All Change For IPL 2011 But Cricket Must Dominate
Imagine if the Manchester Uniteds or Barcelonas of this world were told they would have to go into the new season with just four of their current players and the rest were released and auctioned off to the highest bidder. It's not easy - but that is the backdrop to the fourth season of the Indian Premier League. Indeed, only two teams, the 2010 finalists Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians chose to retain four players so it really is a question of all change.
Just as back in 2008, it is therefore crucial for the franchises to gel, and gel quickly if they are to succeed. With the tournament also coming just six days after the conclusion of the World Cup - too soon, perhaps, for some - what price the Rajasthan Royals, for whom everything came together so well three years ago under the auspices of Shane Warne, turning back the clock?
Well, 14/1, if you ask , but don't underestimate the influence of Shane Warne and the fact that they have again chosen a number of young, hungry Indian players and although they are at risk if they suffer with injuries, a small squad could work in their favour.
The opening match throws World Cup winners and the heroes of the final Gautam Gambhir (Kolkata Knight Riders) and Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Chennai Super Kings) against each other as captains. Gambhir is seen by some as the natural successor to Dhoni (although for me, Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli would be better long-term bets) and will be desperate to win, not only to put one over on one another but justify his $US 2.4 million price tag. He is now the most expensive player in the tournament's history but his calmness at the crease could be exactly what the Knight Riders need.
They have garnered a reputation for building attractive-looking squads filled with superstars that fail to deliver consistently. They have managed to field a host of top Twenty20 performers in the likes of Brad Hodge, Brendon McCullum and Chris Gayle, for example, but hardly gelled as a unit. Perhaps 2011 will be their year.
Chennai will be there or there abouts come the play-off week. They retained and then reacquired many of the team which did superbly well in 2010 and following their Champions League win they are chasing a remarkable hat-trick as they continue to build their reputation as one of the most consistent and impressive Twenty20 teams in the world.
We also have two new teams in the Kochi Tuskers Kerala (or the franchise previously known as the Indi Commandoes) and the Pune Warriors. Kochi will be well-led by Sri Lanka's Mahela Jayawardene, now freed of his role as Sri Lankan vice-captain and he will enjoy skippering his old mate Muttiah Muralitharan, one of the players Chennai didn't retain and were unable to recapture at auction.
Pune are my tip to reach the play-offs, along with Chennai, Mumbai and the Royals. I expect Yuvraj Singh, in the form of his life, to lift the team significantly - at least in the first few weeks - and if they can build a winning run, they could be the surprise package. Jesse Ryder and Nathan McCullum enjoyed decent World Cups while Graeme Smith and Robin Uthappa have one thing in common - they are proven IPL performers.
As for the rest - who knows? Past performances no longer count for much due to the way in which the make-up of the franchises has changed although I do expect Mumbai, driven on by Sachin Tendulkar, who will celebrate his 38th birthday during the tournament, to continue to be a serious threat. How can they not be with Kieron Pollard, Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds in the squad?
What the shake-up and the auction has provided, is some extra interest as there is now genuine curiosity among cricket followers - young and old - as to how the new teams will shape up. Time will obviously tell, but most of all, we are all hoping for a tournament where the cricket does the talking. For too long, the IPL has had to beat off controversy after controversy.
For all the new players, auctions, dollar signs, Super Overs and sixes that are attracting attention for the right reasons, the IPL organisers will be desperate that the competition passes off as quietly as an IPL tournament can. That would be a success for everybody concerned.
© Cricket World 2011