With the 11th edition of the biggest domestic cricket tournament in the world just three days away, it’s time to take stock and look at eleven potentially game-changing players in the 2018 edition – a “Dream Team” with the mandatory four foreign players, a wicketkeeper and a captain. The eight original franchises are back in play after two years in the wilderness for CSK and Rajasthan Royals for the 51-day long tournament. Will the Chennai Super Kings continue its pursuit of becoming the IPL’s most successful team once again? Will Mumbai Indians continue its domination? Or will Royal Challengers Bangalore finally win its first title?
Here are the eleven players that could make a difference:
CHRIS LYNN (KKR)
The strong Aussie opener started last year’s IPL as Kolkata Knight Riders’ most devastating weapon – thanks to Gautam Gambhir’s unorthodox, but creative, captaincy decision to have him open the innings on the back of his BBL form. He blazed away to glory before injuring himself in the field, dropping out of the squad and forcing KKR to get even more unconventional by promoting Sunil Narine to the opening slot. Lynn returned just before the playoffs, again becoming the difference as he smashed bowlers all around the park. He is set to take over from Chris Gayle as the most dangerous batsman in contemporary T20 cricket. If he remains fit under Dinesh Karthik this season, who knows what KKR can accomplish?
GAUTAM GAMBHIR (DD) – Captain
He may have been released from his beloved KKR franchise by SRK, but Gambhir, one of IPL cricket’s most innovative captains, could well be the answer to Delhi Daredevils’ recent struggles. The Daredevils are arguably one of the worst performing teams in IPL history; they have consistently struggled with a set combination of senior players and captains. But Gambhir as opener and leader could well be the tonic the Daredevils team needs – especially with young U19 stars like Prithvi Shaw and Manjot Kalra in the team, and with Aussie superstar Ricky Ponting crossing over from Mumbai as the head coach. Gambhir’s form will be as crucial as his leadership for an underdog team that is set to break through. Gambhir is captain of the Dream Team, too.
VIRAT KOHLI (RCB)
Can any tournament’s dream team be complete without Virat Kohli’s name in the list? Kohli will look to make up for last year’s disastrous performance, when stars like Gayle, AB de Villiers, and others failed to deliver consistently after a stellar 2016. Kohli’s 2016 record-shattering 2016 season – which included 4 centuries and 973 runs – is the stuff of legends. If he can replicate that kind of form, especially after a nice international break, there is nothing RCB cannot accomplish. Kohli is the only player to have played for the same IPL team for all eleven seasons – and remains one of the few to have not won the title. The fire is burning in him to conquer this frontier.
ROHIT SHARMA (MI)
IPL’s most successful captain isn’t as consistent as he’d like to be as a T20 batsman – mostly because the fortunes of the entire Mumbai middle order rests on his shoulders. But with the arrival of JP Duminy, Rohit could maybe play more freely and replicate the kind of form that has established him as one of the most free-flowing hitters in world cricket on his day. He is a thinking player, and this reflects in Mumbai Indians’ stunning winning rate since he took over in 2013.
MARCUS STOINIS (KXIP)
Stoinis didn’t play a single match for Delhi Daredevils back in 2015, warming the bench throughout the campaign. In his two seasons with KXIP, he has established himself as a dependable and mercurial all-rounder. It has been more than a year since he struck that scarcely believable 146 against New Zealand in a lost cause in an ODI, and almost every team has been wary about the busy 28-year-old Australian livewire ever since. Stoinis, on his day, is a more valuable cricketer than teammate David Miller as well as the genius of AB de Villiers. KXIP will be hoping he has his days.
BEN STOKES (RR)
All the drama is over, and after missing the Ashes, the most valuable player of last year’s IPL will be back playing his trade for Ajinkya Rahane’s Rajasthan Royals. An underdog team such as this is perfect for the English all-rounder, especially because his performances were crucial in driving Pune to the Final within one run of the title in 2017. Stokes will be hungry for glory after a tumultuous year in international cricket.
HEINRICH KLAASEN (RR)
Klaasen made the world take notice during while playing in South Africa’s struggling second-string ODI and T20 squad during India’s tour of South Africa earlier this year. Many felt it was unfortunate that he has is a wicketkeeper in the same era as Quinton de Kock, but 26-year-old Klaasen capitalized on de Kock’s poor run and showed great temperament at the crease as a hard-hitting, cool-headed batsman. After de Kock was dropped, Klaasen rose in the fourth ODI to smash an unbeaten 43 in a tough chase and was declared Man of the Match and one for the future. For Rajasthan Royals, losing Steve Smith might just prove to be a blessing in disguise – given that Klaasen is the Australian ex-captain’s overseas replacement.
WASHINGTON SUNDAR (RCB)
The venerable Yuzvendra Chahal finally has a spin bowling partner in Bangalore. Sundar could well be the missing cog from RCB’s overpopulated wheel – especially after the youngster impressed all and sundry for Rising Pune Supergiant last season and winning Man of the Series in the recent T20 tri-series against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Sundar, for his age, is a treasure and perhaps the next R. Ashwin – only perhaps a more useful batsman in limited-overs cricket.
BHUVNESHWAR KUMAR (SRH)
With the exit of captain David Warner, SRH might not be a big force to reckon with this year, despite the inclusion of Alex Hales. But Kumar, who has twice won the Purple Cap in the last two seasons, will remain the team’s most important player. Along with Shikhar Dhawan, he will have to drag his weakened team to the playoffs. Bhuvi is very capable of doing so, too.
YUZVENDRA CHAHAL (RCB)
It’s always a wonder that RCB regularly finds the maximum number of players in every dream team, but fails to win a title. Even without mentioning AB de Villiers this season, it already has three in this list – with Chahal arguably the most important of the lot. The spinner has consistently outperformed other Indian spinners in the last four seasons, and has now grown into an international star as part of the lethal ‘spin-twin’ duo with Kuldeep Yadav. Because he has played on Bangalore’s flat pitch for years, Chahal has now turned into the smartest leg-spinner in world cricket along with Afghan spinner Rashid Khan.
KAMLESH NAGARKOTI (KKR)
Out of all the U19 World Cup winning stars this season, it could be fast bowler Kamlesh Nagarkoti who thrives under the new leadership in the KKR setup. Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi, both of who have been selected by KKR, were the standout pace bowlers in Rahul Dravid’s “Invincibles” that blew away the opposition in New Zealand earlier this year. If he is nurtured well, he could learn a few hard lessons and come out on top at the highest level.
Bench: Jasprit Bumrah, Chris Morris, Rashid Khan, AB de Villiers, Pat Cummins