Winner: Sunrisers Hyderabad
Just look at that bowling attack. There are so many options, so much variety and skill in that unit, it’s tough to imagine any surface or batting order that could be confident of taking Sunrisers down. In a tournament like the IPL where momentum can only get you so far (because of its vast, vast length), consistency is key, and being able to know that nine times out of ten you will keep a side below 170 is a huge bonus. Last year they just lacked a bit of spark with the bat with if Dhawan didn’t fire, and that is still an issue. However, Warner is a superior and more reliable player than the Indian, and the days when neither him nor Williamson hit their straps are going to be few and far between. If they can just find a finisher – and Vijay Shankar could be that man – then they’re a formidable, sophisticated outfit that will take some stopping.
Top Four: Kolkata Knight Riders
Much like Sunrisers, the appeal of KKR is that there is a clear style of play that they are after – and one that makes sense. The classic Lynn-Narine combo starts things off with a bang and a crash, maximising the fielding restrictions during the first six overs. The middle overs see them tick over, before Russell launches them over the finish line. It’s a flexible strategy, but a very clear one that allows them to recruit accordingly – the arrival of Joe Denly, middle-overs tyro, exemplifies this perfectly. The arrival of death over specialist Harry Gurney could give them a bit more nous with the ball in hand, and all-in-all they feel like a side who have subtly tweaked a successful formula. Expect them to challenge.
Top Four: Mumbai Indians
Last year was a disappointment for Mumbai, but things were not as bad as they seemed on the face of it. They lost a series of very close games, including the freak match between themselves and Sunrisers where they failed to chase 118 on a stinker of a surface. The promotion of Rohit Sharma has been a long time coming, his absence from the Powerplay overs a handbrake they placed on their own progress – so they are already starting ahead of where they were last year. The potential for their star-studded line-up to click into gear ahead of the World Cup is considerable, with several players aiming to work their way back to full fitness and peak form ahead of the tournament. All seems aligned for them to compete, though a lack of quality spin could see them slip up if individual batsmen get going.
Top Four: Delhi Capitals
Last year was something of a disaster for Delhi. They were relentlessly beaten, rarely looked competitive, and struggled to form a coherent team structure from what looked like a talented squad. It was a season so bad in fact, that they had to change their name. However, newly monickered as the Delhi Capitals, they have cause for cautious optimism. Their seam bowling will be strengthened by the presence of Kagiso Rabada – ruled out last year through injury – and their youthful prospects all seem to have developed their games in the off season. None more so than Rishabh Pant. Few players are so robustly joyful as the Indian wicketkeeper, but in the last 12 months he’s gone from eccentric novelty to world-class performer in international cricket. If he fires, Delhi fires.
Bottom: Rajasthan Royals
Rajasthan are a difficult prospect for the English cricket fan watching the IPL from a distance. There are so many English players involved that it’s only natural to drift towards them, but if you succumb to that urge then you may be in for a tough few months. Rajasthan’s list may have several high-profile international stars, from Buttler and Rahane to Stokes and Coulter-Nile, but they are not a well put together squad. If Sanju Samson has a poor season, then their domestic batting is severely underpowered, and their reliance on overseas imports could be even greater than last year. They’re playing a dangerous game, and a lot needs to go right for them to qualify.
Orange Cap: Kane Williamson
Pragmatically, there are plenty of solid reasons for why Williamson will be the top run-scorer. He plays for a side who tend to value wicket preservation of explosiveness from their top-order; he is a player more suited to innings of 50 (35) than 20 (7); he’s available for the entire tournament. Add to that the fact that he is inordinately talented and extremely good, he presents a persuasive case. But there is a more intangible element in play here. Williamson has been consistently excellent, in all formats, for many years now, but the vagaries of cricket politics and scheduling mean that it is often hidden away. He is rarely given a stage on which to perform that is befitting of his talents. This summer could be different. With the World Cup to follow, Williamson has the chance to cement his position as the best all-format batsman in the world after Virat Kohli, and that chance starts as he walks out in Sunrisers’ first game against KKR. He’s a focused professional, but this incentive, this increased exposure, could be the carrot to take him to the next level.
Purple Cap: Umesh Yadav
Umesh’s role in the RCB side is to take wickets with the new ball, and it’s a role he has excelled in over the last few seasons. In 2018, he took 14 wickets in the Powerplay, grabbing a dismissal every 13 deliveries – that’s elite stuff. Ahead of a World Cup where his position is not secured, he will be pushing for his absolute best form even if RCB fall out of contention for a play-off berth. With the added responsibility that comes with being RCB’s only elite Indian bowler, Umesh has plenty to focus on, but right now you would have to back him to succeed.
MVP: Sunil Narine
It’s a dull choice, but a sensible one. Narine is so tangibly among the most valuable going around, his blend of pinch-hitting and uber-tight bowling allowing him to contribute throughout the entire match, in concentrated impactful efforts. For KKR, he is a lock for the opening berth and to bowl out, and whilst the nature of his batting does invite dips in form, if he hits a hot streak he can be devastating. If he did seal the crown this season following on from his triumph in 2018, he would become the first three-time MVP in IPL history, pulling away from Shane Watson. If KKR make it into the latter stages, he’ll be odds on.
Emerging Player: Sandeep Lamichhane
Nepalese leg-spinner Sandeep Lamichhane has had quite a year. After a successful campaign with St Kitts and Nevis Patriots, he secured a deal with the Melbourne Stars, for whom he took 11 wickets in eight matches, with an economy of 6.57. Further travels to the BPL (economy of 5.6) and PSL (11 wickets in seven matches) saw him gain yet more experience, and he now arrives for his second IPL season having played in five of the six major T20 leagues. His opportunity to make a lengthy impression will be partially determined by the form of Amit Mishra, given that Delhi may be reluctant to have both Mishara, Axar Patel and Sandeep all in the same XI. If he gets a look in, he’ll make that place his own.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.