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In-Depth | IPL 2021: Past, present and COVID-battered future of the ‘great cricket circus’

In-Depth | IPL 2021: Past, present and COVID-battered future of the ‘great cricket circus’

Over 13 years, the Indian Premier League not only withstood a number of challenges on and off the field, but also thrived. Now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the ‘cricket circus’ is reshaping itself to overcome new hurdles.

It was the evening of April 18, 2008. As the sun set over Bengaluru, Indian cricketers Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly hopped on to the field at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium for a coin toss. Months of planning had gone into perfecting this moment. It was the first game of the Indian Premier League (IPL), an annual tournament that was being pegged by Lalit Modi as a sporting revolution – one that would alter cricket’s future.

The plan was spearheaded by Lalit Modi, the President and Managing Director of Modi Enterprises and then Executive Director of Godfrey Phillips India. At that point, he was also a key figure in the cricket board, the chief of the Rajasthan Cricket Association and the Vice President of Punjab Cricket Association (PCA). Modi maintained that his team had been working on the idea for two years and it was not being started as a “knee-jerk reaction” to the Indian Cricket League, which was funded by Zee Entertainment Enterprises and was not recognised by the BCCI.

Dravid won the toss for the Royal Challengers Bangalore and opted to field amid deafening noise of around 40,000 spectators who had thronged to the stadium. No one knew what to expect. No one had ever seen a ‘domestic’ cricket tournament in this “glamorous” avatar before. Padded in Kolkata Knight Riders’ striking gold and black apparel – colours that were unseen in cricket – Ganguly and New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum opened batting as excitement and anticipation built up. In 20 overs’ time, McCullum was standing unbeaten at 158 off just 78 balls. KKR had clocked a massive 222/3 at the end of the innings. In another hour and a half, we had the first IPL result – RCB had been beaten by a 140-run margin.

The greatest experiment in cricket had started with fireworks and there was no looking back.

Indian Premier League (IPL) founder Lalit Modi at a sports management conference in London, United Kingdom in 2010. (Image: Action Images/Jed Leicester via Reuters) Indian Premier League (IPL) founder Lalit Modi at a sports management conference in London, United Kingdom in 2010. (Image: Action Images/Jed Leicester via Reuters)

Sixes and valuations going through the roof

The unprecedented response from fans, spectators, viewers, advertisers and sponsors made IPL a commercial success overnight. In the years to come, it became an event that the audience and advertisers keenly waited for. It was a family event after all. With schools shut in the summer, kids, parents and grandparents got glued to India’s favourite pass time, cricket, on the television. IPL’s viewership went through the roof – so much so that for a couple of years even the mighty Indian film industry had to delay new releases until the end of the IPL seasons.

Despite the event being rocked by the match fixing scandal, controversies involving owners, two teams – Chennai Super Kings and the Rajasthan Royals – serving a two-year suspension, and teams like Deccan Chargers, Pune Warriors India and Kochi Tuskers Kerala being terminated by the Board of Control for Cricket in India and title sponsor Pepsi scrapping its deal mid way into its five year contract, the tournament’s brand value continued to surge over the years.

In 2020, the value of IPL’s ecosystem was pegged at Rs 45,800 crore ($6.1 billion) by Duff & Phelps. This was, however, 3.6 percent lower than 2019. The financial consultancy firm said in a brand value report that this fall was largely due to Chinese technology company Vivo pulling out of the title sponsorship deal amid India-China border tensions, additional costs involved to create a bio-bubble environment and the lack of ticket sales, among other factors.

Yet, losses would have been much sharper had the 2020 season not happened at all. The BCCI earned “Rs 4,000 crore in revenue and cut costs by 35 percent, against the anticipated revenue loss of over Rs 3,000 crore had it been cancelled,” the report added.

Industrialists Vijay Mallya (left), Ness Wadia (right), IPL founder Lalit Modi (second from left) and Bollywood actors Shah Rukh Khan (center) and Preity Zinta pose during a news conference after the first player auction in Mumbai, Maharashtra on February 20, 2008. (Image: Reuters/Punit Paranjpe) Industrialists Vijay Mallya (left), Ness Wadia (right), IPL founder Lalit Modi (second from left) and Bollywood actors Shah Rukh Khan (center) and Preity Zinta pose during a news conference after the first player auction in Mumbai, Maharashtra on February 20, 2008. (Image: Reuters/Punit Paranjpe)

Cricket boards around the world have tried to emulate IPL’s success. The Pakistan Super League, the Big Bash, Caribbean Premier League, Bangladesh Premier League and the Lanka Premier League are all experiments on the same line. None have come close to the IPL.

