What we can expect: Since 2010, when they lost in the final to Chennai, Mumbai have only failed to make the play-offs once, in 2016. When it comes to the crunch, the defending champions invariably find a way. But Lasith Malinga and Harbhajan Singh, talismans in the glory years, have gone, and the specialist-batting options look light once you get past Rohit and Evin Lewis. Pat Cummins and Jasprit Bumrah will spearhead a powerful bowling line-up, and the all-round talent of the Pandya brothers, Hardik and Krunal, will be central to their fortunes.
Star man: Pat Cummins: Last season, he took 15 wickets from 12 matches for a mediocre Delhi side that missed the play-offs. No matter what the surface, Cummins invariably makes the batsmen play, and is quick enough to jar bat handles. The question is how much he has left in the tank after an Ashes series and the emotionally sapping contest in South Africa. Capable of a slog or two with the bat as well.
X-factor: Akila Dananjaya: An off-spinner with beguiling variety, he was fast-tracked into the Sri Lanka side for the World Twenty20 on home soil in 2012. He made a great impression but has found opportunities hard to come by since. Mahela Jayawardene, who championed him then, is the Mumbai coach now. Expect a telling contribution or three.
The buzz: With Rohit having said that Lewis and Ishan Kishan are likely to open, most fans want to see where the captain will bat. With Mitchell Johnson having left, they will also hope that Bumrah can shoulder the burden of being the frontline pacer. But most of all, they want Bangladesh’s Mustafizur Rahman to repeat the stellar season he had with Sunrisers in 2016 – 17 wickets at an economy rate of 6.90.
What we can expect: Delhi haven’t made the playoffs since 2012, when they topped the table before falling away. It’s been an off season full of change, with Gambhir coming back home from Kolkata, and Ponting taking over as coach. Several of the Indian contingent, most notably Mohammed Shami – whose marital woes were splashed all over TV screens and newsprint – have much to prove, as do international stars like Glenn Maxwell. Under the Gambhir-Ponting duo, Delhi won’t be soft touches. If they can get the league’s most apathetic crowd to get behind them, that would be a big step in the right direction.
Star man: Trent Boult is a magnificent bowler, as England can attest after their recent slump to 58 all out. But his IPL displays thus far have been well below the standards he’s set in international cricket. If he can find his groove, with Shami for support, Delhi will be a match for anyone.
X-factor: Rishabh Pant smashed 366 runs last season, from just 221 balls. His stock has fallen a little since, and opportunities have been scarce at the highest level. But he’s just 20, and he knows that a good season will vault him right back into contention for an India spot.
The buzz: Virender Sehwag. Yuvraj Singh. Rahul Dravid. Gary Kirsten. Many are the icons who have been tasked with making Delhi a champion side. All of them have fallen short. Gambhir, now 36 and back to his roots, was the man who helped transform Kolkata from a joke franchise to two-time winners. Currently in the news for a Twitter tiff with Shahid Afridi, he’ll need more than a slice of luck to set right a franchise that hasn’t won more than seven games since 2012.
Prediction: Mid-table, might sneak a playoff berth.
What we can expect: After winning the first title, Rajasthan missed the playoffs for the next four seasons. Two playoff appearances followed, under the meticulous coaching of Rahul Dravid and Paddy Upton, before they ran into the roadblock of a two-year ban. Having invested heavily in British talent, they’re the wild cards to upset the big-city sides. For that to happen, the Sawai Mansingh Stadium needs to become a fortress again. And a relatively inexperienced bunch of Indian players will need to step up in a big way, as they did ten years ago.
Star man: Ben Stokes nearly took the now-defunct Pune franchise to the title last season with his all-round heroics. Had he not missed the final because of England duty, the result could have been embarrassing for the board – imagine terminating the champion side. After the fishbowl existence of the last few months, following his arrest for affray, the carnival atmosphere of the IPL could bring out his best again.
X-factor: He kept the speed guns busy during the Big Bash League, and has impressed observers wherever he’s played. The Barbados-born Jofra Archer may need to wait the best part of half a decade to fulfil his England ambitions, but he could well be a household name by the end of this IPL. Rajasthan certainly think so, having invested 72 million Rupees from their auction kitty.
