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Indian Premier League 2021 Season Preview: Will Mumbai Indians defend their 2020 title?

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The 2021 IPL season kicks off on Friday with a clash between Mumbai Indians – the defending champions – and Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore, live on Sky Sports Cricket from 2.50pm; We assess the eight sides competing for the crown with our 2021 season preview…

It’s showtime! The Indian Premier League returns to Sky Sports on April 9 and you can watch all 60 games live on Sky Sports Cricket

The 2021 Indian Premier League season gets under way on Friday. Here’s everything you need to know about the eight teams battling it out for the title…

CHENNAI SUPER KINGS

English players: Moeen Ali, Sam Curran

Other overseas players: Dwayne Bravo (West Indies), Faf du Plessis (South Africa), Imran Tahir (South Africa), Lungi Ngidi (South Africa), Mitchell Santner (New Zealand)

Indian players: MS Dhoni (captain), Ambati Rayudu, C Hari Nishanth, Cheteshwar Pujara, Deepak Chahar, Harisankar Reddy, K Bhagath Varma, K Gowtham, Karn Sharma, KM Asif, Narayan Jagadeesan, R Sai Kishore, Ravindra Jadeja, Robin Uthappa, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shardul Thakur, Suresh Raina

Head coach: Stephen Fleming

Best finish: Winners (2010, 2011, 2018)

Story of last season: CSK beat defending champions Mumbai Indians in the tournament opener but that was as good as it got in a forgettable campaign for the three-time winners. The final table suggests they only narrowly missed out on the play-offs but two of Chennai’s six wins came after they had already been eliminated and only served to ensure they avoided the ignominy of a last-placed finish. It was not all doom and gloom though, Sam Curran excelled with bat and ball and young opener Ruturaj Gaikwad hit three fifties in just six innings to provide CSK with some optimism for the future.

Sam Curran returns to Chennai after putting in an impressive 2020 campaign with bat and ball Sam Curran returns to Chennai after putting in an impressive 2020 campaign with bat and ball

2021 chances: With one of the great white-ball captains, MS Dhoni, leading the side, you cannot rule Chennai out. However, it would take something special for them to end the campaign with a fourth IPL crown. Moeen Ali, Cheteshwar Pujara and Robin Uthappa have come in to add to a squad already packed with experience while if anyone is capable of producing something a bit special, it is Ravindra Jadeja, who should be back from injury to bolster the XI in all three departments. There are questions over whether some of that established core might have passed from experienced to, well, just plain old, so the performances of youngsters such as Gaikwad and Curran will be all the more important to their chances.

Six-hitter? At 35, Ambati Rayudu is certainly part of a rather large group of elder statesmen in the CSK but when it comes to big-hitting, he can mix it with the best of the young talent coming through. Only Faf du Plessis scored more runs than him for Chennai last year but after passing 50 just once, Rayudu will be keen for more telling contributions this time out.

Wicket-taker? Curran was a rare bright spark in 2020. He moved up and down the order with the bat, scoring quickly if not always for a long period of time, but with the ball, he was Chennai’s top performer with 13 wickets. He has shown his knack for taking wickets at key times with England and it was no different for CSK, Dhoni will want more of the same from the left-armer this time around.

DELHI CAPITALS

Kagiso Rabada finished as the leading wicket-taker in last season's IPL, with 30 at an average of 18.26 Kagiso Rabada finished as the leading wicket-taker in last season’s IPL, with 30 at an average of 18.26

English players: Sam Billings, Tom Curran, Chris Woakes

Other overseas players: Kagiso Rabada (South Africa), Anrich Nortje (South Africa), Steve Smith (Australia), Marcus Stoinis (Australia), Shimron Hetmyer (West Indies)

Indian players: Rishabh Pant (captain), Ajinkya Rahane, Amit Mishra, Avesh Khan, Axar Patel, Ishant Sharma, Lalit Yadav, Lukman Meriwala, Manimaran Siddharth, Praveen Dubey, Prithvi Shaw, R Ashwin, Ripal Patel, Shikhar Dhawan, Umesh Yadav, Vishnu Vinod

Head coach: Ricky Ponting

Best finish: Runners up (2020)

Story of last season: Inspired by South African pace duo Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje and the runs of Shikhar Dhawan, Delhi came flying out of the traps in the UAE, cementing their place in the top two before overcoming a wobble, returning to form and make the final for the first time. However, they came up short against the all-conquering Mumbai Indians in the final as their wait for a first title continued.