One of the reasons has been the dedicated window the International Cricket Council, governing body of the sport, offers to the IPL. Most international cricket action in April-May is blocked off to make players available for the IPL. Players themselves may find the Indian domestic Twenty20 tournament more lucrative that a bilateral series. In February, the Jaipur-based Rajasthan Royals franchise picked up South African all-rounder Chris Morris for $2.1 million (Rs 16.2 crore) – making him the most expensive player in the tournament’s history.

Broadcasters have had intensive competition to secure the rights to cricket’s “prized asset”. In 2017, Star Sports bagged the rights for $2.5 billion for a five-year period. According to Duff & Phelps, that’s $8.5 million per match – significantly higher than $3.8 million for a game of the German Bundesliga and $2.1 for the NBA.

Pandemic’s impact?

While the matches were played behind closed doors in 2020 and the revenue from ticket sales and food and beverages took a hit, the season proved to be one of the most successful in terms of viewership. With the target audience working from home, Star Sports set a record of 31.5 million impressions – 23 percent higher than 2019. According to the channel, the season saw a viewership growth of 24 percent among women and 20 percent among children, respectively.

Observers suggest that the broadcasters benefited “as more people were forced to spend time at home, thus increasing the television viewership”.

With India witnessing a second wave of COVID-19, state government are issuing stay at home orders. This is again likely to boost viewership. In fact, Star Sports has roped in 18 sponsors and over 100 advertisers across multiple brand categories already.

A general view of the DY Patil Sports Stadium in Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra (Image: Twitter/@KKRiders) A general view of the DY Patil Sports Stadium in Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra (Image: Twitter/@KKRiders)

New hurdles

After a season’s hiatus, the ‘cricket circus’ as it’s called has returned to India. In wake of the pandemic and the nationwide lockdown, the 2020 season was first indefinitely postponed from its April-May window but later moved entirely to the United Arab Emirates. The Gulf country which had hosted a part of the IPL in 2014 was recording significantly less number of COVID-19 cases than India in October-November.

Typically, the IPL has followed the home and away ‘double round robin’ format much like the English Premier League.

This means, every team plays all other teams twice – once at home and one away. The top four teams at the end of the league stage proceed to the Playoffs. There are incentives for teams that finish first and second. They do not automatically get eliminated if they lose their Playoff match and get another chance to make it to the final.

The format ensures that every team would play at least seven matches at home during the league stages. However, these matches could be spread across multiple ‘home stadiums’. In the first edition, the Mumbai Indians played some of their matches at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai and others at their traditional home – the iconic Wankhede Stadium. Similarly, the Rajasthan Royals have played some of their matches in the past at the erstwhile Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad and Mumbai’s Brabourne Stadium. As a result, the matches would be spread out across as many as 13 stadiums (in 2015).

But enabling thousands of people – players, team officials, support staff, organisers, broadcast crew and match officials – to travel between a dozen every few days amid a pandemic would have been nearly impossible. Remember, while these individuals are expected to remain in a bio-secure bubble, the situation is dynamic and every state will continue to impose and tweak restrictions. Keeping up with the latest norms in each state would add more pressure on the logistics of a tournament that is already quite complex to manage.

Even in 2020, when the tournament was moved to the UAE, matches were played only at three venues – Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah – to minimise travel.

Thus, the home-away format has been suspended, albeit the teams will still play both legs of the double round robin fixtures.

Only six venues will host all matches – Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Chennai and Bengaluru. To ensure some franchises don’t get an unfair home advantage, no team will play any match at their traditional home ground. All Playoff matches and the final will happen at the newly built Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad. As no team hails from the city, it would also be a neutral venue.

All individuals associated with the tournament will remain in multiple bubbles. The BCCI has established 12 such bubbles – eight for the franchises and support staff, two for match officials and organisers and two others for broadcast crew and commentators.

Captains of the eight IPL teams (Image: Twitter/@IPL) Captains of the eight IPL teams (Image: Twitter/@IPL)

Here’s the basic schedule and key dates to remember:
Opening match: Mumbai Indians vs. Royal Challengers Bangalore – April 9

Last league match: Royal Challengers Bangalore vs. Chennai Super Kings – May 23 (double-header day)

Double headers (two matches in a day) will be held on April 18, 21, 25 and 29, and May 2, 8, 9, 13, 16, 21 and 23.

