IPL 2009 Preview - Part 1 April 14, 2009

Seeking redemption

Sometimes, perceptions can be dead accurate. Sometimes, they can go so wrong. The buzz before the inaugural IPL season said Royal Challengers - notwithstanding the flamboyance of their owner, Vijay Mallya - looked too much of a "Test" team to shine in Twenty20. Sure enough, they flopped, finishing one place above the bottom. The buzz also had Deccan Chargers as the perfect Twenty20 team. They ended one below Bangalore.

Heads have rolled in both teams. There are new captains - Adam Gilchrist for Hyderabad and Kevin Pietersen for Bangalore (Jacques Kallis will lead when Pietersen leaves after two weeks) - and new coaches, Darren Lehmann for Hyderabad and Ray Jennings for Bangalore. Bangalore have a new approach, Hyderabad a new look - literally, in their redesigned strip. This season, both teams will be seeking redemption.

BANGALORE

After the embarrassment of 2008, Vijay Mallya may finally have a team to match his persona. Kevin Pietersen will raise the glamour quotient way above Test level, and fellow new boys Jesse Ryder and Robin Uthappa will beef up the team's T20 skills. And with quite a few South African cricketers in their ranks it will be almost like playing at home. Dale Steyn, who publicly said last season the IPL was like a paid holiday, is sure to rev up his performance. Perhaps the most important South African in their ranks will be the coach - Jennings is known to be a hard taskmaster and will certainly crack the whip.

The buzz

It's all about Ray Jennings, who has fired from the hip right from the start. He warned the "older" players, expressed worries about Rahul Dravid's captaincy, and criticized the seniors. "The team lacked energy, commitment and skills. If you don't enjoy each other's company it must be a long six weeks," Jennings said. "I will point fingers at the senior players. They are the one who must have run that type of the culture in the side."

New faces

Don't look beyond Jesse Ryder. Yes, they have KP but he'll be there only for two weeks. Ryder, in contrast, could be the Shane Watson of this edition. He can win a game in 20 minutes of violent batting, with a spectacular fielding effort or with a spell of his nagging, and surprisingly effective, medium-pace.

Watch out for

Dale Steyn has apologised for his silly comment and can be expected to up his game. He has been in great form in international cricket, leading South Africa recently to memorable victories and he will be playing at home.

Missing in action

Rahul Dravid and KP after two weeks. For all the criticism, Dravid was easily the highest run-getter for Bangalore last year. However, he will be returning home for the birth of his second child. Pietersen will go back to play for England in the home series against West Indies.

X Factor

Bhuvneshwar Kumar. A nippy medium pacer, also known as the man who handed Sachin Tendulkar his first duck in Indian domestic cricket, and a useful lower-order batsman. He is not an explosive talent by any stretch of imagination, but is likely to be a very steady and consistent performer.

Strength

The openers. Bangalore struggled to find a regular pair last year but have Ryder and Robin Uthappa for this edition.

Weakness

The relatively thin Indian talent and the unavailability of Pietersen after two weeks. While Ross Taylor will replace KP the batsman, Kallis is unproven as a leader and has lots to prove as a batsman in this format.

Prediction for 2009

Will do much better than 2008 and will cause a few upsets

IPL 2008 - The key figures

Final position: 7th
Top scorer: Rahul Dravid with 371 runs at 28.53
Top wicket-taker: Steyn with 10 wickets at 25.23 and economy rate of 6.63
Best result: Five-wicket win over Mumbai Indians
Worst result: 140-run loss to Kolkata Knight Riders
Highest team score: 181 v Delhi
Lowest team score: 82 v Kolkata

HYDERABAD

Strangely, Deccan Chargers didn't show much interest in the transfer market this year, planning instead to rely on last year's underperforming squad to seek redemption. They will depend heavily on the likes of Rohit Sharma, their best player last year, Gilchrist, Andrew Symonds and Herschelle Gibbs to justify their paycheques. Symonds' career graph has gone downhill since last year, Gilchrist hasn't played much competitive cricket, Gibbs is just making his international comeback - though he has hit form - and even Rohit has slipped since then. The bowling looks pretty weak, with RP Singh leading the attack. They will bank on the fact that for several players, this IPL could be the platform to improve their international career and so, they have to perform.

The buzz

Perhaps the lack of buzz itself was the buzz. For a team that performed woefully last year, they didn't show any visible sense of purpose in this year's auction. The sacking of VVS Laxman as the captain was announced, oddly enough, during Australia's tour of India, a decision widely criticized for its timing. And then the infighting - Shahid Afridi hit out at Laxman, who in turn turned the mirror on Afridi. On the upside - their new uniform, dumping the drab beige for a livelier obsidian blue.

New faces

Neither of the two big signings - West Indians Fidel Edwards and Dwayne Smith - inspires awe. Edwards is quick but hasn't proved himself in Twenty20, and Smith, in theory perfectly suited to the format, has rarely turned on the heat in his international career.

Watch out for

Andrew Symonds. It's a risky pick, given that he hasn't coped well in the recent volatile months, but he undeniably has the skills to turn things around. No one can predict which Andrew Symonds turns up but for his team to do well, Symonds has to fire.

Missing in action

Shahid Afridi. He was the biggest flop last year but it could have just been an aberration for the violent hitter and smart spinner, for whom Twenty20 could have been the calling card.

X Factor

Ravi Teja. He is a young talented attacking opening batsman for the Hyderabad Ranji team and, given the opportunities, can make his name in the IPL. Not many have hit Glenn McGrath for six over cover point.

Strength

Rohit Sharma. He had a stellar first year that prompted experts to believe he would be the face of the new Indian batting line-up. However, he's been on the decline since then and his spot in the Indian team is now in question. This IPL could be his platform to charge back to form. He has the game. Does he have the heart?

Weakness

The bowling. RP Singh will be leading the pack and the rest don't inspire much optimism. Safe to say not many batting line-ups will lose sleep over facing this attack.

Prediction for 2009

Likely to end in the bottom half

IPL 2008 - The key figures

Final position: 8th
Top scorer: Gilchrist with 436 at 33.53
Top wicket-taker: RP Singh: 15 wickets at 29.46 and an economy rate of 8.61
Best result: 10-wicket win over Mumbai
Worst result: Nine-wicket loss to Delhi
Highest team score: 214 for 5 v Rajasthan Royals
Lowest team score: 110 v Kolkata

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo