IPL 2020 is a stone’s throw away and countless cricket enthusiasts have started chalking out their calendars based on when their favourite sides are playing. In fact, with the world ravaged by the novel coronavirus, IPL 2020 offers fans a chance to get hooked onto cricket and forget about their travails.
Back in May 2019, Mumbai Indians clinched their 4th IPL crown courtesy a tense victory against Chennai Super Kings – a win that made the former the most successful IPL franchise ever.
Unsurprisingly, the defending champions arrive at IPL 2020 high on confidence and with a squad capable of rattling several cages.
Elsewhere, the Delhi Capitals seem to have forged together a strong roster and one that accords them their best opportunity to end the IPL hoodoo.
Kings XI Punjab and Royal Challengers Bangalore, meanwhile, also bought relatively well at the IPL 2020 auction, meaning that the pair, which has tasted four final defeats between them, look well-equipped for a sustained title challenge this time around.
Furthermore, the likes of Kolkata Knight Riders, Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad have adopted a clear plan of action – something that places them in better stead to repeat their heroics of yesteryear.
And, of course, the Chennai Super Kings, still seething from their defeat in the 2019 summit clash, would want to reduce the gap between themselves and the Mumbai Indians, with another IPL trophy.
Thus, at least on paper, IPL 2020 promises to be as keenly contested as any previous edition. However, with each team capable of ruffling the other’s feathers, there also exists the possibility of a string of upsets (relatively) and mind-boggling results.
Consequently, it would take a brave man to bet on where each outfit would end up come the culmination of the IPL 2020 league stage. Yet, rather than sitting on the fence, one feels the time is ripe to indulge in a few predictions and envision the exact league positions where the IPL teams could finish.
Without further ado, here is a look at how the table could shape up post the round-robin fixtures.
8. Rajasthan Royals
During the off-season, Rajasthan Royals bravely decided to let Ajinkya Rahane leave. In fact, the Jaipur-based franchise had not just relieved themselves of their best Indian batting asset, they had also shipped a former captain, meaning that the leadership burden solely rests with Steve Smith ahead of IPL 2020.
Though the Australian usually relishes the extra responsibility placed on his shoulders, he comes into the competition on the back of an uninspiring tour of England, where he sparkled intermittently in the T20Is before being omitted altogether in the ODI series.
Jos Buttler too, fared well below expectations during that particular ODI assignment, meaning that two of RR’s best batsmen might have to endure a slightly patchy start.
Additionally, RR still don’t have any clarity on whether Ben Stokes would be available. The Englishman flew to New Zealand in order to be with his father, who has unfortunately contracted brain cancer.
Thus, the only overseas option that arrives in the UAE in pristine condition is Jofra Archer, who highlighted against Australia that he still remains a force in white-ball cricket.
In an ideal world, RR would be blessed with an overseas quartet of Archer, Buttler, Smith and Stokes. Yet, with Stokes’ availability under a cloud and Buttler and Smith potentially not hitting the ground running, their threadbare Indian contingent could be woefully exposed.
At present, RR have pinned their hopes on an ageing Robin Uthappa, an inexperienced Yashasvi Jaiswal and an inconsistent Sanju Samson. Though each possesses the ability to take IPL 2020 by storm, it would represent a significant surprise if it does come to fruition.
And, that, above everything else, makes RR favourites to finish with the wooden spoon.
7. Kings XI Punjab
Kings XI Punjab have opted for a different modus operandi for IPL 2020. They have handed the reins to KL Rahul and have brought in Anil Kumble as the head coach. And, to make the duo feel comfortable, they’ve added a ton of players from Karnataka.
In addition, the presence of Chris Gayle, Glenn Maxwell and Nicholas Pooran makes KXIP one of the more feared batting units in the competition. However, unfortunately for them, each has a propensity to mediate between the mediocre and the magnificent.
Though Maxwell recently distinguished himself in the ODI series against England, one never knows which side of the Big Show would turn up, especially in crunch situations.
Nicholas Pooran too, blew hot and cold throughout the 2020 edition of the CPL, where his side were shot out for 55 in the semi-final against the St Lucia Zouks. While he remained the only batsman to score a century in that tournament, his struggles on the sluggish Trinidadian wickets were laid bare for everyone to see.
