Kulkarni / Syed Sahabuddin
Lasith Malinga / Kieron Pollard
Murtaza Ali / Rahul Shukla / Ishan Malhotra
The real problem are with this team is, in my view, the untested middle order and the ‘keeping. Most of the other teams have good, if not excellent wicket-keeping batsmen — Adam Gilchrist, M. S. Dhoni, Kumar Sangakkara, Dinesh Karthik, Wriddhiman Saha and Mark Boucher / Sreevats Goswami spring to mind. Aditya Tare has shown in the first few games that he has got what it takes at this level. But it is fair to say that the batting qualities of Aditya Tare perhaps have not been tested severely at this level. But time will tell whether he is as good a ‘keeping-allrounder as some of the other ‘keepers in the IPL. The middle order depends on two out of the troika of Rayudu, Tiwary and Shikar Dhawan firing. If these gaps are plugged, MI could well be a finals team.
Kings XI Punjab (KEP):
In the off-season KEP quietly changed their captain. We do not know whether Yuvraj Singh was nudged or pushed or whether he stepped down. The fact is, however, that Kumar Sangakkara is at the helm for IPL-III. And that is a good thing for this under-rated team. Yuvraj Singh now has a free license to thrill. Perhaps captaincy wasn’t quite right for him. With that burden lifted, we might see a very different Yuvraj Singh in IPL-III provided he has taken it well and provided he has not launched into a sulk. I think Mohammed Kaif was a smart off-season grab from Rajasthan Royals while Manvinder Bisla’s move will make him a better fit in his (more comfortable) hometown team. Reetinder Singh Sodhi and Salabh Srivastava are good grabs from the ICL list. I expect the team to be:
Karan Goel / Manvinder Bisla / Tanmay Srivastava
Ravi Bopara / Shaun Marsh
M Jayawardene / Adrian Barath
Mohammed Kaif / Reetinder Sodhi / Salabh Srivastava
Irfan Pathan / Amanpreet Singh / Vikramjeet Malik
Bipul Sharma / Ramesh Powar
Brett Lee / James Hopes / Yusuf Abdulla / Juan Theron
S. Sreesanth / Love Ablish
The real problem for KEP is Irfan Pathan and Sreesanth. Like Andrew Symonds, Herschelle Gibbs and Harbhajan Singh how well Irfan Pathan and Sreesanth play on any given day depends on which side of the bed they got up from. Their inconsistency could hurt the team badly. My suggestion to KEP would be to get Irfan Pathan and Sreesanth to share a bed and get up on different sides of it. That way, the chances of at least one of them playing well on a given day becomes considerably higher! Another concern for me for KEP is the mental attitude of Yuvraj Singh, whose MTBEPOS (mean time between extended periods of sulk) is quite short when the chips are down. He is nursing an injured wrist, a dodgy knee, excess weight and hurt pride/ego — all of which might be a bit too much excess baggage for this talented T20 and ODI cricketer. We can expect the dressing room atmosphere to be quite glum, thick and divided. While Priety Zinta will, no doubt, try and uplift damaged spirits, I think IPL-III success may be a bridge too far for KEP. I will be quite shocked if this team does well.
Deccan Chargers (DC):
There are high expectations of Deccan Chargers (DC), after a wonderful IPL-II. However, despite that favourable result and impressive showing, I do think that there are a few gaps that this team has that are unplugged. In Adam Gilchrist, the team has an excellent and inspirational leader. In Andrew Symonds and Herschelle Gibbs, the team has two explosive players in the middle order. And like Jacques Kallis, Andrew Symonds brings much more to the team than his chewing gum and zinc cream! Moreover, in Rohit Sharma, Pragyan Ojha and RP Singh, the team has reliable, if not excellent Indian talent. The real problem for this team lies with VVS Laxman — who in my view is just not suited for this form of the game — and the bits-and-pieces local players (Jaskaran Singh, Anirudh Singh, Tirumalasetti Suman, et al). None of these are likely to set the world alight. Therefore, the pressure to perform consistently might be a bit too much on players like Gilchrist, Symonds, Rohit Sharma, RP Singh, Gibbs and Ojha. In the off-season, Kemar Roach and Mitchell Marsh were a good buys. However, I believe the team erred significantly by letting ICL-escapee Ambati Rayudu go to the Mumbai Indians. They, instead, got players like Monish Mishra. I expect the team to be:
VVS Laxman / Ravi Teja / Azhar Bilakhia
Herschelle Gibbs / Mitchell Marsh
Anirudh Singh / Bodapati Sumanth / Monish Mishra
Tirumalasetti Suman / Venugopal Rao / Arjun Yadav
Chamindaa Vaas / Ryan Harris / Dwayne Smith
Jaskaran Singh / Harmeet Singh / Ashish Reddy
Pragyan Ojha / Rahul Sharma
There are way too many gaps in this team for me to believe that they will make the last four. Laxman, Suman and Anirudh Singh are, for me, the major gaps. Their “replacements” (Ravi Teja, Sumanth, Monish Mishra, Venugopal Rao and Arjun Yadav) do not inspire me with too much confidence either! And to think that Greg Chappell thought of Venugopal Rao as India captain material — the man could have brought on untold damage to Indian cricket! Anyway, there are way too many gaps in this team for me to readily accept that this team will travel further than a 5th or 6th place finish in IPL-III.
Rajasthan Royals (RR):
The RR IPL-III season was in disarray before it commenced and it got worse within a few games! The suspension of Ravindra Jadeja was a major blow to the teams’ chances. However, what was to follow in the first week of the tournament — the injuries to Graeme Smith and Dimitri Mascarenhas — made the Jadeja suspension look like an ant-bite in comparison! The RR team has started IPL-III badly and despite the pyrotechnics of Yusuf Pathan and the leadership of Shane Warne, I expect the rest of the RR season make the team yearn for the “glory days” of the first week of IPL-III! This team needs a good hard look at itself and this might happen at the end of IPL-III. The off-season purchases of Michael Lumb and Damien Martyn were not the most inspired picks while the pickup of Amit Unyal and Abhishek Jhunjhunwala from the ICL were good, in my view. I expect the team to be:
Swapnil Asnodkar / Faiz Fazal
Graeme Smith / Michael Lumb / Damien Martyn
Paras Dogra / Amit Paunikar
Dimitri Mascaranhas / Johan Botha
Amit Unyal / Sumit Narwal / Srikanth Wagh / Abhishek Raut / Syed Qadri
Shaun Tait / Morne Morkel
Munaf Patel / Siddharth Trivedi / Kamran Khan / Amit Singh
So there, you have it. As I said at the start, I expect the semi-final lineup to be MI, KKR, CSK and RCB. While, in my view, MI has the best team, the others are there despite a few gaps which can be, I believe, be plugged through a combination of inspirational leadership and the presence of a few game-changers.