2021 chances: The Capitals suffered a big blow when captain Shreyas Iyer was ruled out of the tournament with a shoulder issue, while star spinner Axar Patel could also miss the first game or two after contracting Covid-19. However, they have added one of the world’s leading batsmen in Steve Smith and even without Iyer, all the ingredients that made them such a force in 2020 remain: wicket-taking fast bowlers, wily homegrown spinners and an abundance of power hitters. Delhi are primed for another run at the title.

Rishabh Pant was in imperious form with the bat on England's recent tour of India and is a vital part of Delhi's side Rishabh Pant was in imperious form with the bat on England’s recent tour of India and is a vital part of Delhi’s side

Six-hitter? Rishabh Pant, who else? After a remarkable start to 2021, Pant has been appointed Delhi captain for this year’s competition. The left-hander is perhaps the most explosive batsman in world cricket and he’s in the form of his life. Can he smash Delhi to the title? You would not rule it out. Even if he misses out though, Dhawan, Shimron Hetmyer, Marcus Stoinis, Prithvi Shaw and Ajinkya Rahane are just a few of the DC batsmen capable of demolishing opposition attacks.

Wicket-taker? If Pant is one of the most exciting batsmen on the planet, then Rabada holds an equivalent status among the bowlers. The Proteas pacer claimed the IPL purple cap and leading wicket-taker with 30 last year and is only getting better. A supporting cast of Nortje, R Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Amit Mishra and the newly arrived Chris Woakes isn’t too bad either!

KOLKATA KNIGHT RIDERS

England's World Cup winning captain Eoin Morgan is also skipper for the Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL England’s World Cup winning captain Eoin Morgan is also skipper for the Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL

English players: Eoin Morgan (captain)

Other overseas players: Andre Russell (West Indies), Sunil Narine (West Indies), Pat Cummins (Australia), Ben Cutting (Australia), Lockie Ferguson (New Zealand), Tim Seifert (New Zealand), Shakib Al Hasan (Bangladesh)

Indian players: Dinesh Karthik, Harbhajan Singh, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Karun Nair, Kuldeep Yadav, Nitish Rana, Pawan Negi, Prasidh Krishna, Rahul Tripathi, Gurkeerat Singh, Sandeep Warrier, Sheldon Jackson, Shivam Mavi, Shubman Gill, Vaibhav Arora, Varun Chakravathi, Venkatesh Iyer

Head coach: Brendon McCullum

Best finish: Winners (2012, 2014)

Story of last season: It was a strange old campaign for KKR, one that ultimately saw them miss out on the play-offs on net run-rate after Sunrisers Hyderabad thrashed already-qualified Mumbai in the final match of the group phase. A mixed start saw everyone’s favourite Indian pundit Dinesh Karthik replaced as skipper by Eoin Morgan but results remained up and down. Andre Russell played 10 games but never seemed anything close to 100 per cent fit, while the usually ultra-reliable Pat Cummins blew hot and cold. Lockie Ferguson’s injection of pace late in the tournament was very encouraging for Kolkata though.

2021 chances: Brendon McCullum has had time to get comfortable in his role as head coach, Morgan is firmly established as captain and the KKR squad looks strong. Russell’s fitness remains an issue but if he is at his best, it could make all the difference – both with bat and ball. A full season of Ferguson, alongside Cummins, Prasidh Krishna and Shivam Mavi, boosts their pace options while in Kuldeep Yadav and Varun Chakravathi, they possess two highly effective spinners. Sunil Narine has played a big role in recent years but faces real competition now with Shakib Al Hasan back in the mix – settling on the right mix of overseas stars could be KKR’s biggest dilemma.

Captain Eoin Morgan believes his Kolkata Knight Riders have recruited well and are capable of challenging for this season’s IPL title

Six-hitter? At his best, there is no competition: it’s Russell. Dre Russ is a six-hitting machine. As he struggled last term though, Morgan stepped up in his role as finisher and blasted 24 sixes, ranking him fifth in the IPL. The immensely talented Shubman Gill can also clear the ropes, as can Nitish Rana.

Wicket-taker? Chakravathi led the way with 17 for KKR in the UAE, followed by Cummins with 12. Ferguson could well be the main man this year, though, he took six in just five matches last year and with his blistering pace, he is always going to make life tough for the batsmen.

