A new season comes with new teams and combinations - how are they all going to shape up?
Kings XI Punjab
Ideal starting XI: Aaron Finch, KL Rahul (wk), Karun Nair, Yuvraj Singh, David Miller, Marcus Stoinis, Axar Patel, R Ashwin (capt), Mohit Sharma, Barinder Sran, Andrew Tye
In Finch and Rahul, Kings XI have two fairly reliable openers. Their middle order looks a little below par with two Indians and two overseas options. While Nair's recent form is good, there's very little to suggest that Yuvraj could be the same player that he once was. Yuvraj's middling return in domestic games and Miller's lack of form at the international level might force them to play Karnataka opener Mayank Agarwal, who scored a record 2141 runs across formats in the last domestic season, in place of an Indian fast bowler. But if Agarwal plays, King XI will have a problem of plenty at the top. They also don't have enough finishers in the batting order, so they will be hoping Miller finds form quickly and Stoinis has season to remember. In Patel, Ashwin and Tye, they have a bank of 12 overs in almost every single game. Mohit will have to share the burden of bowling in the death overs and could be seen as a slightly weaker option. If Sran's fast bowling gets shafted for Agarwal's batting, Stoinis will have to bowl his full quota and one of the spinners will have to bowl in the Powerplay. King XI have a side that can give them a better result than in the last few, but the lack of formidable back-up options could lead to trouble mid-season.
Gautam Gambhir (capt), Colin Munro, Rishabh Pant (wk), Shreyas Iyer, Glenn Maxwell, Vijay Shankar, Chris Morris, Amit Mishra, Shahbaz Nadeem, Trent Boult, Mohammed Shami
Out of the potential six opening options, I've picked Munro and Gambhir to open in the first few games. While Gambhir is best suited at the top of the order, there was a like for like choice in Jason Roy and Munro. Both are destructive openers, but I've gone for Munro because of his recent form and his successful tour to India last winter. Both Pant and Iyer are at their best if they get in early, so I'd be tempted to send Pant in at No. 3 if Munro falls first and Iyer at the fall of Gambhir. That way one end can be occupied by a striker and the other by a grafter. If Daredevils are to do well, Maxwell will have to fire more regularly, and he will have two more hitters in Shankar and Morris following him. I'm expecting Morris, a fast-bowling allrounder, to get a much bigger role with the bat. He could be used as a floater depending on the number of overs left. In Nadeem and Mishra, Daredevils have all-season spin options. Shami's performances in the IPL haven't been great. He will be expected to turn it around but if he fails to do so, the other Indian options of Avesh Khan and Harshal Patel aren't threatening enough.
Bowlers who can bash: Who will be this IPL's pinch hitter?
Sunil Narine provided Kolkata Knight Riders with a powerful option at the top. Which other players will do the same this year?
Evin Lewis, Ishan Kishan (wk), Rohit Sharma (capt), Krunal Pandya, Kieron Pollard, Hardik Pandya, Suryakumar Yadav, Pat Cummins, Mustafizur Rahman, Jasprit Bumrah, Rahul Chahar
Mumbai have three opening options but if they are to optimise their resources, Rohit must bat at three, for both Kishan and Lewis might struggle to get going against spin. After three explosive openers, they have three allrounders in the Pandya brothers and Pollard. While allrounders offer balance, too many of them might make you feel the absence of specialists in the middle order. Pollard is expected to play a bigger role, and Suryakumar Yadav could be given the dual responsibility of stabilising the innings in case of a collapse and play as a finisher if need be. In Cummins, Mustafizur and Bumrah, Mumbai boasts of one of the finest fast bowling units in the tournament. Chahar is a promising young legspinner who could turn out to be either the trump card or the weak link - if he fails, they won't have any Indian spin option. Mumbai have a strong first XI but by retaining five of their last year's team, they didn't have enough money left to pick back-up options. The only other issue will be how long Cummins will remain fit, given his recent workload and history of injuries.
Chennai Super Kings
Shane Watson, Faf du Plessis, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni (capt and wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Harbhajan Singh, Dwayne Bravo, Mark Wood, Shardul Thakur
Super Kings have picked a team that's best suited for the conditions they are likely to get in Chennai. The pitch at Chepauk has become really slow, which is why they have picked a bunch of good spinners and plenty of Indian batsmen in the middle order. They do have the choice of playing various opening combinations without tinkering with the engine room of their batting - they can play Sam Billings and M Vijay for either Watson or du Plessis or both. The one major area of concern is their fast bowling - Wood, Lungi Ngidi, Thakur, Deepak Chahar and other Indian options aren't really the bankable options in either the start or the end of a T20 innings. This could put them in a spot of bother in away games. They also don't have the finishers who can help boost the score in many games.
