The 2015 Indian Premier League kicked off on Wednesday (8) when defending champions Kolkata Knight Riders beat the Mumbai Indians by seven wickets.
This season promises to be one full of spectacular six-hitting and more 200-plus team totals off the back of a World Cup which saw all records shattered.
This is EE’s guide to what to expect over the next month and-a-half, with all the new signings and favourites to compete for the title.
Kolkata Knight Riders are going for their third IPL title in four years. The current holders and Champions League T20 runners-up are not blessed with the marquee batting names other franchises possess but they are a well-drilled squad who have that knack of knowing how to win tight games.
In somewhat of a Twenty20 rarity, KKR’s quality lies in their bowling depth, with a dream bang-in-form new ball partnership of Umesh Yadav and Morne Morkel, backed up by Andre Russell, Pat Cummins and spin wizards Sunil Narine, Piyush Chawla and Shakib Al Hasan.
Kolkata have bolstered that department even further with the Rs24 million signing of 17-year-old mystery spinner KC Cariappa.
With all those guys in your ranks, scoring a shedful of runs isn’t that important. Gautam Gambhir, Robin Uthappa and Manish Pandey will still have to chip in, all-rounders James Nisham (Rs5m) Russell, Shakib and Yusuf Pathan certainly will.
If Narine gets the all-clear, another final could well be on the cards. Even without him, there’s enough class come knock-out time. There’s just a worry that if the batsmen have a bad game, can the bowlers keep bailing them out?
Chennai Super Kings will once again start as favourites to win a record third crown after retaining most of the squad that have served them so well.
Skipper MS Dhoni and Indian international team-mates Suresh Raina, Ravindra Ja-deja, R Ashwin and World Cup breakthrough star Mohit Sharma have all signed big-money deals and are the cornerstones of one of the most consistent franchises in the inconsistent world of T20 cricket.
The Super Kings have reached the play-offs every year since the IPL was launched in 2008, including two wins and three final losses. Their international contingent is strong too, with New Zealand’s explosive captain Brendon McCullum and South African run-maker Faf du Plessis their stand-outs.
West Indies duo Dwayne Bravo and Dwayne Smith will also play their part, as will compatriot and star spinner Samuel Badree. Signing-wise, Aussie veteran Michael Hussey (Rs15m) has been brought in, along with Irfan Pathan (Rs15m) and Rahul Sharma (Rs3m).
The acquisition of South Africa fast bowler Kyle Abbott (Rs3m) could be one of the bargains of the season. Expect Dhoni and company to be in the mix again come finals time.
Time and time again Royal Challengers Bangalore have flattered to deceive on the IPL stage despite having a top order full of run-scoring machines.
The bat heavy franchise have failed to qualify for the final stages for the past three years after reaching two of the first four finals. Still searching for title number one, the big-hitters (Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Rilee Rossouw) are all still involved, RCB again hope for an improvement in their bowling attack.
They are lucky enough to have Australia’s World Cup-winning player of the tournament Mitchell Starc taking the new ball – the only problem is he is set to miss the first couple of weeks through injury.
In Starc’s enforced absence, early responsibility will fall on Varun Aaron, Adam Milne and Darren Sammy. New Zealand speed king Milne and West Indies’ stalwart Sammy are both new recruits, signing for Rs7m and Rs28m respectively.
Aussie Sean Abbott (Rs10m) will boost their seam options too but with South African all-rounder David Wiese (Rs28m) signed for big money, it’ll be interesting to see who sees the most game time with only four overseas spots available.
Bangalore wouldn’t be Bangalore without splashing the cash on an expensive batsman, and Dinesh Karthik (Rs105m) is this year’s blockbuster signing. Always a team worth watching, expect the unexpected again.
Kings XI Punjab were last year’s surprise package, reaching the final, but proved it wasn’t a fluke by making the last four of the Champions League T20. Expectation will be high this time, though it looks like George Bailey’s side have enough about them to challenge again.
