Mumbai Indians go from strength to strength as IPL hat-trick beckons

Mumbai Indians have assembled a side that looks even stronger than their back-to-back title-winning teams, with only Delhi Daredevils and Sunrisers Hyderabad appearing capable of denying them a third straight Indian Premier League (IPL) crown.

The virus has cast its shadow on the league in the build-up stage with some positive cases among both players and support staff. But with a strict bio-bubble in place for the games, the BCCI would be hoping for a smooth run just like the previous edition in the UAE.

Mumbai get the money-spinning tournament rolling in Chennai on Friday, just four months after claiming their second successive title, with a match against Royal Challengers Bangalore, led by India captain Virat Kohli.

Captain Rohit Sharma headlines a Mumbai batting lineup teeming with explosive hitters including Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav, who made impressive India debut in the recent Twenty20 series against England. 

Power-hitters Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya are adept at launching a late assault, while Trent Boult’s powerplay skills and Jasprit Bumrah’s death-overs mastery mean they have no real bowling woes either.

So dominant are Mumbai that they have won five of the last eight titles and former England captain Michael Vaughan has said this side might be even better than India’s Twenty20 team.

South Africa quick Dale Steyn was in no doubt Mumbai were the favourites again.

“I have got them as number one,” he told espncricinfo.com this week.

“I’m going with them winning it again.”

 

Delhi had to change their captain after Shreyas Iyer, who led them to their maiden final last year, was ruled out of the tournament with a shoulder injury.

At 23, Rishabh Pant will be the IPL’s youngest skipper this year but Delhi head coach Ricky Ponting has high hopes for the stumper-batsman.

“I think extra responsibility is going to sit really well with him,” the former Australia captain said.

“We’ll help him through, but honestly, I don’t think he’s going to need much help at all.”

 

Bangalore, the tournament’s perennial underachievers, have added Australian Glenn Maxwell to the batting order but their death-overs bowling remains a worry.

Kohli, who is ready to open once again but the squad composition of RCB doesn’t inspire the highest confidence.

Maxwell has again been picked for a bomb and New Zealand’s Kyle Jamieson has been made an overnight multi-millionaire by the franchise despite him being untested on Indian dust-bowls.

Devdutt Padikkal will be in his second season with teams analysing him way more and Yuzvendra Chahal seems to have lost his mojo.

Mohammed Siraj and Navdeep Saini do not inspire the highest confidence in in white ball cricket at least despite their gutsy performances in Australia early this year.

 

David Warner led Hyderabad to their maiden IPL title in 2016 but the Australian’s nagging groin injury remains a concern.

Hyderabad also lack firepower in their lower order, though they have a potent bowling attack that includes swing bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Afghan spin spearhead Rashid Khan.

England captain Eoin Morgan will lead Kolkata Knight Riders’ quest for a third title.

Kolkata Knight Riders would expect that Andre Russell gets his six-hitting prowess back while Varun Chakravarthy is more than a one-season wonder.

Morgan, the best white ball international skipper on view, would look for a settled batting order while praying that Sunil Narine isn’t again called for a suspect action.

 

Chennai Super Kings, who finished second from bottom last year, may struggle again

The three-time champions Chennai Superkings failed to make the playoff for the first time last year and their core of ageing players, including captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, had little game time heading into this year’s tournament.

Dhoni will be quietly smiling and may be planning differently as it will be a placid Wankhede where CSK will be playing Delhi Capitals instead of sluggish Chepauk on Saturday.

The return of seasoned Suresh Raina, which opens up an option to play Imran Tahir in most games, and the presence of Moeen Ali and Sam Curran as floating all-rounders gives CSK a better look than last time.

Dhoni’s faith in uncapped Krishnappa Gowtham also needs a bit of validation.

 

For Punjab Kings, the owners would hope that change in the name brings about a change in luck but a lot would depend on skipper KL Rahul’s performance.

He wouldn’t mind another ‘Orange Cap’ while Mohammed Shami would like to make a roaring comeback in international cricket. Chris Gayle, in between, is sure to provide entertainment but the team is certainly not title contender to start with.

For Rajasthan Royals, the absence of Jofra Archer first up will certainly rob them off initial momentum and with another wobbly Indian line-up under an inconsistent Sanju Samson at the helm, the heavy-lifting is going to be done by Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Chris Morris.

Still, a play-off berth looks highly unlikely as of now.

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