IPL 7: Ready, steady, Po!

Just a day to go for that spectacle called the Indian Premiere League and already, the season has seen more than its fair share of twists and turns!

Apart from the fact that the upcoming tournament coincides with the 16th general elections - bringing back the ghost of IPL season two that had to be organised on South African shores because it collided with the polls here - there have been other changes as well. Right from the omission of Pune Warriors India as a franchise (earlier, Deccan Chargers and Kochi Tuskers Kerala faced termination as well) to N Srinivasan losing his chair to cricketing legend Sunil Gavaskar being appointed as the BCCI-IPL interim president on the order passed by the Supreme Court.

Also, IPL is down to eight teams just like it was when it first kicked off, with the number of matches down to 60, of which, the first 20 will be played in the UAE and the remaining ones back home beginning 2 May.

So before the action begins, here’s looking at some of the things the franchises need to make note of before they forge ahead:

Maintaining momentum

Back in 2009, when IPL had to shift to South Africa due to general elections, there were a lot of logistical issues that caused trouble for the franchises. While shifting to UAE this time round may look simpler because of the similarity in conditions, the teams will have to do some adjusting when they shift back to India in early May.

The return to India could be more a psychological blow for the teams because while there will be bigger crowds and greater support back home, migrating back to India from the UAE with wins under their belts may prove a daunting task for the teams.

They will have to make the psychological adjustment and rework their strategy to better suit Indian conditions. If any side gains momentum in the UAE, it is crucial that they win the first few games during the Indian leg to keep wheel of fortune turning. As far as the conditions go, it may become easier for the teams in India as the heat wouldn’t be as intense as that of the UAE. The pitches too would be a lot more familiar.

Thus, it would all boil down to how well a franchise returns and gets moving in India. It may be a challenge for the teams that are winning, but those who struggle in the UAE may welcome the return to home conditions and that could work in their favour. So buckle up for some high adrenaline action in the first week of May.

Sponsors fighting shy of IPL?

What began as a fledgling franchise in 2008 is today a world-renowned property with brand value pegged at $3.03 billion in 2013 and the highest at $4.13 billion in 2010.

But, 2014 seems to be a troubling year for IPL franchisees, what with the recent controversies, uncertainty about the fate of the tournament (this season), and the decision to take the first half to UAE having made sponsors put on their guard.

According to an American Appraisal India report of 2013, Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians emerged as the most powerful brands valued at $72 million each; followed by Kolkata Knight Riders ($69 million) and Royal Challengers Bangalore ($51 million). Rajasthan Royals ($45 million) and Delhi Daredevils ($40 million) were somewhere in the middle, while Kings XI Punjab ($32 million) and Sunrisers Hyderabad ($25 million) sat at the bottom of the pile.

Each team is trying to claw its way back with operational improvements however, trust flows with stakeholders will eventually determine the health of IPL’s long-term liquidity and profitability. For the current eight teams to sustain, their short-term operational movements need to be aligned with their strategic plans for the tourney.

For example, Kings XI Punjab has had its number of sponsors come down to just two from 15 in 2013. Till last season, the franchise had NVD Solar as its title sponsor for three years, along with Arise Inverters and Batteries, Raindrops Basmati, Lux Cozi, ACC, USL and McDowell’s No. 1 as official team partners. But this season, it has only USL and TK Sports on board as sponsors with the tourney at the doorstep.

GMR group owned-Delhi Daredevils seems to have undergone a makeover this season with a new-look squad, new logo and new sponsor - Quikr. Till last year, the Muthoot Group was its title sponsor, but it did not wish to renew its contract and thus, it opened the doors for the e-commerce portal to step-in as the title sponsor for a period of three years. Apart from Muthoot, other premiere sponsors including Bajaj Allianz, Coca-Cola India, Matrix and consumer goods company Panasonic have also opted out of sponsorship deals this season.