Management have kept faith with the class of 2014 – the Aussie contingent of Bailey, Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Johnson and Shaun Marsh return to join high-profile home stars Virender Sehwag, Wriddhiman Saha and Murali Vijay, the latter an astute signing after his release from Chennai at Rs30m.
Maxwell and Johnson are T20 gold. Maxwell was one of the stand-out performers last year and at the recent World Cup; his incredible strike rate and ability to pick up wickets will be key again. Pace ace Johnson showed at the tail end of Australia’s title success he is getting back to the form which made him one of the most feared bowlers around.
South African slugger David Miller and Sri Lanka all-rounder Thisara Perera are two more match-winners, as are Manan Vohra and spinner Akshar Patel. Kings XI, who have been a bit quiet on the transfer-front, will see a semi-final spot as their minimum expectation.
The 2013 IPL champs Mumbai Indians are one of the best T20 franchises in the business, having also scooped two CLT20 crowns in their history.
They boast established names like captain Rohit Sharma, new Rs32m addition Aaron Finch, Corey Anderson, Kieron Pollard, Lasith Malinga and Harbhajan Singh.
Rohit and Australian banger Finch could form a potent opening partnership, and in New Zealand boundary blaster Anderson, they have one of the best all-rounders on the planet and one brimming with confidence after his World Cup showing.
Australian youngster Josh Hazelwood also impressed Down Under and will be a genuine wicket-taking threat. The Indians have strengthened their bowling unit with the signing of another Kiwi, Mitchell McClenghan for a cut-price Rs3m and spin expert Pragyan Ojha (Rs5m), who stands seventh on the IPL all-time dismissal list with 89.
Their line-up off the pitch is equally as impressive – new head coach Ricky Ponting joins a staff room including Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Jonty Rhodes and Shane Bond. All the ingredients seems to be place for a title tilt, but it might prove difficult this year.
Since the Rajasthan Royals won the first IPL in 2008, they have only made the play-offs once in six years. They did make it to the final of the 2013 CLT20, but their lack of bowling options continues to be a problem, and one that hasn’t seemed to have been solved again.
Batting-wise, Shane Watson’s Royals look stronger than previous seasons — Steve Smith and James Faulkner are better players than they were a year ago. Indian internationals Ajinkya Rahane and Stuart Binny complete a decent top set with youngster Sauju Samson.
New Zealand swing king Tim Southee is the team’s only recognised bowler with all-rounders Abhishek Nayer, Binny and Chris Morris, their most expensive signing at Rs14m, and that is ultimately what will cost them when the top four is decided.
Sunrisers Hyderabad could well be IPL8’s surprise package after keeping their big names and bringing in a few new faces. They overachieved in their first campaign two years ago, reaching the semi-finals, but couldn’t follow it up last year, only finishing in sixth place.
The Sunrisers have been busy adding to a squad that already features Shikhar Dhawan, David Warner, Dale Steyn, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma, snapping up indemand New Zealand duo Kane Williamson (Rs6m) and Trent Boult (Rs38m).
English duo Eoin Morgan (Rs20m) and Ravi Bopara (Rs10m), plus veteran bowler Praveen Kumar (Rs22m) are also brought in. The team would have been even stronger had Kevin Pietersen not had his contract cancelled to return to England to play for Surrey.
A top three of Dhawan, Warner and Williamson could be gold, and if the middle order can chip in and Steyn, Boult and Kumar take wickets, this well-balanced side could challenge for a play-off berth. A lack of a top quality spinner though could hurt them.
After last year’s disastrous losing run, Delhi Daredevils shipped out most of their overpaid stars and spent huge to try and write those wrongs. The result is a team reliant on all-rounders but still seemingly lacking in batting greatness.
In come mega money duo Yuvraj Singh (Rs160m) and Angelo Mathews (Rs75m) who were joined by aging bowlers Zaheer Khan (Rs40m), Amit Mishra (Rs35m). It’s a huge outlay on (Mathews aside) players who are viewed by many as being pass their best; only time will tell if the outlay was worth it.
New captain JP Duminy, Quinton de Kock, Mohammed Shami and Imran Tahir will have to sparkle from the retained few or it could be another long month or so for the Daredevils.