As the cash-rich Indian Premier League (IPL) completes a decade of scandal and success, the flashy Twenty20 cricket competition this year will, however, miss some of the sheen with a few of the biggest stars missing out either partially or fully due to injuries.
The one name that every cricket fan will miss is the India and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) skipper Virat Kohli, when the 2016 runner-ups take on defending champions Sunrisers Hyderabad in the opener on Wednesday.
Kohli, who injured his right shoulder during the recently-concluded Test rubber against Australia, amassed nearly 1,000 runs in the last edition with four classy centuries. His return to the tournament will only be known in the second week of April.
The RCB had more trouble in store just before the start of the tournament with South African Ab de Villiers also being rested for the opening tie with a back injury, while young gun Sarfaraj Khan will miss the entire tournament after injuring his leg.
RCB has named former Aussie all-rounder Shane Watson as the interim captain but all eyes will now be on the Jamaican big-hitter Christopher Henry Gayle, who can tear apart any bowling attack on his day. RCB will be hoping the West Indian to give them a flamboyant start at the top.
There will also be curiosity regarding how England’s T20 specialist Tymal Mills, bought for a whopping Rs 12 crore in the auctions fills in the shoes of Aussie Mitchell Starc, who kept himself out of this edition.
On the other hand, Sunrisers will be hoping a grand opening with a balanced side under Australia’s David Warner.
The defending champions will be hoping their domestic stars Yuvraj Singh, Shikhar Dhawan and Ashish Nehra to once again give them a brilliant start. With the International Cricket Council (ICC) Champions Trophy in June, the trio will leave no stone unturned to get back into the India side.
Bangladesh’ Mustafizur Rahaman can be Warner’s go-to bowler along with Nehra both at the start and the death overs.
Meanwhile, Mumbai Indians will be expecting their fit-again skipper Rohit Sharma to be in full flow along side the likes of Jos Buttler and Keiron Pollard.
The Rising Pune Supergiant under new skipper Steve Smith surely will have their task cut out with the owners snubbing former India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who will play his first IPL without being at the helm.
A lot will depend on the likes of Ajinkya Rahane and South African duo of Faf du Plessis and Imran Tahir. But all eyes will be on the costliest buy of the season, England’s Ben Stokes, bought for Rs 14.5 crore. Each ball and run from the all-rounder will be judged by his pay package.
The Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) looks a decent unit under the composed Gautam Gambhir. With the likes of Suryakumar Yadav, Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey and the unpredictable Yusuf Pathan, the batting line-up is more or less a settled one.
The bowling unit comprising West Indian Chris Lynn, Sunil Narine, Shakib Al Hasan, Nathan Coulter-Nile along with India’s Umesh Yadav is more than enough to make up the loss of Caribbean all-rounder Andre Russell, who is serving an one-year ban for doping.
Speaking of the Gujarat Lions, skipper Suresh Raina will have a point to prove after being left out of the national team and also the central contracts. He will have the likes of Aaron Finch, Brendon McCullum, Dinesh Karthik to bolster the batting.
The bowling line-up will, however, miss the services of No.1 ranked Ravindra Jadeja, who will be out of the side for the first two weeks after his rewarding albeit grueling Test season. The likes of Dhawal Kulkarni and Praveen Kumar can swing it, but they lack a bowler who can intimidate with pace.
The Delhi Daredevils, after making some inexplicable choices and missing the likes of South Africans Quinton de Kock and Jean-Paul Duminy due to injuries, definitely looks a weak batting outfit.
It is their bowling unit comprising the veteran Zaheer Khan, Kasigo Rabada, Carlos Brathwaite, Pat Cummins and Mohammed Shami which they would expect to compensate with. Leggie Amit Mishra can also turn out to be a good option for the middle overs.
Going northwards, Kings XI Punjab would miss opener Murali Vijay but Australian duo of Glenn Maxwell and Shaun Marsh, South African David Miller and Englishman Eoin Morgan need to step up if the side wants to make a mark in the tournament.