IPL teams that have more South African players in their side, especially Bangalore, have a clear home advantage now that the tournament has been relocated to that country, coaches and players from the league have said.
Ray Jennings, the coach of Royal Challengers Bangalore, which has five South Africans in the team, the maximum in this season's IPL, says his side has a definite tactical advantage - Jennings himself is a former South Africa coach. Darren Berry, the coach of Rajasthan Royals, the IPL champions who have three South Africans in their side, including Graeme Smith, the national captain, says the insights provided by these players would be an advantage. And Adam Gilchrist, who will lead Hershchelle Gibbs as captain of Deccan Chargers, says that local knowledge would add a new dimension to this IPL starting on April 18.
"Tactically, it must be an advantage," Jennings said. "The coaching staff is also from South Africa so the preparation would be done to perfection because we obviously know what we are doing. Our team may have more of a home base than anybody else because we have five South African players and six if you count Kevin Pietersen, the captain."
Shaun Pollock, who is coaching Mumbai Indians, admits that Bangalore has an advantage with players like Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher and Dale Steyn in the side. "Probably Bangalore have a slight advantage as they have five South African players," Pollock said.
But Mumbai Indians, who he coaches along with Jonty Rhodes are not far behind, having signed up JP Duminy, the star allrounder, for US$ 950,000 this year. "But it doesn't count for too much as people play in all kinds of conditions," Pollock said. "As for Mumbai, quite a few of our Indian guys are here and that works to our advantage as they are exposed to the local conditions and that will definitely help."
Berry says Rajasthan Royals would fancy their chances, too, having players of the calibre of Smith in the side. "It is good we have a got strong South African contingent (Graeme Smith, Morne Morkel, Tyron Henderson)," he said. "It is an advantage. We are lucky that Smith, the South African captain, whose insight will help into what the conditions we can expect."
Gilchirst, who has Gibbs to bank on for Deccan Chargers, admits that local knowledge provides a definite edge. "Obviously some local knowledge always helps," he said. "But it would be interesting to see various team make-ups coming under close scrutiny now that the venue has changed with different conditions and different circumstances to what everyone was planning for in India. It does add a new dimension."
However, the players and coaches admitted that adaptability would be a key factor on South African pitches, irrespective of whether teams have South African players or not.
"South African conditions will present a different set of circumstances than India and with that we have the flexibility in our squad to alter what type of player we will take," Berry said. "You must have players who can adapt to different conditions. We have that but there were some teams last year in the IPL that didn't have players who could adapt. Perhaps bowling will have a bigger impact in South Africa as they could benefit from the bounce and carry the pitches offer there."
Pollock agrees but adds that spinners may have a crucial role to play over the next two months. "Yes, definitely," he said. "If you look at the records during the Twenty20 World Cup guys like Harbhajan Singh and Daniel Vettori did well so I have no doubt spinners will have a role to play."
As for the South African players, they are just happy to be playing at home after almost 18 months on the road, including gruelling tours to England and Australia. "From a personal point of view, it's fantastic that we don't have to leave the country again," Dale Steyn said. "We have spent so much time on the road over the last two years, and to have the Champions Trophy and now the IPL at home will be great for all of us. It feels like we are forever going overseas, and it will be nice to spend more time with family and friends."
(With inputs from Alex Brown)