Ganeshbabu Venkat | 1:09am gmt 06 Apr 2009
With the "outsourced" South African Edition of the DLF Indian Premier League days away here is a detailed two part analysis of how the teams match-up and how they could fare in the 2009 edition of the tournament. In the first part Rajasthan Royals, the defending champions, Chennai Super Kings, the runners-up and the two semifinalists Kings XI Punjab and Delhi Dare Devils are profiled.
Last year, the Royals proved that IPL cricket was not all about star value and big names. Under the astute leadership of Shane Warne, the least expensive franchise in the league was also the convincing champions. With the likes of Shane Watson, Yusuf Pathan and Graeme Smith making key contributions throughout the tournament, they were unbeaten at home on their way towards lifting the trophy.
This year, however, they could find it difficult to repeat their heroics. Graeme Smith's recurring elbow injury means that he will miss the whole series, and Shane Watson is a further injury doubt. The all-rounder is committed to Australia's tour of the UAE and, with a career blighted by injuries to date; it will be a surprise if the Queenslander survives problem-free. The Royals have looked to England to cover their big name absences, and Middlesex's South African Tyron Henderson will join big-hitting all-rounder Dimitri Mascarenhas of Hampshire in the middle order. Highly rated Indians Yusuf Pathan and Ravindra Jadeja will provide an explosive core to the batting department, allied with their controlled finger-spin.
With Sohail Tanvir, the top wicket taker in the 2008 tournament, another high-profile absentee, the Royals look a little thin in the bowling department. Once again Warne will lead an attack with little international experience, and Royals fans will be looking to Munaf Patel to continue his progress on the world stage. One of the team's great strengths in last year's tournament was their electric fielding and, with Jeremy Snape continuing as High Performance Coach, we can expect more of the same this time around. I would be very surprised if they were to reach the semi-finals this year: but the old master Shane Warne will have very different ideas, and if he can conjure up a trick or two, the Royals might yet retain their crown.
Players to watch: Shane Warne, Tyron Henderson, Yusuf Pathan and Ravindra Jadeja
Chennai Super Kings
The unlucky runners-up last year are the team to beat this year. On paper they have one of the most devastating batting line-ups with Matthew Hayden, Stephen Fleming, Suresh Raina, M.S. Dhoni and Albie Morkel leading their charge. These guys on their day can make great bowling attacks look very ordinary. In Dhoni they have one of the coolest heads as captain and a great finisher to an innings. Their batting looks ominously imposing to set huge totals and chase down any target with considerable ease.
Their bowling looks very well balanced with Makhya Ntini, leading the attack with his fellow Protea Albie Morkel. With the most expensive player of the league Andrew Flintoff on board this year and his Lancashire team-mate Muttiah Muralitharan they have an attack with more than two-thousand international wickets under their belt. CSK are coached by South Africa's Kepler Wessels, who can help them adapt to the local conditions. If there is an area of concern, it would be their fielding with a number of veterans in the side. But their strength in the batting and bowling should mask any inadequacy in the field.
The presence of vastly experienced international cricketers and the IPL restriction in place to select only four foreign players, CSK could have a tough time picking their playing eleven for every game. CSK has an embarrassment of riches in both the batting and bowling departments with some talented Indian cricketers like Subramaniam.Badrinath, Parthiv Patel, Lakshimpathy Balaji, and Manpreet Gony present in their squad in addition to these international stalwarts. All these things suggest that they could go on to win the elusive crown this time.
Players to watch: M.S.Dhoni, Matthew Hayden, Andrew Flintoff and Albie Morkel.
Kings XI Punjab
One of the losing semi-finalists of last year have not made many changes to their squad and are primarily dependent on the nucleus of the side from last year. Punjab's batting appears solid if not spectacular. They will be missing a number of key Australian players, to whom they owe some of their success last year. They will miss the explosive batting of Shaun Marsh, the leading run-getter of the last tournament, and the all round ability of James Hopes since both are committed to Australia's tour of the UAE. With these two missing the tournament during that time their batting rests entirely on the sub-continent trio of Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayewardene and Yuvraj Singh, they could struggle if these three fail.
Punjab could rue their decision to not renew the contract of the star West Indian batsman Ramnaresh Sarwan, who seems to be in the form of his life with his recent returns against England in both the Test matches and ODI's. Instead they have rested their hopes on the England and Essex All-Rounder Ravi Bopara, who has not done anything of late in T20 cricket to convince that he can make a significant impact to Punjab's fortunes.
Brett Lee and Sreesanth are carrying injuries and if they are declared unfit, their bowling could be severely hampered. Their newest recruit Jerome Taylor of the West Indies has already pulled out of this year's IPL due to injury. That leaves their bowling hugely dependent on Irfan Pathan and Piyush Chawla of India, who was one of their success stories last year with seventeen wickets in the tournament. The past performances of Pathan and VRV Singh do not instill any confidence that they will be able to restrict the opposition. Punjab's lack of attacking batsmen coupled with lack of fire power in the bowling indicates that they will not make any significant impact this year.
Players to Watch: Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardena, Yuvraj Singh and Piysuh Chawla
Delhi Daredevils possess the lethal Indian opening pair of Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehawag. With these two present it was indeed surprising that they could not go beyond the semi-finals last year when they lost to the Royals, whom Delhi had thrashed earlier in the tournament. Further strengthening their top-order batting this time will be the dangerous left-handed batsman David Warner of Australia. With him in the mix they have three batsmen in their top-order with T20 strike rates in excess of 125. If that is any indication they sure are to provide rich entertainment to the spectators.
Delhi's Opening pair and bowling was instrumental for most of their wins last year. Their strong middle order of AB DeVilliers, Tilakaratne Dilshan, Shikar Dhawan and Dinesh Karthik under-performed and was the main cause for their downfall in many matches. Their middle order has been given a boost with the addition of the England batsmen Paul Collingwood and Owais Shah. Paul Collingwood has proved himself to be a genuine match-winner for England in the limited overs format for some years now. With most of the contracted Delhi players available all season they could find themselves in the same situation as Chennai and their captain Sehwag could be pulling his non-existent hair to select his playing eleven for every match.
Delhi's bowling looks solid even though Pakistan's Mohammed Asif will be missing the tournament. They have the ever reliable Glenn McGrath leading their attack and will be supported by the young Indian prospects Vijay Yo Mahesh and Pradeep Sangwan. Adding variation to the attack is the affable kiwi Daniel Vettori with his under-rated left arm spin. With such a strong batting line-up and a solid bowling attack anything less than a semi-final spot for Delhi would be a huge disappointment for the team and their fans alike.
Players to Watch: Gautam Gambhir, Virendar Sehwag, David Warner and Glen McGrath