With less than 4 days to go for the IPL-12 opener between Chennai Super Kings and Royal Challengers Bengaluru in Chennai, the practice games are on, the work schedules are being tweaked so that all the professionals can somehow return by 7 PM every day and the fantasy leagues are being drawn up for yet another crack at the prizes. The country will turn to the great Indian cricket soap instead of television soaps every evening. The faces that attract them, however, are the ones that matter.
Let’s take a look at the 5 biggest foreign players at this year’s Indian Premier League:
The wily Afghan leg spinner has been a superstar for the Sunrisers Hyderabad over the last few seasons. He has become a household name in this nation, thanks to his stunning control and deceptions – as he forms the core of what is the best bowling unit in IPL history. The Sunrisers have been the most skillful side on the field for three seasons now, with either Warner or Williamson having an embarrassment of riches when it comes to bowling options. Khan has been so good, even with the bat when needed, that he is virtually irreplaceable and unofficially the MVP of every season he plays.
Mumbai Indians have snagged De Kock this season, a good move given his superb form for South Africa in all three formats against Sri Lanka. De Kock has always enjoyed either heightened purple patches or deep losses of form. Right now, he is in the midst of a career crest, and has remained the only bright spot in an international side struggling for revival. The man is the future captain of South Africa, and Mumbai Indians can solve their opener problem by having him partner the in-form Suryakumar Yadav or Evin Lewis at the top. Either way, Rohit Sharma’s inconsistency in IPL has cost his team last season, and the company in De Kock could revive their fortunes.
The cameras are always on Andre Russell, and rightly so. But it was the ethereal and calm Sunil Narine who turned on the style last season. Ever since his action has been “corrected,” he hasn’t been as effective the bowler he once was; he was once the Rashid Khan of IPL. But thanks to Gautam Gambhir’s leadership a couple of seasons ago, KKR discovered a useful pinch-hitter at the top in Narine. He opens the innings and throws the bowlers of their rhythm with some sweetly timed, lazy slogs, and actually scored some of the fastest fifties in the format over the last two years. He is now a legitimate all-rounder, one of two world-class ones in a thriving KKR side.
AB DE VILLIERS (RCB)
Last year at this time, AB was the captain of the South African side and a top draw in IPL cricket. This season, he is a retired cricketer making his living off international T20 leagues. He set the Bangladesh Premier League alight last months with some ridiculous shots, and will now return to an underperforming RCB on the eve of a World Cup in which he will not play. One suspects that the heartbreak of 2015 may yet convince him to return to play for South Africa in England this summer, but the IPL will go a long way in deciding his form and fitness.
The youngster is the balance in CSK’s “old” brigade. He was a key player for the champions last season – his economical spells went a long way in setting CSK moderate targets to chase. He bowled the maximum maidens in his first spell, and will be used carefully by MS Dhoni given how much South Africa might depend on him in the World Cup. His variations are brilliant, and he will vie with Kagiso Rabada (Delhi Capitals) to be the most profitable South African signing this summer.
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