IPL 2009 Preview - Part 2 April 15, 2009

Northern lights

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The two northern teams ended the last season at par - both were semi-finalists - but their fortunes are likely to be very different this time around. They are led by two fearless and classy strikers, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh, but that's where the similarities end. Sehwag will almost certainly win this particular rivalry: Delhi have got stronger with their additions and are heavily tipped to win the tournament. Yuvraj's Punjab, meanwhile, appear to be weighed down with injury and form issues.

DELHI

Delhi are the team to beat. They had a mixed first season, playing like millionaires one day before inexplicably losing the plot the next to finish with seven wins and six losses going into the semi-finals. They were too top-heavy, with a middle-order that didn't deliver when it mattered. This edition, apart from the in-form Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, they have the explosive David Warner and AB de Villiers, in form of his life, for most of the season. Throw in Sri Lanka's new Twenty20 captain Tillakaratne Dilshan, Manoj Tiwary, Owais Shah, Dinesh Karthik and Paul Collingwood and you have a fabulous batting line-up.

Glenn McGrath is 40 and out of active cricket, concentrating on the cancer foundation after his wife's death last year. Age, lack of practice and personal tragedy are enough to derail a very good sportsman but McGrath is an all-time great and only a brave man would bet against his delivering yet again. He leads an attack that will miss Mohammad Asif but he is likely to find solid support from Dirk Nannes, the fast left-arm swinger from Australia known for his Twenty20 prowess. Then there is Daniel Vettori, currently the world's best Twenty20 spinner, and solid mediumpacers Farveez Maharoof and Vijaykumar Yo Mahesh. It's a very balanced side - but McGrath's form could make or break their season.

The buzz

The relative absence of PR hype is unusual, given the team's potential. It's only at the eleventh hour, following the Indian team's return from New Zealand, that Sehwag and Gambhir - arguably the hottest opening pair in current world cricket - have been trotted out for the media's consumption.

New faces

Delhi used the auction smartly - they did their homework and reaped the benefits. Warner was signed up even before his Twenty20 Australian debut. They signed up the late bloomer Nannes, who'd made his first-class debut at 29; from the unfancied Vidarbha came Umesh Yadav, a fast bowler with a sharp bouncer. And they traded out the talented batsman Shikhar Dhawan for an additional bowler in Ashish Nehra. Warner, though is the star pick, the face most eagerly watched by the fans. He might even open with Sehwag, with Gambhir at No. 3. He hit a 43-ball 83 against South Africa on his Twenty20 debut and has a strike rate of 148.17 in this format.

Watch out for

AB de Villiers is on a dream run in his international career. He made a brave announcement at the start of the season that he doesn't want to keep to help him become the No 1 batsman in the world. And he has walked the talk. Expect a flow of runs from him.

Missing in action

That's the beauty of it - all their top players are available through the season.

X Factor

Umesh Yadav. He has the pace and he can develop his skills under the guidance of fast bowling experts like Dennis Lillee and TA Sekhar, the men involved with Delhi. Those who watched the Duleep Trophy last season remember how he harassed the likes of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman.

Strength

The top order: Sehwag, Gambhir, de Villiers, and Warner. Top that.

Weakness

The middle order, even if it's unlikely to be as unpredictable as last year. The good thing this time is that the likes of Dilshan and Karthik (in domestic cricket) were in great form in the recent months. And Tiwary, while not quite in the form that got him an India berth, has been among the runs.

PREDICTION FOR 2009

A place in the semis - and it won't be a surprise if they lift the trophy.

IPL 2008 - The key figures:

Final position: Semi-finalists Top scorer: Gautam Gambhir with 534 runs at 41.07 Top wicket-taker: Yo Mahesh with 16 wickets at 23.12 and economy rate of 8.87 Best result: nine-wicket win over Rajasthan Worst result: 105-run loss to Rajasthan Highest team score: 194 v Deccan Chargers Lowest team score: 87 v Rajasthan

PUNJAB

They were last year's entertainers. Sreesanth walked the talk, Shaun Marsh exploded into the public imagination, Brett Lee was among the wickets and Irfan Pathan played the part of the allrounder. Sri Lankan stalwarts Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara took care of the middle order while also acting as a sounding board for captain Yuvraj Singh. However, things aren't so good this time: Sreesanth is out with an injury, Marsh is returning from a long injury lay-off and will miss a few games playing for Australia, Lee is in decline (and also back from an injury and also playing for Australia), Jayawardene and Sangakkara haven't been in great limited-overs form - and, importantly, this will be their first bit of cricket since the shootout at Lahore. Yuvraj Singh, who didn't shine in last year's edition, will have to carry the show this time around.

The buzz

Unfortunately, the buzz has centered round their setbacks. Just when they'd dealt with Sreesanth's injury, turning him into their "Fan Mentor and Community face" (whatever that means), came the news of the motor accident involving new signing Jerome Taylor. They have now roped in the South African seamer Yusuf Abdulla.

New faces

Lee has talked up a rookie - Burt Cockley, a 23-year old fast bowler from New South Wales. He is a groundsman at North Sydney Oval and has never played in an official Twenty20 game. Better known is Ravi Bopara, the English batsman with Punjabi roots.

Watch out for

Yuvraj Singh. We know that he can be violent in the shorter format of the game but it will be really interesting to see how he copes with the responsibility of leading the batting.

Missing in action

Leave aside the entertainer, Sreesanth the bowler will be sorely missed by Punjab. He was their highest wicket taker, with 19 wickets, last season.

X Factor

Bopara, with his batting and slow bowling, will have to step up to ease the batting worries created by the absence of several Australian players like Marsh and James Hopes.

Strength

In the absence of a strong attack, it has to be their batting. And for that, Yuvraj has to really fire consistently.

Weakness

Fast bowling. With Sreesanth out and Lee available only for a short duration, it comes down to Irfan Pathan and VRV Singh. They also have Ramesh Powar and, if the ongoing ODIs in South Africa is any indication, he could have a role to play on the turning wickets.

PREDICTION FOR 2009

Unlikely to make the semis.

IPL 2008 - The key figures:

Final position: Semi-finalists Top scorer: Marsh with 616 runs at 68.44 Top wicket-taker: Sreesanth, with 19 wickets at 23.26 Best result: Nine-wicket win over Bangalore Worst result: Nine-wicket loss to Chennai Highest team score: 221 for 3 v Rajasthan Lowest team score: 112 for 8 v Chennai (they made 94 for 3 once but they had successfully chased down then)

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo