Monday, May 16, 2011

Match Makers

(Note: All information is accurate at the time of print. Visit for updates.)
April 2, 2011. The ICC World Cup frenzy has reached a crescendo with India and Sri Lanka reaching the finals. The air, rife with comparisons between Mahendra Singh Dhoni's 2011 World Cup winning team and Kapil Dev's 1983 World Cup winning team. The question on everyone's lips - "Will our boys bring the World Cup home after 28 years?" With a resounding YES, the boys in blue - the Indian team - took the proceedings to a tumultous close by winning against Sri Lanka with 10 runs and 6 wickets to spare. The moment was especially poignant for Sachin Tendulkar and his fans as the Little Master's long-standing dream of being part of a World Cup winning team was finally realised.

The noise has hardly died down, and the dust has hardly settled on the ICC World Cup, that Indian cricket fans are now gearing up for IPL Season 4. With 74 matches over 49 days, the fourth season of the Indian Premier League 2011 is expected to be a feast for cricket lovers. Sure, there's nothing quite like Test Cricket, but the IPL this year will be of interest even to the dyed-in-the-wool Test Cricket fan.
The aspect that will significantly alter predictions this is the overhauling of teams. Player auctions, retirements, forced retirements, induction of local talent and the addition of two new teams - are all going to create an upheaval of closely-held beliefs about the talent pool in the 10 teams.
Chennai SuperKings (Winners of IPL-3) and Mumbai Indians (Runners-Up of IPL-3) remained conservative in their team composition. Their focus was on player retention rather than acquisition. This, when CSK is missing Hayden, Badani, Kemp and Ntini from the last season. At the auctions, CSK lost Muthiah Muralitharan and Lakshmipathy Balaji but they've brought in talent such as Dwayne Bravo, Wriddhiman Saha and Yo Mahesh. Tim Southee, fresh from his 18 wicket haul at the ICC World Cup 2011, replaces Ben Hilfenhaus.
The Mumbai Indians will play this season without Sanath Jayasuriya. At the auctions, Zaheer Khan and Dwayne Bravo were acquired by other teams. But MI has brought in Andrew Symonds, Rohit Sharma, Tirumalasetti Suman, Moises Henriques and Munaf Patel.
The teams at the bottom of last year's points table - Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab - had an exodus of players. This may be the best opportunity for them to shed the baggage of the past and induce some vitality.
Kings XIPunjab's emphasis is on getting new players in, not necessarily from other teams, but local talent. The primary acquisition at the auctions was Gilchrist moving in as Captain along with the notable entry of Praveen Kumar, Dinesh Karthik, Ryan Harris and Abhishek Nayar.
Rajasthan Royals has consistently placed emphasis on local players while retaining some of its existing ones. The players brought in at the auction were PaulCollingwood, Rahul Dravid and Ross Taylor. The rest, a healthy mix of retained players and local ones.
Both Royal Challengers Bangalore and Kolkata Knight Riders are teams without their captains from the last season. Will the absence of Kumble and Ganguly work in their favour? Or will one of their star players step up and take on the mantle?
At the auctions, Royal Challengers lost out on Jacque Kallis, Rahul Dravid and Robin Uthappa. But the exodus has been replaced with frantic buying of the likes of AB de Villiers, Tillakaratne, Daniel Vettori, Charl Langeveldt, Mohammed Kaif and Zaheer Khan.
In an interesting twist, the exact strategy has been adopted by Kolkata Knight Riders. No Ajanta Mendis and Chris Gayle. At the auction, Ishant Sharma, Ajit Agarkar, Murali Kartik and Brendon McCullum moved out. KKR has now brought in players like Brett Lee, Gambhir, Jacque Kallis, Lakshmipathy Balaji and Yusuf Pathan to fortify the side.
The Deccan Chargers reached the Semi-final of IPL 3 but lost to Royal Challengers Bangalore. This year, while Laxman and Symonds moved out, DC has gained Sangakkara, Gony, Duminy, and Ishant Sharma. But will the absence of Herschelle Gibbs, Chaminda Vaas, and as we go to print, possibly Kevin Pietersen, make a severe dent in their strategies?
The Delhi Daredevils, on par with Kolkata Knight Riders on the points table last year, seems to be on infusing some freshness in the form of new buys. Sehwag is back in the saddle as Captain after Gambhir and, with the able help of Aaron Finch, Morne Morkel, Agarkar, Irfan Pathan, is all set to lead a team that's hungry to win.
Two spanking new teams and the heady promise of competition! In the absence of track records, expectations from the Indi Commandos Kochi and Sahara Pune Warriors are bound to be more realistic. Secondly, since they've not 'lost' any player to the auctioning, they stand to gain in some of the unlearning that other teams will have to do. Having said that, it would be interesting to see how players from other teams forge new loyalties to deliver the goods.
Between Indi Commandos Kochi and Sahara Pune Warriors, there seems to be a clear strategic difference in player selection. Indi Commandos Kochi are banking heavily on players from other teams - the likes of Mahela Jayawardene, Brendon McCullum, Muthiah Muralitharan, Sreesanth, R.P. Singh and VVS Laxman. However, the Sahara Pune Warriors have given equal weightage to local players and those from other teams with the stars being Yuvraj Singh, Ashish Nehra, Murali Karthik and Robin Uthappa.
At the end of the day, however, the winning of games will be determined not only by how integrated each of the teams will be in the face of competition, but also the talent on display. Some of the most legendary players will be out there rubbing shoulders with hot new local talent. Some very intense cricketing action is about to unfold in the the most cricket-crazy country in the world. As addictions go, it doesn't get better than this.
An edited version was published for a client newsletter designed by Global Adjustments. No part of this article may be reproduced without permission from the author and the publication.

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