As for Chris Gayle, well, the Universe Boss has not picked up a bat in anger for a few months. Though he can hit his straps almost instantly, he could just as well endure a significant lean patch – something that might make him a liability.
Also, there does not seem to be a lot of batting depth in their Indian contingent. Mayank Agarwal, Karun Nair and Sarfaraz Khan might appear to be decent options, but each has struggled to replicate their domestic exploits in the IPL so far.
However, KXIP’s biggest problem lies in their bowling department and its prospective inability to take wickets regularly and keep the opponents’ scoring rate under check.
Mohammad Shami has re-invented himself as a bowler across formats but still represents a pacer capable of going the journey on placid tracks.
Chris Jordan, Hardus Viljoen and Sheldon Cottrell have been good in patches over the past year, but neither seems cut out to spearhead a title-winning campaign.
Furthermore, on the spin-friendly tracks in the UAE, KXIP seem to lack genuine wicket-taking spinners. Krishnappa Gowtham and Mujeeb-ur-Rahman are good ‘containing’ bowlers but might find it tough when entrusted with breaking the game open.
And, while Ravi Bishnoi could yet prove to be a shrewd acquisition, he is still unproven at this level – something that could act as a potential impediment.
Thus, for all the positive murmurs coming out of the KXIP camp before IPL 2020, it could be another year of disappointment.
6. Kolkata Knight Riders
Kolkata Knight Riders have essentially enjoyed three different kinds of spells in the IPL. The first was where they portrayed themselves as a team that lacked direction while during the second phase, they found their groove under Gautam Gambhir.
Since IPL 2018 though, KKR have often been a side that has been guilty of emphasizing the ‘gold or bust’ philosophy.
On days when Andre Russell, Dinesh Karthik and Sunil Narine have flourished, KKR have had the beating of the IPL’s elite. Yet, on occasions when the trio has not come to the fore, they’ve fallen flat on their face.
To that end, they did sign Eoin Morgan and Tom Banton at the IPL 2020 auction, though their exorbitant spending on Pat Cummins left them with no room to manoeuvre, as far as Indian acquisitions were concerned.
Subsequently, they have invested an awful amount of confidence in youngsters of the ilk of Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi and of course, Shubman Gill – something that makes their Indian contingent seem a little lightweight.
And, then there is also the problem of trying to accommodate the embarrassment of riches they have in the overseas department. Though Russell, Narine, Morgan and Cummins might be their first choice, a spanner could be thrown in the works, considering Russell’s injury record.
Additionally, Sunil Narine missed the latter part of Trinbago Knight Riders’ CPL campaign, meaning that he might be a doubt too. As for Cummins, it’s fair to say that he didn’t particularly set the world ablaze against England.
Thus, there seem to be more problems than solutions as KKR enter IPL 2020. Moreover, with Dinesh Karthik’s captaincy also under a cloud, they might just have to settle for another sub-standard season.
5. Sunrisers Hyderabad
For the past few years, Sunrisers Hyderabad have often been dubbed the side as being the most balanced. Yet, somehow, they’ve not managed to adorn their journey with an IPL triumph, since 2016.
At the IPL 2020 auction, SRH didn’t cause a lot of ripples as they chose to stick to their core group of players and only signed cricketers, they thought were good enough to provide them different dimensions.
With an opening combination of David Warner and Jonny Bairstow, SRH certainly strike fear into the opposition. However, on the slow and low pitches in the UAE, they might just be found wanting, especially considering there is not a lot of firepower lower down the order.
The likes of Kane Williamson, Manish Pandey and Vijay Shankar are ‘touch’ players that usually prefer pacey tracks. However, they might not be accorded that luxury for the duration of IPL 2020 – something that could shift the onus entirely onto Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan.
On the bowling front, Bhuvneshwar Kumar has not been at his best over the past couple of years, whereas Khaleel Ahmed has, on most occasions, leaked runs. Basil Thampi and Siddharth Kaul too haven’t hit the heights they’ve done previously, meaning that a lot could again rest on how Rashid Khan performs.
Thus, at this juncture, it seems that SRH’s campaign could be defined by how Rashid Khan fares. And, though the Afghan usually comes up trumps, it would be naïve to expect him to single-handedly spearhead the outfit into the playoffs.