MUMBAI INDIANS

Mumbai Indians have won the last two editions of the IPL, taking their total tournament wins to five Mumbai Indians have won the last two editions of the IPL, taking their total tournament wins to five

English players: None

Other overseas players: Kieron Pollard (West Indies), Quinton de Kock (South Africa), Marco Jansen (South Africa), Trent Boult (New Zealand), James Neesham (New Zealand), Adam Milne (New Zealand), Chris Lynn (Australia), Nathan Coulter-Nile (Australia)

Indian players: Rohit Sharma (captain), Aditya Tare, Anmolpreet Singh, Anukul Roy, Arjun Tendulkar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Hardik Pandya, Ishan Kishan, Jasprit Bumrah, Jayant Yadav, Krunal Pandya, Mohsin Khan, Piyush Chawla, Rahul Chahar, Saurabh Tiwary, Suryakumar Yadav, Yudhvir Singh Charak

Head coach: Mahela Jayawardene

Best finish: Winners (2013, 2015, 2017, 2019, 2020)

Story of last season: Having had one year on, one year off since their first triumph in 2013, Mumbai decided to mix things up and win it back-to-back. It was a typically slow start before hitting their stride at just the right time, qualifying with time to spare and not only that but topping the group despite missing captain Rohit Sharma for a decent chunk of it. They then beat a strong side Delhi twice in the knockout stages to lift the IPL trophy for a fifth time.

2021 chances: Mahela Jayawardene’s side remain the team to beat. There is a reason they have been labelled the best T20 side ever. Not only is their squad chock full of talent, the balance of their XI has been near-perfect and, frankly, they seem to have no weaknesses. Just look at the squad above and see if you can find an area in which they are light. Spin bowling perhaps? Even if they lack star performers in that department, in Krunal Pandya, Piyush Chawla and Rahul Chahar, they have proven and reliable IPL players to call upon. Of course, the players still need to do it when it counts but there is every chance of a Mumbai three-peat in 2021.

Ishan Kishan (L) impressed when making his T20 international debut for India in the recent series against England Ishan Kishan (L) impressed when making his T20 international debut for India in the recent series against England

Six-hitter? England fans were given a glimpse of what Ishan Kishan is capable of during the T20I series last month, it was an eye-opening display of hitting. Anyone who has paid attention to the IPL in recent years, though, had seen it all before – not that that made it any less impressive! Kishan hit a staggering – and IPL leading – 30 sixes in last year’s competition and the 22-year-old’s effort against England showed he is ready for more!

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Wicket-taker? Look no further than Jasprit Bumrah. Not only is he the preeminent white-ball bowler of his generation, capable of taking wickets and drying up runs at any stage of an innings, he is also very well rested after sitting out the final Test and all of the white-ball matches of India’s series with England.

PUNJAB KINGS

Dawid Malan, the No 1 ranked T20 batsman in world cricket, has signed up with Punjab Kings for the 2021 IPL season Dawid Malan, the No 1 ranked T20 batsman in world cricket, has signed up with Punjab Kings for the 2021 IPL season

English players: Dawid Malan, Chris Jordan

Other overseas players: Chris Gayle (West Indies), Nicholas Pooran (West Indies), Fabian Allen (West Indies), Jhye Richardson (Australia), Moises Henriques (Australia), Riley Meredith (Australia)

Indian players: KL Rahul (captain), Arshdeep Singh, Darshan Nalkande, Deepak Hooda, Harpreet Brar, Ishan Porel, Jalaj Saxena, Mandeep Singh, Mayank Agarwal, Mohammed Shami, Murugan Ashwin, Prabhsimran Singh, Ravi Bishnoi, Sarfaraz Khan, Saurabh Kumar, Shahrukh Khan, Utkarsh Singh

Head coach: Anil Kumble

Best finish: Runners-up (2014)

Story of last season: Another lost season. While their pride was salvaged somewhat with a run of five straight wins to have the team suddenly in playoff contention with two games to go, it was their start that saw them lose six of their first seven to have them firmly rooted to the bottom of the table that proved to be insurmountable.

2021 chances: The Kings will be hoping a slight tweak to their name prompts a turnaround in their fortunes from traditional tournament strugglers to playoff contenders – Kings have finished in the top four only twice in 13 years, while they’ve occupied the bottom spot on three occasions. As well as the name change, the No 1 ranked T20 batsman in the world, England’s Dawid Malan, arrives to strengthen the batting, while Australian pace pair Riley Meredith and Jhye Richardson could prove shrewd pickups.

