Delhi CapitalsPoints table position: First
Played: 8, Won: 6, Lost: 2, Points:12
In: Shreyas Iyer, Ben Dwarshuis, Kulwant Khejroliya
Out: Aniruddha Joshi, Chris Woakes, M Siddharth
A strong start in the first half has ensured Delhi Capitals are now favourites to make the playoffs for the third consecutive season. Two further victories will assure them of that prize. Despite the absence of regular captain Shreyas Iyer (who is back having recovered from shoulder surgery), Capitals' batting did not suffer with the opening pair of Prithvi Shaw and Shikhar Dhawan adding 512 runs at a run rate of 9.25 and a handsome average of 64. It was in the powerplay phase where Capitals sealed the deal in most games. They also displayed adaptability in terms of conditions by winning in Chennai, Mumbai and Ahmedabad. They boasted the best performing spin attack in the competition during the first phase.
Their bowling was their strength last time around. Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada were crucial to their success as was the variety provided by spin twins Axar Patel and R Ashwin.
While Avesh Khan emerged as a match-winner during the first phase, the rest of the Capitals fast men struggled. They took just nine wickets at an economy of 11.17, which was the second-worst among all teams. Avesh's success meant Capitals could afford to leave out Nortje but expect him to be back in the UAE. The other issue will be picking between Steven Smith and Shimron Hetmyer for the middle order, which will be reinforced by Iyer's return. Last year in the UAE, both Shaw and Rishabh Pant, who will continue as captain*, had struggled. How they fare this time could decide whether Capitals win a maiden IPL title.
Chennai Super KingsPoints table position: Second
Played: 7, Won: 5, Lost: 2, Points:10
In: Josh Hazlewood
Out: Jason Behrendorff
If not for a Kieron Pollard blinder in Delhi, Chennai Super Kings would have been sitting on top of the table with six wins from seven matches. Having finished in the bottom half in 2020, MS Dhoni's team surprised everyone by shedding their usual conservative approach to batting. With an unmatched depth - Deepak Chahar slots in at No. 11 - Super Kings scored at a rate of 9.47 between overs 7 to 16. A lot of credit goes to the opening pair of Ruturaj Gaikwad and Faf du Plessis who set strong foundations upon which the likes of Moeen Ali and Ravindra Jadeja could build big totals. On the bowling front, Chahar and the spinners were the key playmakers.
The UAE was not a happy hunting ground for Super Kings last season. Injuries, absentees and lack of practice meant they peaked too late. Hardly any of their moves worked because virtually everyone was out of form. This time around they have been practising for over a month and would look to keep faith in what has worked in IPL 2021 rather than going back to what worked in previous seasons.
The form of their fast bowlers - Lungi Ngidi, Josh Hazlewood, Shardul Thakur and Dwayne Bravo - will be crucial for the multiple-time champions to extend their good start. There will be pressure on Suresh Raina too, who has managed 123 runs in six innings at an average of 24 with a solitary half-century. If Raina can perk up the middle order with some impactful cameos, it will ease the burden on the finishers.
Royal Challengers BangalorePoints table position: Third
Played: 7, Won: 5, Lost: 2, Points:10
In: Tim David, Wanindu Hasaranga, Dushmantha Chameera, George Garton, Akash Deep
Out: Finn Allen, Adam Zampa, Daniel Sams, Kane Richardson, Washington Sundar
Contributions from Harshal Patel, Glenn Maxwell and Devdutt Padikkal showed that Royal Challengers Bangalore were no more dependent on just Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers. The franchise has also got some attractive replacements who have the potential to be X-factor players.
That revolved around Yuzvendra Chahal and Chris Morris, both of whom played a key role in the last IPL. Chahal will be hurting after failing to make the World Cup squad, but he remains the lead spinner for Royal Challengers and his form could once again be a key factor.
Can Royal Challengers qualify for the playoffs as they did last year? Perhaps, if they find the right balance in the absence of Washington Sundar, who is recovering from a finger injury picked up at the outset of the Test series in England. For a like-for-like replacement, they might have to look at their overseas contingent, which will force at least one more change. Also, in case Harshal's cutters fail on the faster UAE pitches, the team will need to find the right bowling combination without losing momentum.
Mumbai IndiansPoints table position: Fourth
Played: 7, Won: 4, Lost: 3, Points: 8
Having won the trophy last year in the UAE, the defending champions will be a happy lot especially after enduring a difficult start in the first leg in Chennai, where the pitches were slow and low. Consequently, Mumbai's approach to batting was a conservative one. Although they started quickly in the powerplay, they had to work hard for the runs as the game progressed. Normalcy was restored when they shifted base to Delhi and Kieron Pollard blasted Super Kings to all parts to chase down a mammoth total.
When Mumbai won the championship in 2020, they had clear plans. With the bat, they kept attacking all through the innings to maximise their resources. Pollard and Hardik Pandya played stellar roles in finishing the innings. But the role that James Pattinson played with the ball will need to be taken up by either Nathan Coulter-Nile or Adam Milne. They will be key in supporting Trent Boult and Jasprit Bumrah on the helpful pitches in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Ishan Kishan and Hardik's batting form will be in focus. The big question though is, will Hardik bowl? He didn't in the first phase of this edition, but India's chief selector Chetan Sharma recently declared Hardik was fit to bowl his quota of four overs during the World Cup. If he does so for Mumbai too, then that will lend great balance to a very well-stocked team. It will also help them be flexible with their fourth overseas player, something they struggled with during the first half of this IPL. In the UAE, one would expect them to field an extra fast bowler or fast-bowling allrounder for the fourth overseas slot.
Gaurav Sundararaman is a senior stats analyst at ESPNcricinfo