Five things I'm curious about in the 2021 IPL

How will CSK use Raina and Dhoni? Where will Glenn Maxwell bat? Will Shaw find his mojo?

Aakash Chopra
Aakash Chopra
The Chennai Super Kings will need runs from both Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni if they are to recover from the debacle of last season  •  BCCI

The Chennai Super Kings will need runs from both Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni if they are to recover from the debacle of last season  •  BCCI

Will Dhoni and Raina be undercooked?
The 2021 IPL will determine whether last season was a confirmation of MS Dhoni's waning powers with the bat. CSK urgently need to reboot. The lockdown and the Covid-19 cases in the camp leading up to the 2020 IPL were cited as the main reasons for why the team had their worst season ever, but now there's no such excuse.
Suresh Raina is back in the fold, but leading in to the tournament, he has chosen to play only a minuscule amount of domestic cricket, while Dhoni has opted not to play at all. It will be interesting to see how the lack of game time affects their ability to hit the ground running and the impact it has on the combination of the final XI. Early in the last IPL, Chennai played with only five bowlers because they lacked confidence in their batting unit. They might have a tough time if they were to do the same again, considering their first five games are at the high-scoring Wankhede in Mumbai.
Narine or Shakib?
The Kolkata Knight Riders' auction strategy was built around four overseas players. While Eoin Morgan, Andre Russell and Pat Cummins are automatic picks, it will be interesting to see what KKR do when it comes to choosing their fourth overseas player.
Offspinner Sunil Narine has been an important cog in their wheel, but last season his bowling action came under scrutiny once again, and most teams have found a way to contain him as a batsman in the powerplay overs. If he's not likely to bowl or bat in the powerplay, and he isn't trusted to bowl in the death overs, KKR must seriously consider benching him for Shakib Al Hasan, who is a like-for-like replacement.
Will Maxwell fire for the Royal Challengers?
The Royal Challengers Bangalore have been pretty vocal about the need to ease the batting burden on Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers, which is why they broke the bank to buy Glenn Maxwell at the auction in January.
But the 2020 IPL was Maxwell's worst season. He made 108 runs at a strike rate of 101.88 from 11 innings, the fewest he has scored in seasons where he has batted in at least 11 innings. He said he didn't know what his role was in the Kings XI Punjab side and that might have contributed to his poor returns.
Traditionally, RCB aren't a franchise to stick with an underperforming player for too long and it will be interesting to see if Maxwell can start strongly and how the franchise responds if he doesn't. Will he be allowed to bat at four or given No. 5 in most games? Will his approach with the bat in the first few games be as aggressive as it is in most cases or will he take some time to run himself into form this time around? In the IPL, Maxwell has been an enigma that a lot of teams have unsuccessfully tried to decipher. Will RCB be different?
Will Rohit Sharma change his method?
Rohit Sharma is one of the finest batsmen in the world, particularly in white-ball cricket, where he is a big match-winner, but for some reason his talent doesn't reflect in his numbers with the bat for the Mumbai Indians. Of course he contributes with crucial runs every now and then but figures of 4060 runs from 151 innings at 31.47 and a strike rate of 130.37 across ten seasons don't quite do justice to his skills.
This season Mumbai's first nine games are going to be on spin-friendly pitches in Chennai and Delhi. That puts a lot of onus on the team's batting group to deliver and it will be interesting to see if the situation brings the best out of Sharma. In the last three months, we have seen him put a price on his wicket for India. He isn't averse to the idea of taking time to get an innings going. Will he continue in the same fashion for his franchise? Or will he go back to being more aggressive from the get-go? That might result in another below-par season by the lofty standards he has set for himself.
Big season for Shaw
At 21, Prithvi Shaw has already seen some serious ups and downs in his career. He had a very ordinary season in the last IPL and carried that lack of form to Australia, which led to him losing his Test spot. The Delhi Capitals coach Ricky Ponting's revelations about their conversations during the 2020 IPL have provided some insight into the making of Shaw's mind. His approach to a lean patch was unusual, but that's who Shaw is - unorthodox and unconventional. He has amassed a mountain of runs since his return from Australia and is believed to be batting the best he has ever batted. In the absence of the injured Shreyas Iyer, Shaw is likely to get a really long rope at the top of the order for the Capitals. The world is waiting to see how he fares this season, for if he fulfils his potential, we are in for an entertaining ride.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of three books, the latest of which is The Insider: Decoding the craft of cricket. @cricketaakash