Playoffs:
Qualifier 1 – May 25
Eliminator – May 26
Qualifier 2 – May 28

Final – May 30

All matches will start at 7.30 pm, except the first matches on double header days which start at 3.30 pm.

Where to watch: All 56 matches will be broadcast LIVE on the Star Sports network. The matches will be available in eight languages – English, Hindi, Bengali, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Tamil and Telugu. Matches will be spread over multiple channels including some non-sports channels such as Star Pravah, Jalsha Movies and Star Suvarna, among others, on Sundays.

All matches will also be live streamed on Disney+ Hotstar in five languages – English, Hindi, Kannada, Tamil and Telugu. However, this will be available to subscribers of the VIP and Premium plans.

Outside India, viewers will be able to catch the live action on YuppTV, an over-the-top (OTT) platform. YuppTV holds live stream rights for nearly 100 countries across Continental Europe, Australia, Sri Lanka, South East Asia (except Singapore and Malaysia), Central and South America, Central Asia, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives. YuppTV subscribers in India will be able to access the matches on the platform.

In the UK, viewers will be able to watch the matches on Sky Sports channels and the Sky Go app.

The live match production team reportedly comprises around 700 people and 90 commentators (across languages) this time.

General view of an IPL production control room (Image courtesy: iplt20.com, BCCI) General view of an IPL production control room (Image courtesy: iplt20.com, BCCI)

The big context

But what happens on the field also assumes great significance. After the IPL, the Indian team will travel to the United Kingdom to play the ICC World Test Championship Final against New Zealand which would be followed by a five-match Test series against hosts England.

The ‘Men in Blue’ would return home only in time for the ICC T20 World Cup scheduled to be played in India in October.

This IPL season will provide India and all major teams an opportunity to play competitive Twenty20 cricket in Indian conditions – on wickets that would stage the T20I world championship in the second half of the year.

The BCCI is likely to add two more teams to the IPL fold in 2022. With total 10 teams, the double round robin format may itself become untenable. This may lead to an IPL with more than one league table (as in the case of the NBA) or a new innovative format altogether.

This is also the last season before the IPL goes through a periodic de facto player reshuffle. Every few years, the IPL Governing Council holds a ‘mega auction’. In these years, teams are allowed to retain only a handful of key players and the rest of the squad is thrown back into the auction pool automatically. Teams are then required to bid aggressively and get some of their key players back – which may not always be possible due to the purse constraints. While this – coupled with the purse cap – has proved to be an effective way of keeping the league competitive, it effectively reshuffles squads. So, if a team has indeed found a winning combination, this season is the last opportunity for it to capitalise on that.

But more importantly, the situation remains tough for the teams and for the organisers. RCB's Daniel Sams, DC's Axar Patel and former Indian cricketers and MI's coaching staff member Kiran More have tested positive for COVID-19 in the recent days. Bangalore’s Devdutt Padikkal and KKR's Nitish Rana had also tested positive weeks before the tournament but have returned to training after turning in negative reports.

News reports suggest that at least 12 ground staff members at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai have tested positive for the infectious disease in the recent days.

While there has been no hint of these cases affecting the tournament, instances in the past have led to cancellation and postponement of cricket events. In December, England’s tour of South Africa was cancelled mid-way after multiple positive cases. In March, the Pakistan Super League (PSL) was postponed after seven people tested positive for COVID-19, of which six were players.

The possibility of the season being called off or schedule having to be altered drastically cannot be discounted. This may impact the event’s Teflon-coated image.

“Any major disruption to the event (either non-completion or league getting truncated or any major controversy) could have an impact on the Brand IPL. Apart from perception, there could be a reasonable impact if the league gets truncated or cannot be finished,” Santosh N, Managing Partner, Duff & Phelps Advisory told Moneycontrol.

However, he said that there would not be a major impact on IPL’s valuation if the season completes sans spectators in the stadium “as gate receipts and in-stadia revenue is a very small component”.

There is a high possibility that the value could be flat to slight positive if the league goes through as per the schedule, he added.

