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While Chennai Super Kings are the most consistent side in the IPL, four champions in five years means anyone of the nine teams can go on and lift the trophy. The motto remains ‘better side on the day will win'. Amit Chaudhary rates the teams on the basis of past performance, current form and availability of players among others
How many experts (former cricketers and veteran journalists) do we all see during the Indian Premier League (IPL) talking about strengths, weaknesses and combinations of nine franchises but does anyone talk about the possible champions? With all their knowledge about the game, the experts may be able to pick favourites but no one dares predict a champion. What is it that stops them from making predictions or just coming to a conclusion?
The answer is the unpredictable nature of cricket and more so of Twenty20 cricket. Four different champions in five seasons, tells you exactly that — no favourites.
Yet, Chennai Super Kings (CSK) seem to be a cut above the rest. Having reached finals four times and won the title twice (in 2010 and 2011), MS Dhoni-led side have an exceptional track record in the tournament. Apart from the advantage of having-been-there-and-one-that (twice), what makes them the best team competing in the sixth season of the IPL is the form of their main players. Be it Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja, Murali Vijay, Ravichandran Ashwin or Michael Hussey — the list is long — all are in terrific form.
The main reason behind CSK's success has been the understanding that keeping the core group of players together brings consistency. Despite unexpected nature of the auctions, CSK have been able to retain most of their main players. And the credit for this must go to the brains behind it — coach Stephen Fleming and captain Dhoni. Working together they have assembled a group of proven T20 performers, both domestic as well as international.
But no team is perfect. CSK too have their weaknesses and it's their death over bowling. With the aim of ticking that box as well, they have signed a couple of new bowlers this season; Dirk Nannes is the most prominent of them.
There are two other teams who can give CSK run for their money this season — Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians.
KKR had beaten Chennai in the final last year to clinch the title and stopped them from completing a hat-trick of titles. But expecting an encore from the side full of out of form/touch players is too much to ask for. Skipper Gautam Gambhir led KKR from last season finishing as the second highest run scorer but his extended lean patch is a worry for the defending champs. Their two crucial foreign recruits — Jacques Kallis and Brett Lee — are short of match practice, albeit for different reasons.
However, one of the important factors for their success last season was the mystery spinner Sunil Narine. Other teams must have done their R&D on the West Indies spinner and found some way to counter his threat but how well their batsmen can adapt to the new strategy within such a short span of time remains a question. To give Narine company, KKR have added another mystery bowler to their squad — Sachitra Senanayake of Sri Lanka. Though Narine is likely to be their first choice, Senanayake, an unknown entity to the world, provides them another option to enhance the mysteriousness of their bowling attack.
Mumbai Indians, on the other hand, have always been a good side but never performed to their potential. Too many chopping at the top of the order and frequent changes in the middle-order have affected their performances. But the presence of two biggest names of modern day cricket, Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting, a thinking head in Anil Kumble and a wise old man John Wright as coach make them a dangerous proposition for any team. Hopefully, these wise heads can provide some continuity to the squad, which boasts of most number of International players.
They started well by handing over the captaincy to Ponting, who had a phenomenal record as captain with Australia but that was the team which could win under anyone. His credentials as a skipper will be tested here in the IPL plus he needs to prove himself as a T20 batsman too.
But that doesn't make others irrelevant. After all it's Twenty20. And who can forget Rajasthan Royals in the inaugural season. With Rahul Dravid in the lead and coach Paddy Upton, known for his motivational skills, in tow, they are capable of at least punching above their weight if not scripting another fairytale.
Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) and Delhi Daredevils (DD) have resources to beat any team on a given day but have always choke at the big stage. They play good aggressive cricket in the league stage but never perform to their potential in knockouts.
Despite presence of big hitting players like Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers, RCB's cup board still wears a bare look. They have reached the qualifiers thrice in five seasons, but still waiting for their first silverware. Same is with Daredevils.
Kings XI Punjab, except the first season, have flattered to deceive so far while Pune Warriors have made more news off the field than on the field. As the new IPL season has started both the teams will be looking to improve their position. Sunrisers Hyderabad are making their debut this season but the team bears the same old look of now defunct Deccan Chargers that finished eighth in 2012.
Abhishek Purohit tells you about the strengths, weaknesses and that x-factor which can take a team to the podium come May 26
Chennai Super Kings
Strengths: They have the best winning percentage of close to 60 over the five years of IPL, plus they looked the most stable one as they’re the only ones to not have changed their skipper MS Dhoni. They have Suresh Raina, who is the highest run-scorer in the history of the tournament. Presence of a lot of effective all-rounders like Dwayne Bravo, Ravindra Jadeja, Albie Morkel gives them an extra edge.