The buzz: Halla Bol (Raise your voice) is the catchphrase, and you can rest assured the fans will come in their thousands to welcome Rajasthan back. Smith may be a big loss, but his absence could be the making of someone like D’Arcy Short. They will also expect pyrotechnics, on the field, from the English firm of Stokes and Buttler.
Prediction: Playoffs. Further if the British trio click.
What we can expect: The loss of Warner, captain and premier batsman, is a huge blow. But Kane Williamson, who has replaced him as captain, can call on a group of experienced internationals as Hyderabad bid to make the playoffs for the third straight year. They may have lost Mustafizur to Mumbai, but Rashid Khan has been retained. Alex Hales isn’t Warner, but has a point to prove after giving up red-ball cricket. Their bowlers will ensure that they’re part of the playoff equation:
Star man: There’s no more improved bowler in the world game than Bhuvneshwar Kumar. In the last two IPL seasons, he has taken 49 wickets at an economy rate of less than 7.5, and his bowling in South Africa, across formats, was just immaculate. Not having been a Test regular, he won’t have weary legs either.
X-factor: He’s only 19, but it feels like Rashid Khan has been around quite a while. Maybe it’s the composure with which he delivers his leg-spin. Having played in a number of leagues, in all manner of conditions, Rashid has yet to be found out. If anything, he’s getting better. Afghanistan’s qualification for the 2019 World Cup would have done wonders for his morale.
The buzz: Shikhar Dhawan, Bhuvneshwar and Wriddhiman Saha aside, the Indian players are either on the fringes of selection or hoping to get there. Their success will depend largely on the overseas contingent. Chris Jordan and Billy Stanlake didn’t convince in Bangalore colors, and Carlos Brathwaite has struggled to reprise that magical over in the World Twenty20 final of 2016. But if Shakib Al-Hasan can rediscover his form from Kolkata’s title-winning 2014 season, Hyderabad will have most bases covered.
KINGS XI PUNJAB
What to expect: If we’re being kind, we’d say that Punjab are due a good season. After finishing third in the inaugural year, they’ve reached the playoffs just once, in 2014 when Glenn Maxwell’s six-hitting took them to the top of the table. Either side of that, they’ve usually been a disjointed mess. But the new leadership group of Sehwag and Ashwin throws up intriguing possibilities. A group of players hungry for more national recognition adds to the mix, as does the one-time Universe Boss, Chris Gayle. Punjab are one team we won’t take our eyes off.
Star man: Ravichandran Ashwin hasn’t taken kindly to being frozen out of India’s white-ball plans. And having moved away from MS Dhoni’s shadow — he played under him in Chennai and Pune — Ashwin now has the chance to chart his own course. Somewhere along the way, after 2014, he became more of a tourniquet than a wicket-taker. If he’s to bowl his way back into the Indian side, parsimony alone won’t be enough. Expect to see plenty of variations, and wickets.
X-factor: Which David Miller will turn up? The bloke who smashed more than 350 runs in three straight seasons (2013-15) or the one who struggled to put bat to ball the last two years? When he’s lining them up, few hit the ball as far or as hard, and the fact that they held on to him is evidence of how highly Punjab rate him. But after two dismal seasons, he needs to turn it on.
The buzz: Can the 38-year-old Gayle summon up one last hurrah? His last great IPL season — and remember, he was once the man who headlined the competition — was in 2015, and recent sorties around the world haven’t been a huge success. And what of Yuvraj Singh, another veteran? But for Punjab to make real progress, the Indian players who’ve slipped a bit down the pecking order — KL Rahul, Karun Nair, Barinder Sran and Axar Patel — will need to have stellar seasons.
Prediction: Bollywood or bust.
KOLKATA KNIGHT RIDERS
What to expect: Champions in 2012 and ‘14, Kolkata have also made the playoffs in the last two seasons. But with Gambhir having returned to Delhi, the project is in reset mode. Dinesh Karthik was a surprise pick as captain, and so much will depend on the Under-19 World Cup-winning trio that they splurged so much of their auction money on. If Gill makes runs, and Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi take the wickets, it won’t just be Kolkata fans that are ecstatic. India’s selectors will be too.
Star man: Missed the last season because of a ban for missing a mandatory drugs test, but in the two previous years, Andre Russell had given ample proof of why he’s the prototype for the Twenty20 generation. He took wickets, fielded superbly and belted the cover off the ball when asked to. His form could be the difference between a title tilt and a basement scrap.