Battle ready

Chennai Super Kings

CSK players and support staff during a practice session at Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai (Image: Twitter/@ChennaiIPL) CSK players and support staff during a practice session at Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai (Image: Twitter/@ChennaiIPL)

While their rivals Mumbai Indians have won the most number of IPL titles, it is the Chennai Super Kings that have a marginally higher win percentage (59.8 percent compared to MI's 59.1 percent) of all eight teams.

CSK will be looking at getting back to the winning ways after a disappointing 2020 season. Last year, the team failed to make it past the league stage for the first time.

They have now included the services of all-rounder and off-spinner Moeen Ali, who will be a key for them on Indian wickets.

The squad carries a lot of experience players including Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Robin Uthappa, Ambati Rayudu, Faf du Plessis and Dwayne Bravo. But this is a double-edged sword. The squad has also been described as a pack of ageing superstars.

Skipper Dhoni, who will turn 40 in July, has already retired from international cricket. So, the question is: would this be his last IPL?

Squad: MS Dhoni (Captain), Ambati Rayudu, C Hari Nishanth, Cheteshwar Pujara, Deepak Chahar, Dwayne Bravo, Faf du Plessis, Harisankar Reddy, Imran Tahir, Jason Behrendorff, K Bhagath Varma, K Gowtham, Karn Sharma, KM Asif, Lungi Ngidi, Mitchell Santner, Moeen Ali, Narayan Jagadeesan, R Sai Kishore, Ravindra Jadeja, Robin Uthappa, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Sam Curran, Shardul Thakur and Suresh Raina

First-timers: K Bhagath Varma, C Hari Nishaanth and M Harisankar Reddy

Head coach: Stephen Fleming

2020 position: Seventh

Team owner: India Cements

Delhi Capitals

Delhi Capitals coach Ricky Ponting and assistant coach Mohammad Kaif during a practice session (Image: Twitter/@DelhiCapitals) Delhi Capitals coach Ricky Ponting and assistant coach Mohammad Kaif during a practice session (Image: Twitter/@DelhiCapitals)

The 2020 finalists will be hoping to recreate the magic on the field and get the final step right. But a lack of like-for-like replacements means that their top performers Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje wouldn’t be rested enough.

In Sheryas Iyer’s absence due to an injury, Rishabh Pant has been handed the mantle of the team. Under coach Ricky Ponting, Pant would be keen on proving his leadership skills.

Steve Smith, R Ashwin, Tom Curran, Axar Patel, Marcus Stoinis, Shikhar Dhawan and Prithvi Shaw’s performance will be crucial for the team representing the national capital.

Squad: Rishabh Pant (Captain), Ajinkya Rahane, Amit Mishra, Anrich Nortje, Avesh Khan, Axar Patel, Chris Woakes, Ishant Sharma, Kagiso Rabada, Lalit Yadav, Lukman Meriwala, Manimaran Siddharth, Marcus Stoinis, Praveen Dubey, Prithvi Shaw, R Ashwin, Ripal Patel, Sam Billings, Shikhar Dhawan, Shimron Hetmyer, Steven Smith, Tom Curran, Umesh Yadav, Vishnu Vinod and Shreyas Iyer (ruled out)

First-timers: Ripal Patel and Lukman Meriwala

Head coach: Ricky Ponting

2020 position: Runners-up

Team owner: JSW Group, GMR Group

Kolkata Knight Riders

KKR coach Brendon McCullum and skipper Eoin Morgan during a practice session (Image: Twitter/@KKRiders) KKR coach Brendon McCullum and skipper Eoin Morgan during a practice session (Image: Twitter/@KKRiders)

This will be Eoin Morgan’s first full-time stint as the captain of the two-time champions. The Kolkata-based team have added all-rounders Shakib-Al-Hasan and Ben Cutting to their armour.

Yet, the team would require the likes of Shubman Gill, Andre Russell, Sunil Narine and Kuldeep Yadav to fire all cylinders to get them closer to the title.