Rahul Tripathi, Ajinkya Rahane (capt), Sanju Samson, Heinrich Klassen, Jos Buttler (wk), Ben Stokes, Stuart Binny, K Gowtham, Jofra Archer, Dhawal Kulkarni, Jaydev Unadkat
Rajasthan Royals are no longer the Moneyball team they used to be. They have not only spent every single penny available to them but have also made some of the biggest purchases at the auction. Since they don't have Smith, Rahane can bat the way he does - slow and steady, deep into the innings. Tripathi is likely to open with Rahane and bat the way he batted last season (scoring 391 runs at a strike rate of 146.44). But it's not often that an uncapped Indian player produces two consecutive seasons of the same quality with the bat. While they do have D'arcy Short as an explosive opening option, the lack of an Indian batting option might keep him out at the start of the tournament. In Buttler and Stokes, Royals have two of the most explosive finishers in the tournament. Spin could be their Achilles' heel since their three spinners have only 19 IPL wickets combined. But in Archer and Unadkat, they have raw pace and some stealth at top and tail of the innings.
Royal Challengers Bangalore
Parthiv Patel (wk) and Brendon McCullum/Quinton de Kock and Manan Vohra, Virat Kohli (capt), AB de Villiers, Sarfaraz Khan, Colin De Grandhomme, Washington Sundar, Chris Woakes, Yuzvendra Chahal, Umesh Yadav, Mohammad Siraj
During the auction, it felt like Royal Challengers were trying to address the bowling woes of the earlier seasons. While they have managed to address it somewhat, their bowling still isn't as strong as it should be for a team that plays on a bowler's graveyard. The strength lies in their batting, with the cream at the top once again. None of the four opening options - Parthiv, Vohra, de Kock and McCullum - is ideally suited to bat outside the opening slots, but if two of them end up in the XI, it will force Kohli to drop himself to No. 3. The top-heavy team doesn't have the finishers they ideally need, but that's because they expect Kohli or de Villiers to be there till the end. In Sundar and Chahal, they have two reliable spinners, and if you add Woakes, they have 12 overs taken care of on most days. The problem area will be their death bowling because while Woakes might hold one end, the other will have to be propped up by Umesh or Siraj, both of whom are susceptible to leaking plenty of runs.
Kane Williamson (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Manish Pandey, Deepak Hooda, Shakib Al Hasan, Carlos Brathwaite, Rashid Khan, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Siddarth Kaul, Sandeep Sharma/Syed Khaleel/ AhmedBasil Thampi
At the auction, Sunrisers looked like one of the most balanced sides in the IPL, with back-up options for almost every single spot. Without tinkering with their strengths, they managed to plug the holes in the middle order. They have Pandey, Shakib, Hooda and Brathwaite in the middle, and Mohammad Nabi and Yusuf Pathan (who can both also chip in with the ball) waiting in the wings. In Saha, they have addressed the problem they had with the wicketkeeper, for you want a quality keeper to stand up to Rashid Khan's legspin. In Shakib, Rashid and Bhuvneshwar, they have a bank of 12 overs, and Kaul, Khaleel and Sandeep aren't weak options to support the main cast. They also have the part-time bowling options in Brathwaite and Hooda, in case things go wrong. The absence of Warner has put a spanner in the works for Sunrisers. The new captain, Williamson, might not be as explosive an opener as Warner, but he will be able to the hold the innings together till the 13th or 14th over. If that doesn't work, they can always install Hales at the top with Dhawan and hope for Pathan or Hooda to play the finisher's role. In that case, Brathwaite will have to wait for his turn.
Kolkata Knight Riders
Chris Lynn, Robin Uthappa (wk), Shubman Gill, Dinesh Karthik (capt), Nitish Rana, Andre Russell, Ishan Jaggi, Sunil Narine, Kuldeep Yadav, Mitchell Johnson/Tom Curran, Vinay Kumar/ Kamlesh Nagarkoti
Having invested half their budget on four overseas options in Lynn, Narine, Russell and Starc, Knight Riders found themselves in a slightly tricky spot when acquiring Indian players. They have some of the biggest IPL match-winners but they also have the most holes that need filling. Gill must bat at three, but that means Narine can't open because sending Uthappa at four would be unfair and it would push Karthik further down the order. Rana had a good season for Mumbai last year at No. 3 but there's no space for him in the Knight Riders' top four. It's anybody's guess whether he could be effective at No. 5 and play the finisher's role. Also, Russell must not bat lower than five or six, but that will leave Jaggi to shore the tail in case things go wrong. Their bowling looks fairly sharp and varied. Kuldeep and Narine are wicket-taking options. But since none of the top five bowl, Russell will be forced to finish his quota in every game. It's also worth mentioning that Knight Riders don't have fallback options if form or fitness issues develop during the season.