West Indian left-hander Nicholas Pooran proved a big hit with Punjab Kings last season West Indian left-hander Nicholas Pooran proved a big hit with Punjab Kings last season

Six-hitter? KL Rahul finished the 2020 season as the leading run-scorer in the IPL – 670 runs, averaging 55.83 – and so could rightfully stake a claim for the six-hitting crown for Kings, but for the fact that Nicholas Pooran resides in their middle order. There are few sweeter strikers of the cricket ball in the world than the languid, left-hander West Indian who cleared the ropes 25 times in 2020 – tied for the fourth-most sixes in the tournament.

Wicket-taker? Meredith. The young Australian quick is taking part in his first IPL, so might seem a strange choice here, especially when considering that his fellow quick and countryman, Richardson, outperformed him in the 2020/21 Big Bash, ending as the tournament leading wicket-taker – 29 in 17 games at an average of 16.31. But just ask Shane Warne for his thoughts on the 24-year-old Tasmanian, Meredith – who made his T20I debut for Australia in March – and you’ll soon realise why he was snapped up by Kings.

RAJASTHAN ROYALS

Ben Stokes celebrates his century for Rajasthan Royals against Kings XI Punjab last season Ben Stokes celebrates his century for Rajasthan Royals against Kings XI Punjab last season

English players: Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Jofra Archer, Liam Livingstone

Other overseas players: Chris Morris (South Africa), David Miller (South Africa), Mustafizur Rahman (Bangladesh), Andrew Tye (Australia)

Indian players: Sanju Samson (captain), Akash Singh, Anuj Rawat, Chetan Sakariya, Jaydev Unadkat, Kartik Tyagi, KC Cariappa, Kuldeep Yadav, Mahipal Lomror, Manan Vohra, Mayank Markande, Rahul Tewatia, Riyan Parag, Shivam Dube, Shreyas Gopal, Yashasvi Jaiswal

Head coach: Andrew McDonald

Best finish: Winners (2008)

Story of last season: A hugely disappointing last-placed finish, especially when you consider the breadth of talent, in particular English talent, available to them. The Royals had some impressive performances along the way; Jofra Archer was sensational, claiming 20 wickets at an average of 18.25 for the tournament, with a paltry economy of 6.55 an over; Ben Stokes impressed when moved to open the innings, as he struck a match-winning, unbeaten 107 in a victory over Kings, but Rajasthan could never find any consistency to string a run of wins together to keep them in contention.

England all-rounder Ben Stokes says there needs to be more accountability from social media companies given the increase in online hate

2021 chances: The talent remains, with English contingent Archer, Stokes and Jos Buttler all retained (and Liam Livingstone resigned), but Archer’s availability is in doubt after he recently had surgery on his hand and has a persistent elbow injury that continues to trouble him. A fast start out of the gates is essential, with the hope being that the Royals are in contention for when the England quick comes into the lineup.

Six-hitter? Buttler will surely feel put out at being overlooked for his England team-mate, but it was Stokes who excelled last year when promoted up the order to open at Buttler’s expense. Plus, if you need any further evidence of his six-hitting prowess, just watch his utterly destructive 99 from 52 balls in England’s second ODI win over India on their recently concluded tour, in which he cleared the ropes 10 times.

The Indian Premier League has played a crucial role in allowing English players to develop their white-ball game, says Eoin Morgan

Wicket-taker? Chris Morris will be expected to contribute with both bat and ball, having set Rajasthan back an IPL record £1.61m in the auction, and Archer will no doubt lead the attack once fit, but with questions currently hanging over both, could it finally be Jaydev Unadkat‘s time for the Royals? The left-arm seamer has largely been a disappointment since signing for the team in 2018, but the team have stood by him and retained him once again – he now needs to repay that faith.

ROYAL CHALLENGERS BANGALORE

Can India captain Virat Kohli finally deliver an IPL title to Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2021? Can India captain Virat Kohli finally deliver an IPL title to Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2021?