Squad: Eoin Morgan (Captain), Andre Russell, Ben Cutting, Dinesh Karthik, Harbhajan Singh, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Karun Nair, Kuldeep Yadav, Lockie Ferguson, Nitish Rana, Pat Cummins, Pawan Negi, Prasidh Krishna, Rahul Tripathi, Rinku Singh, Sandeep Warrier, Shakib Al Hasan, Sheldon Jackson, Shivam Mavi, Shubman Gill, Sunil Narine, Tim Seifert, Vaibhav Arora, Varun Chakravathi and Venkatesh Iyer

First-timers: Venkatesh Iyer and Vaibhav Arora

Head coach: Brendon McCullum

2020 position: Fifth

Team owner: Red Chillies Entertainment, Mehta Group

Mumbai Indians

Mumbai Indians players Dhawal Kulkarni, Arjun Tendulkar and Aditya Tare during a practice session (Image: Twitter/@mipaltan) Mumbai Indians players Dhawal Kulkarni, Arjun Tendulkar and Aditya Tare during a practice session (Image: Twitter/@mipaltan)

With a set winning machine, Rohit Sharma-led Mumbai Indians are playing not only to win a record sixth title, but to consolidate their position as one of the greatest Twenty20 sides.

For this, they will require not only their stars such as Jasprit Bumrah, Kieron Pollard, Hardik Pandya and Trent Boult, but also Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan to fire. They still have some hiccups in the spin bowling department, but that’s where Piyush Chawla’s experience could come handy for Rahul Chahar and Krunal Pandya.

Of course, all eyes will also be on former Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar’s son Arjun. It remains to be seen if the 21-year-old will get a game.

Squad: Rohit Sharma (Captain), Adam Milne, Aditya Tare, Anmolpreet Singh, Anukul Roy, Arjun Tendulkar, Chris Lynn, Dhawal Kulkarni, Hardik Pandya, Ishan Kishan, James Neesham, Jasprit Bumrah, Jayant Yadav, Kieron Pollard, Krunal Pandya, Marco Jansen, Mohsin Khan, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Piyush Chawla, Quinton de Kock, Rahul Chahar, Saurabh Tiwary, Suryakumar Yadav, Trent Boult and Yudhvir Singh Charak

First-timers: Arjun Tendulkar, Yudhvir Charak and Marco Jansen

Head coach: Mahela Jayawardene

2020 position: Champions

Team owner: Reliance Industries

Punjab Kings

Mandeep Singh during a practice session (Image: Twitter/@PunjabKingsIPL) Mandeep Singh during a practice session (Image: Twitter/@PunjabKingsIPL)

They have rebranded themselves as the Punjab Kings. But will that change their fortunes? Something like this had helped Delhi Capitals (erstwhile Delhi Daredevils) earlier. But making an impression would be a tough task for a team that has not made it to the Playoffs since 2014.

Captained by KL Rahul, the team has a strongest batting line-up comprising the likes of Mayank Agarwal, Chris Gayle and Mandeep Singh. They are also backed by the world's number one T20I batsman Dawid Malan. However, lack of quality spinners remains their weakness.

Squad: KL Rahul (Captain), Arshdeep Singh, Chris Gayle, Chris Jordan, Darshan Nalkande, Dawid Malan, Deepak Hooda, Fabian Allen, Harpreet Brar, Ishan Porel, Jalaj Saxena, Jhye Richardson, Mandeep Singh, Mayank Agarwal, Mohammed Shami, Moises Henriques, Murugan Ashwin, Nicholas Pooran, Prabhsimran Singh, Ravi Bishnoi, Riley Meredith, Sarfaraz Khan, Saurabh Kumar, Shahrukh Khan and Utkarsh Singh

First-timers: Jhye Richardson, Riley Meredith, Shahrukh Khan, Saurabh Kumar and Utkarsh Singh

Head coach: Anil Kumble

2020 position: Sixth

Team owner: Mohit Burman, Ness Wadia, Preity Zinta and Karan Paul

Rajasthan Royals

Jos Buttler during an IPL match in 2020 (Image: Twitter/@rajasthanroyals) Jos Buttler during an IPL match in 2020 (Image: Twitter/@rajasthanroyals)

Despite having the services of Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Sanju Samson, David Miller, Shivam Dube and Chris Morris, the Royals finished at the bottom of the table in 2020.

The team is likely to sport a relatively weak bowling department as they are set to miss the services of Jofra Archer for the first half of the season.

The team has described as IPL’s “perennial underdogs” by some. Now led by Samson, can they revive lost glory?