Weaknesses: They do not have fast bowlers who are economical and that's why they struggle on pitches which are not suitable for spinners.
X-Factor: Fresh from the annihilation of Australians, R Ashwin and Jadeja can be a deadly bowling combination.
Kolkata Knight Riders
Strengths: Skipper Gautam Gambhir leads by example, defending champions KKR are also blessed wit the presence of veteran all-rounder Jacques Kallis, who lends stability. In bowling, Brett Lee and Sunil Narine can be both wicket-taking while Narine is economical at most times.
Weaknesses: Batsmen Manvinder Bisla, Manoj Tiwary and Yusuf Pathan short of match practice. Brendon Mcculum. Star players are slow-movers on the field.
X-Factor: 2012 edition's highest-wicket taker Narine with his deliveries that surprise is once again the one who can twist it in KKR’s favour.
Strengths: Lasith Malinga’s death bowling, star-studded line-up. Now, the opening pair of Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting. Rohit Sharma, Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha add it to the star-power.
Weaknesses: Falter in big matches, keep things till too late. Eg: Kieron Pollard generally comes in when too much is required to be done.
X-Factor: Malinga will again be the MI's go-to guy at the start or in the death or when the opposition are on top. Can Ponting’s captaincy give these perennial contenders that elusive trophy?
Royal Challengers Bangalore
Strengths: Rockstars like West Indian marauder Chris Gayle, South African skipper AB de Villiers, Sri Lankan TM Dilshan and skipper Virat Kohli, RCB are the team to beat. The experience of Muttiah Muralidaran and Daniel Vettori.
Weaknesses: RCB's folly is over-relying on Gayle. Their fast bowling wears a worried look with Indian spearhead Zaheer Khan and Ravi Rampaul uinfit to partcipate.
X-Factor: Kohli has been given the charge of captaincy which could give that boost to the RCB campaign which has been both spectacular and ordinary in the past.
Pune Warriors XI
Strengths: They have some of the cleanest hitters of the game in Yuvraj Singh, Ross Taylor, Marlon Samuels to go with the attacking Robin Utthappa and Steve Smith. Skipper Angelo Matthews is one of the best all-rounders of the younger generation while bowlers like Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ajantha Mendis are capable enough to be influential.
Weaknesses: Inexperience in the bowling line-up could cause problem.
X-Factor: Yuvraj’s ability to turn the match. Samuels is the most improved cricketer, he won West Indies the T20 World Cup.
STrengths: A strong opening pair in talented Ajinkya Rahane and India's all-time best No 3 Rahul Dravid is expected to provide a solid opening partnership once again. Brad Hodge, Owais Shah. and all-rounder Shane Watson offer a lot more to the RR stable. Fidel Edwards and Shaun Tait can be lethal on their days.
Weaknesses: They do not know how to win from strong positions, giving away matches rather than the opposition winning them.
X-Factor: Watson made his way back into the Australian team after a stint with the Royals. In the format, he once again remains key.
Strength: David Warner, a fit Virender Sehwag and the stability of skipper Mahela Jayawardene can be a handful but all of them have to perform at most times. Morne Morkel and Umesh Yadav, with the support of Irfan Pathan provides balance.
Weakness: Injuries to Kevin Pietersen and Jesse Ryder will bother them.
X-Factor: Mornel Morkel can change a game in an over
Kings Eleven Punjab
Strengths: Horses for courses is their mantra and the management’s decision to pick T20 specialists like Adam Gilchrist, Azhar Mahmood, David Hussey and Dmitri Mascarenhas is an example of that fact. Last year they almost made it to the final four, giving sleepless nights to the big teams. They have the ammunition to repeat the feat.
Weakness: Lack of quality domestic players. Piyush Chawla and Praveen Kumar are not in the best of forms. Not a single domestic player in Punjab plays for India.
X-Factor: The combination of Gilchrist and Darrel Lehman had won the 2009.
Strengths: Fresh starters Hyderabad boast of individual brilliance in Kumar Sangakkara, Shikhar Dhawan, Cameron White and Dale Steyn. Utility all-rounders like Thisara Perera and Darren Sammy can make the impact.
Weakness: They are a team without quality spinners, that can hamper their chances. There is Amit Mishra, though, he would have other ideas.
X-Factor: South African pace spearhead and world’s best fast bowler Steyn can be unplayable on most occasions. He can form a potent opening pair with Ishant Sharma.
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