Mouthwatering attack can fire Mumbai Indians to back-to-back titles
Kolkata Knight Riders could struggle
2018 season preview
Starts 3.30pm Saturday
The Indian Premier League title was decided by the narrowest of margins last season as, after 60 Twenty20 matches spread over six weeks of pulsating cricket, Mumbai Indians defeated Pune by one run in the final.
That was the Pune franchise’s final act before they dropped out of the IPL, along with Gujarat Lions, to be replaced by Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings, who return from two-year bans for corruption.
Holders Mumbai should go from strength to strength, however, and Rohit Sharma’s men are worth backing to retain their crown.
With teams permitted to select a maximum of four overseas players in each game, a strong core of Indian players is crucial and Sharma has two of the home nation’s most exciting young stars in paceman Jasprit Bumrah and all-rounder Hardik Pandya.
Bangladesh left-armer Mustafizur Rahman and in-form Aussie Pat Cummins join Bumrah in a thrilling pace attack while Krunal Pandya, Kieron Pollard and JP Duminy are excellent all-round options.
Mumbai finished top of the regular season last term, winning ten of their 14 games, and their home record at the Wankhede Stadium gives them a rock-solid shot at making the playoffs again.
Bangalore had a shocker in 2017, finishing bottom of the league, but expectations are high – as usual – given their formidable spin attack and matchwinners Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers in the top order.
Hyderabad Sunrisers and Rajasthan have been hit by the Australian ball-tampering scandal, losing their captains David Warner and Steve Smith.
Kane Williamson takes the reins at Hyderabad and the cool Kiwi leads a decent squad with Alex Hales replacing Warner.
Chennai reached six of the eight IPL finals before their ban but MS Dhoni’s squad has a stale look to it. Kings XI Punjab and Delhi Daredevils probably lack the depth of Indian talent to go all the way.
Team to oppose
Kolkata Knight Riders may well struggle after inspirational skipper Gautam Gambhir was allowed to leave for Delhi.
India wicketkeeper-batsman Dinesh Karthik takes charge but the new skipper has already suffered a major setback with the news that star fast bowler Mitchell Starc will miss the campaign through injury.
Starc’s fellow Australian Chris Lynn is also injury-prone while Andre Russell could be undercooked after returning from a year-long doping ban in February and Sunil Narine is under scrutiny after being reported for a suspect bowling action last month.
There isn’t much quality in reserve if Lynn, Russell or Narine are unavailable for a chunk of the season and the departed Gambhir held the batting together last season, scoring 498 runs – 110 more than any other Kolkata batter.
The 8-1 that Karthik’s men prop up the regular-season table is worth a punt – they are half that price with one firm.
3pts 9-2 bet365, BetBright, Sky Bet
Kolkata Knight Riders to finish bottom
1pt 8-1 BoyleSports, Hills, Sky Bet
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