The IPL Most Valuable Player (MVP) award has seen some of the greatest T20 players lift it over the years.
The accolade, which was previously called the Man of the Tournament award, has seen three players claim it on more than one occasion - Shane Watson, Sunil Narine and Andre Russell. Last year, the Rajasthan Royals' Jofra Archer claimed the prize for his lethal bowling and destructive batting lower down the order.
In this article, we list 5 dark horses who could defy the odds and claim their first-ever IPL MVP award.
#5 Ishan Kishan - Mumbai Indians
The Mumbai Indians' Ishan Kishan finished IPL 2020 as the team's leading run-getter, so you might be wondering why he's been labelled a dark horse.
But over the 13 years of the IPL, only 3 specialist batsmen have won the MVP award - Chris Gayle, Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli (Adam Gilchrist won it in 2009 as a keeper).
Kishan's impact in IPL 2021 could be so high that he manages to claim the MVP award as a specialist batsman, with Quinton de Kock donning the gloves for MI. Fresh off a Man of the Match performance on T20I debut for India, the southpaw is primed for a stellar season with the bat.
Kishan can express himself with abandon in the ironclad MI batting lineup, and we might see him pile on a mountain of runs in IPL 2021 and put up a fight for the MVP award.
#4 Washington Sundar - Royal Challengers Bangalore
A player who's established himself as a regular in the Indian squad across all three formats, Washington Sundar could contribute in both departments for the Royal Challengers Bangalore in IPL 2021.
If he's entrusted with the new ball this year, Sundar could provide early breakthroughs like he has often done in the past. And with RCB being rather top-heavy, we could see the all-rounder given an increased role with the bat at either No. 6 or No. 7.
In fact, Devdutt Padikkal testing positive for COVID-19 has even prompted a section of the cricketing fraternity to opine that Sundar can be used as an opener alongside captain Virat Kohli.
Either way, Sundar is set to be one of RCB's most important players in IPL 2021. We could see the youngster contend for the MVP award in a team that doesn't have too many world-class all-rounders.
#3 Marcus Stoinis - Delhi Capitals
One of the few players who contributed in both departments in IPL 2020, Marcus Stoinis is one of the Delhi Capitals' key players.
The injury to Iyer has meant that DC need players who can provide the impetus in the middle order, with a number of rather sedate batsmen part of the top four. Stoinis could be that man, and he could produce a few Man of the Match performances for the team this year as well.
The Aussie all-rounder was underbowled in the previous campaign, and under a new captain in Rishabh Pant, that could change. Stoinis is primed for another solid season with DC, and could seriously challenge for the MVP award in IPL 2021.
#2 Rahul Tewatia - Rajasthan Royals
Arguably the biggest success story of last year's IPL was Rahul Tewatia. Only hardcore cricket fans knew of the all-rounder's capabilities, but he made himself known around the world with his match-winning performances and even earned a call-up to the Indian T20I side.
Tewatia's fitness has been under the scanner lately, but all the signs are pointing towards him having another memorable IPL season. He certainly isn't short of confidence, and he'll only take motivation from his stint with the national team.
Tewatia is part of a host of all-rounders at the Rajasthan Royals, but he just might be the most important. We could see him in and around the rankings for the MVP award in IPL 2021.
#1 Sam Curran - Chennai Super Kings
Another star performer from IPL 2020, Sam Curran has already become one of the first names on the Chennai Super Kings teamsheet.
The Englishman took the new ball regularly for the side, and made an impact with the bat with a few dazzling cameos as well. Curran has heart, drive and immense potential - it's only a matter of time before he becomes one of the best all-rounders in the game.
That time might come as soon as IPL 2021, if his recent exploits for England are anything to go by. Under the watchful eye of MS Dhoni, Curran could become a bonafide IPL superstar this season and win the MVP award.