Other franchisees such as Chennai Super Kings, Rajasthan Royals and Kolkata Knight Riders are facing a different challenge. While these teams have managed to get some sponsors on board, the sponsorship rates have taken a pounding. Delay in the announcement of the venue and the controversies surrounding the tourney have impacted business this year, according to most trade pundits.

So how are the teams facing up to these challenges?

With the playing field down to just eight teams, it will lead to intense battles on the field that will hopefully lead to great last over finishes, creating an enthralling experience for the fans.

Last season winners and maiden title holder Mumbai Indians, will square off with 2012 winners Kolkata Knight Riders on April 16 to kick-off the tourney at Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi.

The league is scheduled to culminate on 1 June 2014, to crown the champions for season seven of the Pepsi Indian Premiere League. Here is a brief description of the teams competing for the coveted title this time around.

Chennai Super Kings (CSK)

Team (from): MS Dhoni (Captain), Suresh Raina, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Dwayne Bravo, Faf du Plessis, Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Smith, Ashish Nehra, Mohit Sharma, Samuel Badree, Ben Hilfenhaus, Matt Henry, B Aparajith, Mithun Manhas, Ishwar Pandey, Pawan Negi, Vijay Shankar, Ronit More, John Hastings.

One of the most successful franchises in the league, having won the title twice (2010 and 2011) under the leadership of M S Dhoni (also captain of Team India); one of the major reasons for the success of CSK is the stability and collective effort in the team. They always have a chance to win the cup and this year is no different.

Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB)

Team (from): Virat Kohli (Captain), Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers, Yuvraj Singh, Parthiv Patel, Albie Morkel, Mitchell Starc, Ashok Dinda, Ravi Rampaul, Muttiah Muralitharan, Nic Maddinson, Varun Aaron, Vijay, Sachin Rana, Yogesh Takawale, Abu Nechim Ahmed, Yuzvendra Chahal, Shadab Jakati, Sandeep Warrier, Harshal Patel, Tanmay Mishra.

The most flamboyant team among all, with the likes of Virat Kohli and Chris Gayle, but it hasn’t really used its resources well to conquer the league. The best result for the team was in 2011, when they came second to CSK. With some real match winners, and Kohli currently in top form, the Challengers need to really put the pedal to the metal (bat to the ball) from the word go this season.

Delhi Daredevils (DD)

Team (from): Kevin Pietersen (Captain), M Vijay, Dinesh Karthik, JP Duminy, Manoj Tiwary, Quinton de Kock, Mohammed Shami, Rahul Sharma, Saurabh Tiwary, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Shahbaz Nadeem, Ross Taylor, Milind Kumar, Wayne Parnell, HS Sharath, Jayant Yadav, Jaydev Unadkat, James Neesham, Kedar Jadhav, Mayank Agarwal, Rahul Shukla, Siddharth Kaul.

This is one team that has just drifted away after beginning strongly in the first two seasons. The team really needs to play to its strengths and take each match as it comes. The strategy needs to be very clear; first to reach the play-offs and then the semi-final and if the team plays to its strength, play the final. With the temperamental Pietersen at the helm of things, it will be interesting to see the approach of the team this season.

Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR)

Team (from): Gautam Gambhir (Captain), Sunil Narine, Jacques Kallis, Robin Uthappa, Yusuf Pathan, Shakib Al Hasan, Umesh Yadav, Vinay Kumar, Morne Morkel, Piyush Chawla, Manish Pandey, Veer Pratap Singh, Chris Lynn, Andre Russell, SS Mandal, Pat Cummins, Debabrata Das, Suryakumar Yadav, Manvinder Bisla, Ryan ten Doeschate, Kuldeep Yadav.

The Shah Rukh Khan-owned franchise, was lost till it found a leader in Gautam Gambhir and have stood by him. Under Gambhir, KKR lifted the cup in 2012 and can certainly be a strong contender for this season as well. The team banks on a good mix of youth and experience, with Kallis and Gambhir giving stability to the batting. If Sunil Narine can spin his web yet again and Yusuf Pathan along with new entrant Robin Uthappa create some magic, the Knight Riders may stand to repeat its 2012 feat yet again.

