After endless controversies on match-fixing scandal, involving the bigwigs of Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals with legal matters going all the way up to India’s Apex court, the seventh edition of Indian Premier League is finally set to get underway at the United Arab Emirates. With federal government’s current involvement with General Elections in India, the first part of the tournament is being held in the desert islands. The IPL management spent sleepless nights after some tough postures by Supreme Court. While the authorities reluctantly acceded to the Court’s diktat on the appointment of Sunil Gavaskar to head the Board of Control for Cricket in India for the duration of the tournament, they had to plead with the court in allowing CSK and RR to play the tournament. With virtually no time available, Supreme Court’s suggestion of keeping the two teams out of IPL would have reduced the tournament to a bigger public farce. While the decision had the portents of a raw deal for the 50 odd players of the two teams, the total number of matches would have been reduced from 60 to 34. This might have resulted into severe financial loss to brand values, additional advertisers, local organizers, broadcasters and sponsors. After a period of animated suspense, the Court finally relented.
The first phase of the IPL’s 20 matches is being held in Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, during April 16-30, 2014, with the inaugural game on April 16 at Abu Dhabi, where defending champions Mumbai Indians take on Kolkata Knight Riders. Cricket lovers in UAE are already in a celebratory mood, as tickets are being snapped up at a rapid pace. Besides the first match at Abu Dhabi, there is a great demand for some other key matches. Double matches in Dubai International Stadium on April 19, the first involving Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians and the second featuring Kolkata Knight Riders and Delhi Daredevils are in great demand. Tickets are being keenly sought after for another double-header on April 25 that involves Sunrisers Hyderabad and Delhi Daredevils in the afternoon and Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians, later. All matches to be played at the Dubai Sports City are expected to be complete sell-outs.
The last match in UAE will be played on April 30 between Mumbai Indians and Sunrisers Hyderabad, after which the teams will fly into India for the next 40 games. Continuing with the league matches, the first match on the Indian soil will be conducted at JSCA stadium Ranchi between CSK and KKR on May 2. After the league phase, there will be two qualifiers, one eliminator and the final at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium on June 1, 2014. Incidentally, Jaipur has not been allowed to host any matches.
This IPL is going to be a lot different from previous editions for many reasons. Take the case of Delhi Daredevils, the only franchise, which did not retain any players during the player auctions. They ignored Virender Sehwag, David Warner and Mahela Jayawardene and bought Kevin Pietersen by their right-to-match card. They have a number of new players and a new coach in Gary Kirsten, who will have to build the team from the scratch. With Kevin Pietersen taking the captain’s mantle and players like Quinton de Kock, Jimmy Neesham, JP Duminy and Dinesh Karthik, the DD could emerge a big force this year.
Sunrisers Hyderabad are being led by Shikhar Dhawan and they have batsmen like Aaron Finch, David Warner, Darren Sammy and Irfan Pathan. Hyderabad has a formidable bowling line-up too, led by none other than Dale Steyn. Supporting Steyn will be Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Amit Mishra and Parvez Rasool.
Shane Watson will lead the promising Rajasthan Royals, which doesn’t boast of many internationally known names, except James Faulkner. But they have players like Unmukt Chand, Stuart Binny, Deepak Hooda, Ben Cutting and the old hand Brad Hodge.
Kings XI Punjab is another team, which looks promising this year. They have George Bailey to lead them with other famous Australians Mitchell Johnson, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell. In addition, there are many other talented cricketers like Cheteshwar Pujara , David Miller and Thisara Perera.
Royal Challengers Bangalore are led by Virat Kohli and other than the captain, their batting strength lies in Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers and Yuvraj Singh. They have many players of great value but they still need to gel together as a fighting squad.
The MS Dhoni led Chennai Super Kings look much better this year, except that they don’t have Murali Vijay. The batting line-up looks awesome with Faf de Plessis, Dwyane Bravo, Suresh Raina , Brendon McCullum and Dhoni himself. In Ravichandran Ashwin Samuel Badree and Ranindra Jadeja, CSK have bowlers, who can put the brakes in middle overs.
Gautam Gambhir led, Kolkata Knight Riders haven’t experimented much this year but they have brought in Robin Uthappa and Surya Kumar Yadav. Mumbai Indians allowed Mitchell Johnson to be taken by KXIP but they have bought the formidable Corey Anderson and the shrewd Mike Hussey. Most of their older players continue in the team with Zaheer Khan coming back into their fold this year. Rohit Sharma will lead the side like last year.