X-factor: He’s been around more than a season now, but as we saw in South Africa, few batsmen pick Kuldeep Yadav’s left-arm wrist-spin with any degree of confidence. Sunil Narine, the team’s bowling talisman, is under a cloud again over the legality of his action, and Kuldeep could well become the go-to bowler, as he was for India in South Africa.
The buzz: Can Chris Lynn, who monstered 295 runs off 163 balls before getting crocked last season, stay fit for the entire campaign? Can Robin Uthappa rediscover the form of years gone by? And how much will the Indian tearaways learn from sharing a dressing room with Mitchell Johnson, whose terrifying Ashes spells in 2013-14 came on the back of a hugely impressive IPL season?
Prediction: Could struggle to make the playoffs.
ROYAL CHALLENGERS BANGALORE
What to expect: Three times the bridesmaid, never the champions. The 2017 season, with both Kohli and AB de Villiers spending time on the sidelines, was an utter disaster. And now, the trinity that so dazzled for half a decade is no more, with Gayle having moved to Punjab. But with Quinton de Kock and Brendon McCullum both drafted, Bangalore certainly won’t lack for top-order hitting. It’s what follows that has often been a problem. Chris Woakes and Tim Southee are intriguing signings, especially on a Bangalore pitch where the slightest error sees the ball sailing into the stands.
Star man: Hard to choose between Kohli and de Villiers, both of whom have been in sublime form of late. Kohli skipped the recent Twenty20 tournament in Sri Lanka so that his body would recover properly for the IPL, and winning it — he’s been around from day one in 2008 — has become something of an obsession. In 2016, he scored a mindboggling 973 runs and still finished on the losing side in the final.
X-factor: Washington Sundar brings back memories of Ashwin from nearly a decade ago. A tall spinner capable of teasing the batsmen in the Power Play overs, he’s impressively composed for one so young. Yuzvendra Chahal has been Bangalore’s spin king for years, but the addition of Sundar could go a long way toward ending that title drought.
The buzz: Which of the overseas contingent will be left riding the pine? De Villiers, McCullum and de Kock are nearly certain to start. Colin de Grandhomme, Corey Anderson and Chris Woakes are excellent pace-bowling, all-round options, while Moeen Ali comes into the picture on slow turners. Southee might struggle to get a game. Watch too for Sarfaraz Khan. Shamed into getting fitter by his captain, he strikes the ball as cleanly as anyone.
Prediction: If the batting clicks, they’ll make the final four.
CHENNAI SUPER KINGS
What to expect: Two-time champions, four times runners-up, and the only team never to have missed out on the playoffs. After two years in the wilderness, Chennai kept faith in the core that brought them so much success. They’ve also bought title-winning experience in the shape of HarbHajjan Singh and Shane Watson. The exciting Lungi Ngidi is pretty much the only nod to the future. Dhoni has spoken at length of how it feels to come back ‘home’ and the support they enjoy will be incomparable.
Star man: Because he no longer plays international cricket, a lot of people have forgotten just what a gifted cricketer Dwayne Bravo is. His IPL adventures have fetched him 122 wickets and 1238 runs, and a reputation for keeping calm in the most trying situations. If the speed merchants like Ngidi and Mark Wood struggle, Bravo will once again be Dhoni’s default choice for control and wickets in the slog overs.
X-factor: In a city where the ‘lungi’ [sarong] dance was a massive hit, Ngidi was trending as soon as he was picked at the auction. Built like a rugby union flanker, Ngidi bowls a heavy ball with excellent control. In a team so reliant on spin — Chennai have Ravindra Jadeja and Imran Tahir, in addition to HarbHajjan — Ngidi’s spells could be pivotal. Dhoni has always prized control over pace, and Ngidi could give him both.
The buzz: The city will be a sea of yellow come April 10, when they play their first home game. Whistle podu (Blow the whistle) will be blaring from every corner, and you can expect even religious ceremonies to aid the cause of Dhoni’s men. In intense April heat, the drums will beat, the sweat will pour and the chants will reverberate into the night. Chennai hasn’t just missed the IPL these last two years, it’s pined for it.
Prediction: Enough calloused hands to get them into the playoffs.