English players: None

Other overseas players: AB de Villiers (South Africa), Glenn Maxwell (Australia), Adam Zampa (Australia), Dan Christian (Australia), Daniel Sams (Australia), Kane Richardson (Australia), Kyle Jamieson (New Zealand), Finn Allen (New Zealand)

Indian players: Virat Kohli (captain), Devdutt Padikkal, Harshal Patel, KS Bharat, Mohammed Azharuddeen, Mohammed Siraj, Navdeep Saini, Pavan Deshpande, Rajat Patidar, Sachin Baby, Shahbaz Ahmed, Suyash Prabhudessai, Washington Sundar, Yuzvendra Chahal

Head coach: Simon Katich

Best finish: Runners-up (2009, 2011, 2016)

Story of last season: Despite the fourth-placed finish, RCB continue to flatter to deceive in the IPL, despite their loaded roster. Fans can point to a first trip to the playoffs in four seasons (since their runners-up finish in 2016) as a sign of progress but, dig a little deeper, and RCB very much stumbled their way into the final four with four-straight defeats to finish the season – which swiftly became five as Sunrisers knocked them out in the Eliminator.

2021 chances: The expectation of Virat Kohli’s men will once again be for them to finally be crowned IPL champions. The reality is though that, while they will once again be challengers for the title and could well make the playoffs, they still don’t look a completely balanced side, relying too heavily again on the batting talent they have at their disposal.

Australian all-rounder Glenn Maxwell swaps Kings XI Punjab for Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2021 Australian all-rounder Glenn Maxwell swaps Kings XI Punjab for Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2021

Six-hitter? Glenn Maxwell. The long-time Kings stalwart is now headed for Bangalore, where he will only add to an already explosive batting lineup. It could prove to be the perfect move for Maxwell, who was often burdened by expectations in Punjab and, instead, may well be freed up and given greater licence to wield the willow due to the platforms that will surely be provided for him by Kohli, AB de Villiers and the like.

Wicket-taker? Yuzvendra Chahal. And RCB will be hoping it’s the 2020 version of the legspinner, who claimed 21 wickets at an average of 19.28 a pop in last year’s tournament, as opposed to the one who struggled mightily in the recent T20 series against England before being dropped. Another to watch out for is Kiwi quick Kyle Jamieson, who has made quite the name for himself since returning incredible figures of 6-7 in the 2019 Super Smash in New Zealand. International recognition has since followed, as well as an IPL bidding war for his services which RCB ultimately won.

SUNRISERS HYDERABAD

David Warner was the IPL leading run-scorer in 2019 and finished third among batsmen in 2020 David Warner was the IPL leading run-scorer in 2019 and finished third among batsmen in 2020

English players: Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow

Other overseas players: David Warner (Australia, captain), Mitchell Marsh (Australia), Kane Williamson (New Zealand), Rashid Khan (Afghanistan), Mohammad Nabi (Afghanistan), Mujeeb Ur Rahman (Afghanistan), Jason Holder (West Indies)

Indian players: Abdul Samad, Abhishek Sharma, Basil Thampi, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jagadeesha Suchith, Kedar Jadhav, Khaleel Ahmed, Manish Pandey, Priyam Garg, Sandeep Sharma, Shahbaz Nadeem, Shreevats Goswami, Siddarth Kaul, T Natarajan, Vijay Shankar, Virat Singh, Wriddhiman Saha

Head coach: Trevor Bayliss

Best finish: Winners (2016)

Story of last season: Starting with back-to-back defeats, Sunrisers limped their way to seven losses from their opening 11 games and were staring at an early exit. A slight tweak to their lineup, strengthening their bowling by bringing in Jason Holder for Jonny Bairstow – who was having an impressive tournament till then (31.36 average, 126.83 strike rate) – seemed to have the desired effect as they won their last three to sneak into the playoffs, before ultimately being knocked out by Delhi in the final qualifier.

England batsman Jonny Bairstow believes the IPL helps players to perform better in all three formats of the game

2021 chances: Sunrisers are always competitive. They’ve not once failed to make the final four since winning the tournament in 2016, however they have returned to the final itself on only one occasion when beaten by Chennai in 2018. They remain a very settled side, and are further bolstered for 2021 by the return to fitness and form of seamer Bhuvneshwar Kumar, whose death-bowling brilliance caused England all sorts of problems on their recent white-ball tour of India.

Six-hitter? David Warner consistently finds himself atop the run-scoring charts in the IPL, so why should 2021 be any different? His 2020 tournament haul of 548 runs, at an average of 39.14 and strike rate of 134.64 was good enough for third-best in the league.

Wicket-taker? Rashid Khan is another one, a supremely consistent IPL performer for Sunrisers and widely considered the best T20 bowler in the world. The Afghanistan leg-spinner has another stellar season in 2020, finishing with 20 wickets at an average of 17.20 – and that’s despite teams rarely choosing to take him on and attack him, proven by his paltry economy rate of just 5.37 runs an over.

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