Teams: Chennai SuperKings (1)
Royal Challengers Bangalore (2)
Mumbai Indians (3)
Kolkata Knight Riders (qualifying)
Around four months ago, Dhoni could have been forgiven for wondering why the big fuss was created around the non-stop cricketing schedules of the Indian players. He could do no wrong. The World Cup for his country was followed by yet another IPL trophy- to add to the Champion’s league trophy last year- which was, of course, followed up by an inconsequential but sapping tour of the West Indies. The purple patch lasted for exactly 4 months. Dhoni had won everything there is to win as a captain at the tender age of 29, and what else- he wondered- was left to achieve?
Prolonged domination was never an Indian or Asian trait, and having achieved it once- it was always going to be hard to keep it up. But not only has the respectability and fitness of Indian players fallen, but it has plunged to depths of dungeons and despair. A level has been reached where every Indian player that plays for their IPL team with a smile on his face will be subjected to cynical boos and shouts of ‘traitor’ for choosing club over country. That will be a burden these Indian outfits competing in CL 2011 will have to carry- and one wonders if they are even interested anymore or just want to get back home to their families and take some time off.
If only cricketers had an option of taking a hiatus- a one year break to find themselves- this is the time…
Chennai SuperKings: (Winners and Defending Champions)
The clear favourite in every year’s tournament, CSK have retained a majority of their team from last year inspite of the auction- and inexplicably look even better than they did in 2010. MSD is fit, but jaded. Raina is looking to make up for his test inadequacies. Ashwin is trying to prove that he is not Harbhajan. Vijay is trying to prove that he can back up his grace with some numbers. Everyone will treat this tournament as a perfect stage to prove their worth once again and jump into the limelight- preying on an Indian fan’s short memory span. But the England tour might be too hard to forget. And this time, forgiveness might be harder to come across.
Does it matter anymore?
For the first time, IPL is at the receiving end- and the Champions Chennai have nothing to play for (except pride) and everything to lose. It could very well be left upto the overseas players like Hussey, Bollinger, Randiv and Badrinath (technically, he is treated as one) to help this team back up their trophy with yet another trophy.
But this time, Dhoni might just ask himself- is it truly worth it?
Royal Challengers Bangalore: (Runners-up)
The almost-there team of Indian cricket takes part in yet another Champion’s league filled to the brim with excess talent called Chris Gayle. The Jamaican Marauder didn’t have to choose between teams like Pollard, and will take an uncomplicated and uncluttered mind into the field- hoping to spur on a few disillusioned youngsters who have experienced the cruel fortunes of ‘form cricket’ in just a matter of months- Kohli, Dilshan and Tiwary. The IPL final was a long time ago, or so it seems, and it feels like four years than months in the fickle world of slam-bam-bash cricket. Ask the Indian players in the tournament and they will sit you down and explain to you the philosophies of life over some fish and chips.
The Future Past?
South Africa seems to be the only team who just haven’t played after the World Cup and have been on an extended vacation- which could obviously push the likes of new captain De Villiers and coach Jennings to execute some sort of World Stage revenge on everything Asian. Though, captain Vettori- the mastermind behind South Africa’s early World Cup exit- might have it a bit tricky trying to inspire his troops to another stellar performance that does not conclude in an off-day final.
Gayle will not need any inspiring. Another runners-up performance will not be enough, and there is no better way to assert supremacy than winning a world tournament that involves the T20 champions from every country.
Mumbai Indians: (Third place)
If Sachin Tendulkar captains the Mumbai Indians in this tournament, he will be greeted- one suspects- by a round of boos for once. He flew back from England with a toe injury, and if fit enough for the Champions League- there will be a lot of questions about his commitment towards his national team. It will be unfair, I agree, but much of it will be legitimate. Rohit Sharma, on the other hand, was a bit unlucky to break his finger on the first ball he faced in England. But if he plays for MI here, he will be relegated to the bins of the world of an ex-Rohit Sharma who was mocked for his weight and attitude.
Batting All Rounder?
Davy Jacobs has been hijacked for the South African Champions The Warriors- inspite of being captain no less. Ambani must have made him ‘an offer he cannot refuse’. With Munaf looking to make amends for performing upto his potential (read negative) in England and Malinga newly retired from Test Cricket, Mumbai Indians will primarily depend on their strong bowling line-up to break down sides and then chase down lowly scores with a batting line-up led by an inexperienced Rayadu and an eager Pollard.
Harbhajan Singh, though, has been awarded the quote of the decade with a very casual ‘I have never felt better and I have never bowled better than this before’. This, after a thoroughly incompetent performance in the bowler-friendly English conditions, and then flying home ‘dropped’ under the pretext of being ‘injured’. Really, now?
Mumbai will, in all probability, crash out after the group stages- unless Pollard repeats the heroics of CL 2009.
Kolkata Knight Riders: (Qualifying)
One Rayadu shot relegated KKR to the depths of having to qualify for the Champions League. It could have been worse- they’d have been denied an opportunity totally if it was left alone to SRK’s high-handedness and Gautam Gambhir’s stubbornness. Finishing fourth in any other league of any other sport of any other country will have never merited an opportunity to qualify for a prestigious league like this- except for the EPL, but there are 18 teams competing in that league, so it makes sense.
Conveniently, though, Gambhir might just recover from his concussion and he will captain a powerhouse of talent that includes the former Yusuf Pathan (T20 specialist ONLY), Eoin Morgan, the beleaguered Shakib Al Hasan, the soon-to-be Indian hope Manoj Tiwary, Kallis and the diminutive Iqbal Abdulla.
The shoulder that brought down a country
Inspite of surrendering themselves to the ‘C’ word in IPL 2011 in the latter stages, KKR- according to many- will be the favourite of the Indian teams participating in the CL T20 this year, and qualifying will only give them a better feel of the conditions and the daunting weather of the three cities- Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata- the venues at where the games will be played.
Expect a sterling performance from this team, and write them off only if you see SRK appear at Eden Gardens in his Ra.One avatar. That will not be a good sign, much like if Sid Mallya appears in his horse-riding tights again. Or if Nita Ambani continues smiling irrespective of whether her team is choking or not.
One of Chennai and KKR will go far into the tournament, and probably face an Australian team in the final- depending on the draw. The Gayle Challengers will do well to limp past the group stages- subject to, well, Gayle.
Now that we have covered all the countries and their respective teams participating in the league, a build-up to the qualifying draw that begins on the 19th (to 23rd) that includes six teams- is next on our agenda, and it will be interesting to see if KKR decide to use this mini-tournament before the tournament to their advantage.