Rajasthan Royals (RR)

Team (from): Shane Watson (Captain), Ajinkya Rahane, James Faulkner, Stuart Binny, Sanju Samson, Brad Hodge, Steven Smith, Abhishek Nayar, Ben Cutting, Kane Richardson, Tim Southee, Unmukt Chand, Ankush Bains, Vikramjeet Malik, Rahul Tewatia, Ankit Sharma, Amit Mishra, Deepak Hooda, Rajat Bhatia, Kevon Cooper, Iqbal Abdulla, Dhawal Kulkarni, Pravin Tambe, Karun Nair, Dishant Yagnik.

The maiden champions will always be remembered for their 2008 tournament; from being the dark horse to really nudging every one out of the league to lift the cup. But since then, the team has not really done much to be noticed. Having been consistent and qualifying for the play-offs last season helps in keeping the team together, but it lacks the killer instinct which may be made up with the appointment of Shane Watson as captain. The team looks very balanced on paper and can give any team a run for its money any given day.

Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH)

Team (from): Shikhar Dhawan (Captain), Dale Steyn, David Warner, Darren Sammy, Amit Mishra, Aaron Finch, Irfan Pathan, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Brendan Taylor, Moises Henriques, Venugopala Rao, Jason Holder, S Aniruddha, Manprit Juneja, KL Rahul, Amit Paunikar, Naman Ojha, Ricky Bhui, Ashish Reddy, Chama Milind, Parveez Rasool, Prashanth Parameshwaran, Karn Sharma.

Having the advantage of being the youngest franchise in the league, the Sunrisers Hyderabad, proved its mettle by qualifying to the play-offs in the 2013 season. The team really battled in some of the memorable matches of the season. Under the leadership of Shikhar Dhawan, the team looks poised to maintain its performance and do exceedingly well in season seven as well. With match winners like Dhawan, Warner, Steyn, Mishra and Sammy, this looks like the most balanced team among the lot.

Kings XI Punjab (KXIP)

Team (from): George Bailey (Captain), David Miller, Manan Vohra, Virender Sehwag, Mitchell Johnson, Cheteshwar Pujara, Shaun Marsh, Wriddhaman Saha, Thisara Perera, Glenn Maxwell, Rishi Dhawan, Anureet Singh, Sandeep Sharma, Akshar Patel, Beuran Hendricks, Karanveer Singh, Murali Kartik, Shivam Sharma, Shardul Thakur, L Balaji, Parvinder Awana, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Mandeep Singh.

This team has never really proved its mettle right from season one down to season six; there have been constant changes in leadership and that has been detrimental to its performance as well. With George Bailey at the helm and support from ‘old hands’ like Sehwag, Johnson, Saha and Balaji, it’s yet to be seen if this season brings a change in fortunes for KXIP.

Mumbai Indians (MI)

Team (from): Rohit Sharma (Captain), Lasith Malinga, Kieron Pollard, Harbhajan Singh, Ambati Rayudu, Michael Hussey, Zaheer Khan, Pragyan Ojha, Corey Anderson, Josh Hazlewood, CM Gautam, Aditya Tare, Apoorv Wankhade, Marchant de Lange, Krishmar Santokie, Ben Dunk, Pawan Suyal, Sushant Marathe, Jasprit Bumrah, Shreyas Gopal, Jalaj Saxena.

The reigning champions of season six IPL 2013, have seen it all. The first two years having struggled to not even qualify for the play-offs; followed by standing runners-up in 2010 and then finally completing the journey last year. But this year the one big change will be, Sachin Tendulkar not figuring in the squad, having retired from all forms of cricket. The team looks good and well balanced to retain its title, only time will tell if it really can.

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