One of the premier Twenty20 tournaments in the world, Indian Premier League (IPL), enters into its ninth edition with two new teams – Gujarat Lions and Rising Pune Supergiants – and their arrival could give the season an all new flavor.
New entrants promise to give a new lease of life to the cash-rich tournament, whose popularity has been waning with every passing season. In a way, it can be seen as a blessing in disguise for the BCCI-run league as the suspension of Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Rajasthan Royals (RR) for two years had left the richest cricket board with no option but to add to new franchises.
Now many players, who had been representing CSK and RR since the inception of the league or had long been associated with the franchises, can be seen playing against each other. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who was the face of CSK for all those years will lead Supergiants, while Suresh Raina, who had been an important cog in the Chennai franchise will be captaining the Gujarat side.
A mix of RR and CSK’s core members have given birth to two new franchises, who are set to give a tough fight to rest of the teams.
Rightly so both sides got off to a winning start in this season's IPL.
Supergiants not just have 'Captain Cool' to lead the side but a super strategist as well in their dugout in former New Zealand skipper Stephen Fleming, who is the head coach. This tested combination was one of the major reasons behind CSK’s success in the past.
Even though many senior members of CSK joined Gujarat side, Dhoni still has few premier players in Ravichandran Ashwin, Faf du Plessis and Albie Morkel at his disposal. Pune look like a batting powerhouse. Apart from Dhoni and Faf, they have world’s finest T20 batsmen in Steven Smith, Kevin Pietersen and Ajinkya Rahane.
Talking about their all-rounders, Mitchell Marsh, Thisara Perera and Irfan Pathan can provide an excellent balance to the team. However, their bowling seems a weak link. Barring Ashwin, other bowlers can’t inspire confidence to win matches on their own. One player who could be a surprise element in the team would be Adam Zampa – the young Australian leggie, who impressed many during the recently concluded ICC World Twenty20 in India.
On paper, Lions squad might not impress you at first, but Raina-led side has a bunch of players with the ability to snatch the game from the jaws of defeat, which also includes five core players from the now suspended CSK. Their batting line-up already looks sorted out as they have Raina, Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Smith, Aaron Finch and Dinesh Karthik in their squad.
Lions’ bowling attack will be spearheaded by world-class pacer Dale Steyn. To support the South African, they have an unique mix of bowlers in the form of Ravindra Jadeja, Dwayne Bravo, James Faulkner and Pravin Tambe. Most of the cricketers in Lions squad come under the category of utility players, which makes it a dangerous unit. Overall, Lions give an impression of a fierce team, which can give tough competition to all the other seven teams.
It would certainly be a new challenge for players like Rahane, Raina, Bravo and others – who had been part of one franchise for years – to adjust themselves in their respective new jersey or for that matter an all new set-up.
Among all these changes, Chennai and Rajasthan fans would be highly disappointed and must be in a dilemma, of which team to support this season. On the other hand, Gujarat and Pune fans will be all excited to back their respective home teams by thronging into the stadiums in huge numbers.