Indian cricket’s crown jewel, the IPL, is back home: bigger, better and longer.
It will be the first time since 2011 that 10 teams be fighting it out for the most coveted T20 trophy in world cricket.
Two new entrants, Lucknow Supergiants and Gujarat Titans, fetching a combined price of approximately USD 1.7 billion shows that brand IPL keeps getting bigger.
It took 14 years but the league has now well and truly gone global.
The owners of the iconic Manchester Untied also wanted a slice of the IPL pie but lost to the RPSG Group and Britain-based CVC group on the bidding table.
With the COVID situation under control in the country, the board’s top-brass can breathe easy and after a two year gap, IPL is set to be held in India in its entirety with at least 25 percent capacity of crowd allowed in stadiums this season.
The number of games have been increased to 74 from 60 with the addition of new teams, extending the IPL window to over two months.
All teams however will play 14 games each like in the past but will a longer tournament impact the intensity and quality of cricket, only time will tell.
The board has learnt from the harsh lessons of the 2021 edition when the tournament had to be suspended midway due to the raging pandemic and could only be completed in the UAE four months later.
No air travel will be required this season with all the league games to be organised in four venues in Maharashtra (three Mumbai and one in Pune).
For curators, maintaining the trueness of pitches over two months will be a challenge but at least the half of the tournament is set to be a high-scoring affair.
One can expect more bounce on the red soil pitches of Wankhede, CCI and D Y Patil while the black soil surface in Pune is expected to offer more turn.
With Supergiants and Titans building their teams from scratch and the existing franchises having to release a chunk of their players before the mega auction, the 2022 edition can well be one of the most competitive in tournament history.
Ahead of the World Cup to be played in Australia later this year, the IPL will also decided fate of a few Indian players.
No home advantage for MI?
Rohit Sharma has insisted that there will be no home advantage for Mumbai Indians but he and the likes of Kieron Pollard, Suryakumar Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah and Ishan Kishan won’t certainly mind playing in their own backyard.
Having let of go of Pandya brothers and Trent Boult, the team doesn’t look the same formidable outfit at least on paper.
At Royal Challengers Bangalore, all eyes will be on Virat Kohli like usual, though, he has happily relinquished the captaincy.
With the burden of leading the side off his shoulders, the former India skipper is expected to come back to his batting best and play an important role in taking the team to its elusive title.
Longtime CSK batter Faf du Plessis has been given the captaincy with a hope that he would be able to do what has not been done before at RCB.
Farewell season for Dhoni?
Dhoni has done a Dhoni by giving up CSK captaincy three days before their opening game. While his decision did not come as a shock, it has fuelled speculation whether he would feature in all the games.
The 40-year-old stepping aside has also put the spotlight on Ravindra Jadeja, who will be captaining a high-profile team for the very first time.
Jadeja’s stellar form in international cricket over the last couple of years would surely give him the confidence to lead from the front and in times of crisis, he will anyway have Dhoni by his side.
Time for Iyer, K L and Hardik to enhance captaincy credentials
Having led Delhi Capitals to their first ever final, Iyer was sidelined from captaincy following a shoulder injury. He decided to go back into the auction and KKR paid big money for his services.
The stylish batter has shown rich form for India of late and he will be hoping to carry that into the IPL and inspire KKR to their third title.
His India teammate Hardik Pandya’s progress will be followed closely over the course of the IPL. Having lost his place in the Indian team due to his inability to bowl regularly following a back surgery in 2019, Hardik has a point to prove.
It is still not clear if he would bowl often in the IPL, making his form with the bat all the more crucial. Either way, he will have to come up with something special to resurrect his career and also ensure first timers Gujarat put up a competitive show.
Hardik’s close friend K L Rahul will also need to inspire a young unit. Success eluding him as captain, both at India and IPL level, the opener will be eyeing another prolific season with the bat besides leading an exciting bunch of cricketers.