It’s now two weeks away. The 10th edition of the Indian T20 Cricket League is already throwing up a few early googlies – Delhi Daredevils’ JP Duminy, who captained the side for most of last season, has ruled himself out before the tournament citing personal reasons. This is a huge blow to the already-underperforming Daredevils franchise, and they are yet to name a high-profile replacement. Usually, though, it’s the ‘replacements’ – the necessary purchases – that end up being the difference in the season.
In the meantime, we now move to the squad previews of two sides that have never won the title. In the red corner, we have…
ROYAL CHALLENGERS BANGALORE
Captain: Virat Kohli
Coach: Daniel Vettori
Finals: 3 (2009, 2011, 2016)
Only a decade ago, RCB – known as Vijay Mallya’s bizarre ‘test’ T20 cricket team (led by Rahul Dravid, with Wasim Jaffer as the opener with Jacques Kallis) – took an entire year to figure out that T20 cricket was not about ‘experienced’ and stable players. Charu Sharma was their CEO, for heaven’s sake. They finished 7th in the first season, winning only 4 games. Virat Kohli was a chub-faced 19-year-old, fresh from leading India to victory in the U-19 World Cup. In 2009, once the tournament shifted to South Africa for a year, and Anil Kumble took charge with Ray Jennings as coach, everything changed. The bottom two of the first season, RCB and Deccan Chargers Hyderabad, reached the final. Gilchrist led the Chargers to the title, while RCB suffered its first of three final defeats. They reached the playoffs in 2010, the finals against CSK in 2011, but came fifth in 2012, seventh in 2014 once Kohli took charge, made the playoffs again in 2015, the finals in 2016 – with a top order straight out of a superhero movie – Kohli, Gayle, AB and Watson, followed by KL Rahul and Sarfaraz Khan, who’ve all been retained for this season. Their problem has always been their bowling, and now with Mitchell Starc gone, their worries will increase despite their famed top-heavy batting.
Records: every batting record in the league. Highest score (Gayle), highest runs (Kohli), highest strike rate (AB), highest centuries, sixes.
BIG BUY: Tymal Mills
They bought the T20 cricket specialist Mills, who made his debut for England only months ago against India. They paid INR 12 crores for the pacer, who will replace Chris Jordan and Starc to lead the attack. There is, of course, Adam Milne too, as well as the spin duo of Samuel Badree and Yuzvendra Chahal. One still feels RCB broke the bank too less this year, and they could probably be weaker than last year, given that the retired Watson will have to carry the bowling again. KL keeping could again be a weak link, but he will have to, in order to accommodate an extra bowling or all-rounder option in the middle order.
X-factor: Kedar Jadhav
Given his fine ODI form for India recently, the middle-order man will be the one to watch out for, if only RCB could utilize him in the best possible way. Kohli will know a thing or two about that.
Gayle, Kohli, KL Rahul, AB de Villiers, Kedar Jadhav/Sarfaraz Khan, Shane Watson, Stuart Binny, Yuzvendra Chahal, Sreenath Aravind, Tymal Mills, Pawan Negi/Harshal Patel
RISING PUNE SUPERGIANTS
Captain: Steve Smith
Coach: Stephen Fleming
The debutants of last year – that is, the team that inherited half of CSK and half of Rajasthan Royals – fared badly under MS Dhoni, and finished seventh, despite the occasional heroics of Aussies Steve Smith and spinner Adam Zampa. This was Dhoni’s worst season as both captain and player, which is why Smith is now the new captain, keeping with Dhoni’s demotion to player for both national as well as club teams. This year, however, they made the buy of the auction – breaking the record to snatch English all-rounder Ben Stokes. They let their ‘find’ of last year, Murugan Ashwin, go to Delhi Daredevils, while they got Mayank Agarwal in exchange. The Supergiants look a relatively balanced outfit this year, and despite the pull-out of the injured Mitchell Marsh, they have enough Aussies leading the ranks to ensure that 2017 will be their breakout season. Apart from Stokes, they’re going to rely on their original 16 retained for this year – including Faf du Plessis, Usman Khwaja, Zampa, Dhoni, R. Ashwin, Smith and Rahane.
X-factor: Ben Stokes
He must play every game for them, under Smith, before they head down Under to face each other in the Ashes. Cricket is a wonderful game. The bowling looks a little light as usual, with just Dinda serving as the ‘tearaway’. They will have to make use of all-rounder Dan Christian in some way or the other.
Ajinkya Rahane, Faf du Plessis, Steve Smith, Ben Stokes, MS Dhoni, Manoj Tiwary/Baba Aparijith, R. Ashwin, Rajat Bhatia, Adam Zampa, Ashok Dinda, Jaydev Unadkat