The 14th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) begins on April 9, and much like the previous season, it is expected to be a tightly-contested affair.
In IPL 2020, only two points separated the Sunrisers Hyderabad, who finished 3rd, and the Rajasthan Royals, who finished 8th. This year, after an intense auction, it can be argued that the teams are even more evenly matched.
But like any tournament, some teams start as the favourites. Here, we rate (out of 10) each team's chances of winning IPL 2021.
#8 Rajasthan Royals - 3/10
RR have a dynamic new captain in Sanju Samson and the decision to appoint him could go either way. It could either completely inhibit his strokeplay or bring out a consistent side of him we haven't seen before, and only time will tell.
This risk, coupled with the fact that Jofra Archer will miss a significant portion of the campaign, significantly dents RR's chances of winning IPL 2021. They have a number of all-rounders on the roster, but very few are capable of contributing in every game in both departments.
RR may exceed expectations and contend for a playoff berth, but it's next to impossible to imagine them going all the way in IPL 2021.
#7 Punjab Kings - 5/10
PBKS had the biggest purse of all franchises in the IPL 2021, and they made some big-money moves by signing Jhye Richardson and Riley Meredith among others. While this will give Mohammed Shami some much-needed support, KL Rahul's side is woefully short of all-rounders once again.
Richardson, Henriques and Hooda are all handy in both departments, but they completely pale in comparison to the world-class all-rounders at other teams' disposal. All-rounders are the most important component of any T20 team, and this might take some of the sheen off the incredible top order PBKS have.
PBKS have a number of match-winners who could catapult them into playoff contention, but they'd have to play out of their skins to go far in the tournament.
#6 Royal Challengers Bangalore - 5/10
RCB made the knockout stages for the first time in 4 years in the last campaign, but they'll face many of the same issues this time around. With Virat Kohli opening the batting, the three-time finalists might be too top-heavy. And the death bowling, which has been a major concern for a number of years, doesn't seem like it'll improve in IPL 2021.
The form of expensive signing Kyle Jamieson is a major concern, while the Indian middle-order batsmen are far from reliable options. The withdrawal of Josh Philippe has hit RCB hard, as has Devdutt Padikkal testing positive for COVID-19.
Even if Padikkal recovers in time for the IPL 2021 season opener, RCB face the most difficult oppositions in their first few games, and at tough venues as well. Kohli has a major task on his hands if he's to lead his team to a much sought-after IPL title.
#5 Kolkata Knight Riders - 6/10
KKR have suffered from a few middling IPL seasons in a row now. Although they have an excellent side on paper, injuries to key players and constant shuffling of both spots in the playing XI and the batting order have proved to be their downfall.
KKR have an astute captain in Eoin Morgan, who in turn has an experienced leadership group in Dinesh Karthik and Pat Cummins to call upon. But there is still great uncertainty over a number of things in the XI - the opening combination, the all-rounder spots, and the Indian pacer slots to name a few.
KKR may, in all probability, make the playoffs. But something extraordinary would have to happen for them to break their IPL title drought.