IPL means Kohli moves from the long to the short of cricket
Little more than a week after an acrimonious test series win over Australia, India captain Virat Kohli may have to share the locker room with some Australians at the Royal Challengers Bangalore.
India’s cricket schedule switches quickly from the longest format to the shortest, with the Twenty20 Indian Premier League starting Wednesday when RCB takes on the defending champion Sunrisers Hyderabad in a rematch of the 2016 tournament decider.
Kohli, who missed the series-clinching test against Australia in Dharamsala because of a shoulder injury, is captain of the RCB team in the 10th edition of the IPL and his availability will be key to the team.
He swept the record books when he smashed 973 runs in 16 matches with fluent hundreds and seven half centuries in the last edition of the IPL, but his individual success didn’t quite get his team across the last hurdle as it was beaten by eight runs in the final.
His T20 season may be slower getting started this year, with Kohli hinted that it may take him few weeks to get fully recover from the injury after a grueling test schedule that involved 13 matches across four series.
The Challengers have plenty of firepower without him, including West Indies great Chris Gayle and South Africa captain A.B. de Villiers. The Challengers were unsuccessful in their bidding for Ben Stokes, but managed to contract England fast bowler Tymal Mills.
None of the Australians in the Kohli’s Challengers squad — Travis Head, Shane Watson and Billy Stanlake — were involved in the test series.
But David Warner is captain of the Sunrisers, and his team includes fellow Australians Ben Cutting and Moises Henriques and New Zealand captain Kane Richardson.
Warner had a poor run in the test series, but when it comes to shortest format the diminutive left-handed opener can match it with the best.
Another left-hander Yurvraj Singh, who recently played for India in some one-day internationals against England, is another key component in the Sunriser’s armory along with fast bowler Bhubaneswar Kumar, who was the leading wicket-taker last year with 23.
The Sunrisers have expanded recruitment beyond the traditional cricket nations, too, by contracting 18-year-old Afghanistan leg-spinner Rashid Khan.
“IPL is the biggest (T20) league in the world, much bigger than playing associate cricket,” Rashid said. “It feels unreal that I will be sharing the dressing room with the players I have grown up watching on television.”
The opening matches continue Friday with Rising Pune against Mumbai Indians and Saturday with Gujarat Lions taking on Kolkata Knight Riders and Kings XI Punjab in action for the first time against Rising Pune.
Kolkata Knight Riders, owned by Bollywood celebrity Shahrukh Khan, spent around $9 million in the offseason trying to build another winning combination by drafting in New Zealand fast bowler Trent Boult, England all-rounder Chris Woakes and West Indian Darren Bravo.
KKR retained captain Gautam Gambhir, Sunil Narine and Shakib Al Hasan and is a contender for the title.
Another ex-champion, Mumbai Indians, will be banking on the experience of Lasith Malinga, Harbhajan Singh, Kieron Pollard and newly inducted Mitchell Johnson to have another shot at the title. They have also bought young West Indian power hitter Nicholas Pooran and Sri Lankan Asela Gunaratne.
Delhi Daredevils have lost key player J.P. Dumminy, the South Africa allrounder, but have bolstered their pace bowling stocks with the addition of Kagiso Rabada and Pat Cummins.
Steve Smith has replaced MS Dhoni as Rising Pune Supergiants captain for this year and will have two veteran legspinners in his squad, with Adam Zampa — who had the best bowling figures (6-19) and best bowling average (9.58) — staying and Imran Tahir missing out at auction but getting a contract when allrounder Mitchell Marsh was ruled out.
Tahir had 29 wickets in 20 matches for the Daredevils but played only four IPL matches last season.
The Supergiants signed Ben Stokes for $2.16 million and have Dan Christian as their other key foreign player.
New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum, England’s Jason Roy and India’s versatile left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja will be carrying hopes of Gujrat Lions.
At $7.77 million Kings XI Punjab is the least expensive team in the 10th edition. Led by Australia’s Glen Maxwell, Punjab has got some exciting T20 players including England’s Eoin Morgan, New Zealand’s Martin Guptill and West Indies World Twenty20-winning captain Darren Sammy.
The tournament will conclude with a final on May 22.