Squad: Sanju Samson (Captain), Akash Singh, Andrew Tye, Anuj Rawat, Ben Stokes, Chetan Sakariya, Chris Morris, David Miller, Jaydev Unadkat, Jofra Archer, Jos Buttler, Kartik Tyagi, KC Cariappa, Kuldip Yadav, Liam Livingstone, Mahipal Lomror, Manan Vohra, Mayank Markande, Mustafizur Rahman, Rahul Tewatia, Riyan Parag, Shivam Dube, Shreyas Gopal and Yashasvi Jaiswal

First-timers: Chetan Sakariya, Akash Singh and Kuldip Yadav

Director of Cricket: Kumar Sangakkara

2020 position: Eighth

Team owner: Manoj Badale, Amisha Hathiramani and Lachlan Murdoch

Royal Challengers Bangalore

Virat Kohli during a practice session (Image: Twitter/@RCBTweets) Virat Kohli during a practice session (Image: Twitter/@RCBTweets)

You will either find them in the Playoffs or in the bottom two of the table. Despite having AB de Villiers, Kane Richardson, Mohammed Siraj and Yuzvendra Chahal at the core of the squad, the Virat Kohli-led side has never won the IPL.

Chahal will play a crucial role with the ball as RCB will play many of their games on the slow tracks of Ahmedabad and Chennai.

They have now added Aussie all-rounder Glenn Maxwell to propel them closer to the title. RCB also got wicketkeeper-batsman Mohammad Azharuddeen, who had a strike-rate of 194.5 in this year’s Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.

Squad: Virat Kohli (Captain), AB de Villiers, Adam Zampa, Daniel Christian, Daniel Sams, Devdutt Padikkal, Glenn Maxwell, Harshal Patel, Joshua Philippe, Kane Richardson, KS Bharat, Kyle Jamieson, Mohammed Azharuddeen, Mohammed Siraj, Navdeep Saini, Pavan Deshpande, Rajat Patidar, Sachin Baby, Shahbaz Ahmed, Suyash Prabhudessai, Washington Sundar and Yuzvendra Chahal

First-timers: Kyle Jamieson, Rajat Patidar, Mohammed Azharuddeen and Suyash Prabhudessai

Head coach: Simon Katich

2020 position: Fourth

Team owner: United Spirits Limited

SunRisers Hyderabad

Rashid Khan during a practice match (Image: Twitter/@SunRisers) Rashid Khan during a practice match (Image: Twitter/@SunRisers)

Since 2013 when the side came into existence, they have managed to make it to the Playoffs all but twice. But they have not been able to get their hands on to the trophy since 2016.

Led by Aussie David Warner, SRH have an impressive batting order that includes Jonny Bairstow, Jason Roy, Kane Williamson and Manish Pandey. The bowling department is led by Rashid Khan and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. But they will require Mujeeb Ur Rahman, T Natarajan and Vijay Shankar, among others, to help them clinch the title.

Squad: David Warner (Captain), Abdul Samad, Abhishek Sharma, Basil Thampi, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jagadeesha Suchith, Jason Holder, Jonny Bairstow, Kane Williamson, Kedar Jadhav, Khaleel Ahmed, Manish Pandey, Mitchell Marsh, Mohammad Nabi, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Priyam Garg, Rashid Khan, Sandeep Sharma, Shahbaz Nadeem, Shreevats Goswami, Siddarth Kaul, T Natarajan, Vijay Shankar, Virat Singh and Wriddhiman Saha

First-timers: None

Head coach: Trevor Bayliss

2020 position: Third

Team owner: SUN Group

What to watch out for

Delhi Capitals' Amit Mishra has a chance to become the highest wicket taker in IPL history. He is currently ten wickets behind former MI pacer Lasith Malinga’s tally of 170 wickets. Mishra could have broken Malinga’s record last year, but got injured after playing just three matches. In a recent interview to Moneycontrol, Mishra said that the injury was “disappointing” as he “was in a good rhythm”.

However, Piyush Chawla, who now plays for MI has picked up 156 wickets so far in IPL, isn’t far behind.

Indian skipper Kohli – also the highest run scorer in IPL – is already considered one of the greatest cricketers. While he has won several accolades, the IPL title has remained elusive. Will Kohli lead Bengaluru to their first IPL title?

Coached by former Australian cricket legend Ponting, Delhi Capitals were praised for their performance in 2020 even as they finished as the runners up. Will the team, now led by Pant, get the final step right?

Yet, all eyes remain on Mumbai. Until last year, IPL fans believed that MI could win the title only in odd years (2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019). But, 2020 proved to be the ‘oddest’ of all years and MI clinched the title for a record fifth time. The Rohit ‘Hitman’ Sharma-led side is now hoping to secure a hat-trick of victories. Will they succeed?

Follow Moneycontrol’s full coverage of IPL 2021 here

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