Winner: Kolkata Knight Riders
KKR look to have all bases covered: an aggressive top order of Chris Lynn, Sunil Narine and Robin Uthappa, supplemented by the emerging talents of Nitish Rana and Shubman Gill in the middle order. Dinesh Karthik, the captain and wicket-keeper is a safe pair of hands in every respect and the big hitting prowess of Carlos Brathwaite and Andre Russell down the order round off their batting nicely. With the ball, Narine, Piyush Chawla and Kuldeep Yadav, KKR have arguably the most complete spin attack in the tournament, a huge weapon given that they will play half of their matches at the spin-friendly Eden Gardens. The seam attack lacks IPL experience, aside from Russell, but Lockie Ferguson and Harry Gurney have shown their prowess in the death overs in other leagues. Injuries to Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi and Anrich Nortje are less than ideal, but KKR still have enough options to cover those losses.
Top Four: Chennai Super Kings
Chennai have never failed to finish in the top four when they’ve competed in the IPL and the defending champions will likely be in amongst it again this year. Aiming for a record fourth title, the Super Kings have an experienced team who have been there and done it time and time again. Shane Watson scored a match-winning hundred in the final last year, capping off a fine tournament in which he and Ambati Rayudu each scored more than 500 runs from the top of the order. Chennai’s only questionable area of their squad is whether their Indian seamers can step up and perform regularly; Lungi Ngidi’s injury is a huge blow and with Watson, Faf du Plessis, Dwayne Bravo and Imran Tahir likely to occupy their overseas spots, one of Mohit Sharma, Shardul Thakur and Deepak Chahar will have to carry the seam bowling burden.
Sunrisers could consider themselves unlucky not to claim a second IPL title last season, falling at the final hurdle. Any team containing Rashid Khan is likely to go far and Sunrisers can also count on Bhuvneshwar Kumar as their premier pace bowler. Kane Williamson, last season’s leading run scorer will lead the side again and though Shikhar Dhawan has departed, Sunrisers’ batting still looks strong with the returning David Warner and the incoming Martin Guptill and Jonny Bairstow. Sunrisers will potentially be affected more than most by World Cup call-ups which could see them severely weakened in the latter stages of the competition.
After years of underachievement, having not qualified for the playoffs since 2012, Delhi have undergone a rebranding, shaken up their squad and look to have assembled a team capable of finally finishing in the top four. The precocious talents of Rishabh Pant and Prithvi Shaw alongside Shikhar Dhawan, Colin Ingram and Colin Munro makes for an explosive batting lineup while they look to have all bases covered with their spin bowling as Sandeep Lamichhane, Amit Mishra and Axar Patel all offer something different with the ball. With Trent Boult and Kagiso Rabada in their ranks as well, Delhi Capitals have a highly-skilled, varied attack capable of causing any team problems. The middle order is perhaps an area of concern for Delhi: their all-rounders are broadly bowling all-rounders and, even though players such as Chris Morris are capable of giving it a whack down the order, it’s easy to see them losing momentum during the middle overs if they lose early wickets.
Bottom: Kings XI Punjab
Perennial strugglers Kings XI look set for another tough season. The presence of Mujeeb-Ur-Rahman and Ravichandran Ashwin in their squad means that they are well covered in the spin department while Chris Gayle’s recent form for West Indies offers them some encouragement alongside the batting firepower of KL Rahul and David Miller. But beyond those three big hitters, there is not a great deal that suggests Kings XI will be mixing it with the big boys this season. Sam Curran has done little in the shortest form of the game to justify his huge price tag while their other all-rounder options are Moises Henriques or inexperienced Indian players such as Varun Chakravarthy. Similarly, aside from Andrew Tye, last season’s leading wicket taker, Kings XI are light on top quality seam bowling options. Juggling their overseas players will be a challenge for Kings XI as well: Gayle and Tye are presumably locked in, leaving Miller, Curran, Henriques, Mujeeb, Nicholas Pooran and Hardus Viljoen battling it out for two places. It is hard to see a way in which Kings XI can regularly field a well-balanced team containing all their best players.
Orange Cap: Prithvi Shaw
Assuming he has fully recovered from the knee injury that ruled him out of the Australia tour, Prithvi Shaw has an opportunity to own this IPL. He showed glimpses of his undoubted talent in the nine matches he played last year and he is set to open the batting throughout the tournament for the rebranded Delhi Capitals. Of IPL venues to have hosted 50 matches or more, the Feroz Shah Kotla is the second fastest scoring ground behind Bengaluru’s Chinnaswamy Stadium, so Shaw will have conditions in his favour alongside the ability and temperament to go big.
Purple Cap: Jasprit Bumrah
35% of IPL wickets fall in the death overs and Jasprit Bumrah is arguably the best death bowler in the world at the moment. He’s struggled with injuries recently, but if he can play the majority of Mumbai Indians’ matches, there is no reason to think he can’t go home with the purple cap. Bumrah has finished as one of the top ten wicket takers in each of the last three IPL seasons, with tallies of 15, 20 and 17 wickets in those years. The winner of the purple cap has averaged 24 wickets across the last five IPL seasons and, given how Bumrah bowled for much of 2018, you wouldn’t bet against him reaching a figure in that region this time around.
Most Valuable Player: Rishabh Pant
Rishabh Pant has already lit up previous tournaments for the Delhi franchise. Only Kane Williamson scored more runs than the left-hander’s 684 in 2018, a performance that ultimately led to him breaking into India’s Test XI. Pant’s strike rate across 14 matches last season was 173.60; if Delhi can deliver this season and finally make an impact on the top four, Pant will surely be one of the driving forces behind it.
Emerging Player: Shivam Dube
The all-rounder enjoyed a fine Ranji Trophy earlier this year, finishing as the leading wicket-taker and second highest run scorer for Mumbai. He showed his prowess in the shortest form as well, as he was named Player of the Series in the 2018 Mumbai T20 League, a performance that led to RCB stumping up Rs 500 lakh for his services in this year’s IPL. A left-handed batsman with long levers, Dube is capable of clearing the ropes regularly, and will be playing half of his matches at the batting-friendly Chinnaswamy Stadium. He could play the role of finisher for RCB and chip in with some handy overs of medium pace as well. Genuine all-rounders are worth their weight in gold in any form of cricket and RCB have one who is young, talented and Indian who is set to take his first IPL by storm.
Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.