Thursday, 5 August, 2021

IPL 2021: The world's biggest T20 cricket competition kicks off on Friday

Captain David Warner (left) and Jonny Bairstow have opened the batting for Sunrisers in recent seasons. Photo - BCCI

London, Apr. 9: The richest franchise tournament in world cricket is back on Friday as the Indian Premier League kicks off its 14th edition.

Global cricketing superstars - including India icon Virat Kohli and England all-rounder Ben Stokes - will be on show in the Twenty20 tournament, with ball-by-ball radio commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live sports extra and online.

The 2021 IPL returns to India after last year's competition took place in the United Arab Emirates because of Covid-19.

This year, for at least the beginning of the tournament, matches will be played behind closed doors.


The format

There are eight franchises representing different cities in India, with matches taking place in neutral venues across six cities: Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata.

The competition begins with Mumbai Indians - the current holders and most successful team in IPL history - facing Kohli's Royal Challengers Bangalore in Chennai.

Each squad has a maximum of eight overseas (non-Indian) players but no more than four can be selected in a starting XI.

The top four sides will then enter the play-offs, with the final taking place on 30 May.


Will Mumbai make it six? And new beginnings for Smith

Five-time winners Mumbai Indians are once again considered favourites.

They have signed India spinner Piyush Chawla, the third-highest wicket-taker in IPL history, who joins an established bowling attack that already includes seamers Trent Boult from New Zealand and India's Jasprit Bumrah.

With the likes of West Indies' Kieron Pollard and India duo Rohit Sharma and Hardik Pandya, you can expect high scores and plenty of big-hitting from the Mumbai batting.

Off the field, the champions boast a star-studded set-up with former Sri Lanka great Mahela Jayawardene as head coach and India legend Sachin Tendulkar as a batting mentor.

Having lost last year's final, Dehli Capitals are still in search of their first IPL trophy.

This season they will be captained by India's powerful wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant after his international team-mate Shreyas Iyer was ruled out through injury.

The big transfer news from Delhi is the signing of Steve Smith, who joins after being released by Rajasthan Royals.

The batsman will link up with fellow Australian and Delhi coach Ricky Ponting, with England internationals Chris Woakes, Sam Bilings and Tom Curran also in the squad.


Royals and RCB looking to put things right

Any team which features England duo Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler will fancy their chances in a T20 competition, but Rajasthan Royals have made tough work of it in recent years.

Having won the inaugural season in 2008, Royals finished second from bottom in 2019 and in the last place in 2020.

South Africa seamer Chris Morris is this year's most expensive player, costing the Royals £1.6m, but England's Jofra Archer could miss the tournament through injury.

India batsman Sanju Samson will captain the side after Smith's departure, with England batsman Liam Livingstone also in the squad.

There could be an opportunity for exciting 19-year-old opener Yashasvi Jaiswal to make a name for himself in his second full season with the franchise.

Kohli has not had it easy in the IPL, with Royal Challengers Bangalore still in the hunt for their first ever tournament win.

With Kohli's batting prowess and the game-changing power hitting of South Africa's AB de Villiers, could this be their year?

They will be hoping to better than their semi-final place from last season, and have made some shrewd signings in 6ft 7in New Zealand seamer Kyle Jamieson and Australia all-rounder Glenn Maxwell.


Captain Morgan and the veterans who are still going strong

Kolkata Knight Riders endured a disappointing campaign in 2019, which prompted a change in captaincy mid-way through the tournament as England's Eoin Morgan took over from India batsman Dinesh Karthik.

World Cup winner Morgan will continue to lead the side, with new signings in all-rounders Shakib Al Hasan from Bangladesh and Australia's Ben Cutting at his disposal.

KKR has also signed former India off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, 40, who missed last year's IPL due to personal reasons.

Speaking of veterans, 39-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman MS Dhoni will once again captain Chennai Super Kings.

The former India captain has been an ever-present in the CSK side since the first edition of the IPL.

Sam Curran won over Chennai fans last year with his all-round performance, and in 2021 he will be joined by England team-mate Moeen Ali who makes the move from RCB.

Three-time winners and five-time runners-up, CSK could be a force to be reckoned with once again.


Sunrisers' superstars and changes in Punjab

Sunrisers Hyderabad - who won the 2016 IPL - is packed with explosive international talent.

With England's devastating ODI opening duo of Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy, Australia's David Warner and New Zealand's Kane Williamson, Sunrisers could well have the most exciting top order in world cricket.

The franchise also boasts the world's number one-ranked T20 bowler in Afghanistan leg-spinner Rashid Khan, experienced India seamer Bhuvneshwar Kumar and the all-around brilliance of West Indies' Jason Holder.

There have been changes on and off the field for Punjab Kings, with a new name and two marquee Australian signings.

The team was previously known as Kings XI Punjab secured the services of fast bowlers Riley Meredith - who only made his international T20 debut in March - for £793,500 and Jhye Richardson for £1.4m.

England's world number one-ranked T20 batsman Dawid Malan will also turn out for Punjab, alongside international team-mate Chris Jordan.

And at 41, charismatic former West Indies opener Chris Gayle is still plying his trade in franchise cricket and will be hoping to stake his claim in the Punjab side.