By Yajurvindra Singh
The Indian Premier, Popular, Prestigious, Pulsating League (IPL) will once again capture the imagination of cricket lovers and fans amid the second galloping surge of the Covid-19 virus that has brought about lockdown, curfew and severe restrictions in India.
Cricketainment will capture eyeballs like never before, since it will be one of the only few things to look forward to in the evenings for people locked up in their homes.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has an enormous responsibility to ensure that the bio-secure bubble created for the safety of all those involved with the IPL doesn't get breached.
The IPL is the main vein on which the finances of the BCCI depend and its success keeps Indian cricket alive.
For cricketers, IPL is a job that they are fortunate enough to have in current circumstances. The pandemic has had a massive impact on the lives of people across the globe and many have been laid off. Cricketers have been fortunate that their profession is still operating.
The eight franchises in the last 14 years of the tournament have become far more savvy and experienced.
The selection of squads and their professionally-managed approach is a lesson on how to turn cricket into a successful business venture.
The coaching and support staff from India and overseas have brought the best practice into play in every aspect of the game, especially in getting the most out of players.
The IPL has become the arena to perform in for superstars, the platform to be heard for aspiring cricketers. It provides the best education and learning experience for young Indian cricketers.
The IPL has been a tremendous contributor to many of the success stories as well as for the performance of the Indian team.
Mumbai Indians have been the most successful team and have been a shade above the rest once the form of Chennai Super Kings, their biggest challengers, waned.
However, the last IPL tournament held in 2020 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), eight months ago, showed that, on a given day, each side is as good or bad as the other. The differential factor is the consistency and confidence, which only comes by winning regularly and having their combination in place.
The Mumbai Indians side scores in this area as they have a set unit in place which requires very few alterations or changes. With hard and skillful hitters in their fold starting with their captain Rohit Sharma, and Quinton de Kock followed by Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan, the Pandya brothers and Kieron Pollard, they have a very lethal batting line-up that requires only two of them to flourish to make it difficult for any side.
The other seven sides are still not as settled with either their batting or bowling combinations.
The 2021 IPL may prove to be different as many of the sides in the last edition did put a structure in place and therefore, the auction was of interest to ensure that the void or weakness was filled adequately.
This too is not a simple formula as the combination goes topsy-turvy if a player does not perform to his potential or is out of form. Punjab Kings (earlier Kings XI Punjab) faced this issue with Glen Maxwell in the last edition of the game. Royal Challengers Bangalore have now put their hope on Glenn Maxwell and with Virat Kohli and AB De Villiers by his side, the trio could be just the batting entertainment that would be fun to watch.
The IPL 2021 is a very open affair, as with matches being played in designated centres, the home side's advantage has been completely nullified. The playing surface at most Indian venues, even on the same patch of the wicket is different. The reading of the playing conditions and the toss will be vital in the selection of the ideal playing eleven.
Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) are another of the sides that seem to have identified their combination well. They missed the services of Bhuvneshwar Kumar but with him back in the saddle, along with Rashid Khan, SRH have two lethal front-line bowlers in their midst.
The two teams that one will watch carefully would be Delhi Capitals, last year's runners-up, and Rajasthan Royals. Both these sides will be led by two young captains in Rishabh Pant and Sanju Samson, respectively. The two are innovative and unpredictable. They have shown that they play their cricket instinctively rather than thoughtfully. The onus of captaincy and the responsibility to lead through a structured process would be completely different from the way they approach their game.
Rishabh Pant is in top form having been the most destructive player for India recently. One wonders if captaincy will become a burden for him and so too for Samson, who has seen two astute leaders in Ajinkya Rahane and Steve Smith fail for Rajasthan Royals in the past editions of the tournament.
The Kolkata Knight Riders and Punjab Kings are sides that will need to get their base eleven in place quickly in order to make an impact in the tournament. The likes of Chris Gayle (Punjab Kings) and Andrew Russell (Kolkata Knight Riders), if in form, can upset any team's applecart.
This is precisely why the IPL is a cricket feast that has delicacies from Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Rajasthan, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Delhi and Punjab.
The Mumbai Batata Vadas are the favourites, and at this point, looking beyond them seems a tough call. They have a mission of becoming the first IPL side to win three back-to-back titles. Good luck to them!