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Feature

What a ten-team, four-venue IPL might look like

No team starts as favourite, but will the thinner spread of talent compromise the league's competitiveness?

The 10-team IPL has raised several talking points as the new season gets underway on Saturday. ESPNcricinfo looks at potential trends and key factors that could have a bearing on results. One thing is clear: no team starts as favourite.
Fast bowlers could dominate the powerplay
With the IPL returning to India from the UAE, batters should look forward to playing on smaller grounds and the potential for dew. But fast bowlers could enjoy themselves as well, especially at the Wankhede Stadium. During the first half of IPL 2021, which was played in India, fast bowlers were dominant during the powerplay at this venue. As per ESPNcricinfo logs, in the first six overs, fast bowlers took 31 out of 33 wickets that fell here in 20 innings, the highest for all the seven venues last season.
The Wankhede also logged the second-lowest powerplay scoring rate in IPL 2021 - 7.22 - behind only Sharjah. Franchises invested heavily on Indian fast bowlers during the auction, and the onus will be on them to drive home the early advantage.
New rule, a potential game-changer
This IPL will not only see teams have two DRS reviews per innings, but also newly revised playing conditions that, if triggered, could have a potential impact on the match result.
It concerns the new batter taking strike regardless of whether the two players crossed or not in case of a catch being taken, unless it is the last ball of an over. Previously the new batter would head to the non-striker's end if the batters crossed, but the MCC recently revised the law and the playing condition was first tried out in the Hundred last year to give the bowler the advantage. While this is applicable at any point during an innings, the effect will be felt the most in the end overs.
Take the example of Qualifier 1 between Chennai Super Kings and Delhi Capitals last season. The Capitals might have felt they had the edge when Tom Curran had Moeen Ali caught off the first ball of the final over, which had begun with the Super Kings needing 13 runs. Moeen's pull failed to clear square leg and MS Dhoni, who had hit Avesh Khan for a six in the previous over, quickly crossed to take strike. He duly finished off the match with two balls to spare and led Super Kings into the final. Under the new rule, new batter Ravindra Jadeja would have been on strike against Curran.
7.30pm starts and the dew factor
Remember Dhoni fussing about 7.30pm starts because of the dew factor? He felt that with dew usually setting in around 8pm, teams batting first were under pressure to score 15-20 extra runs in the Powerplay. To add to their challenge, teams bowling second in dewy conditions then had to also try and pick up early wickets. Dhoni hinted that the advantage was with the teams that bowled with a dry ball for the first 30-40 minutes of the match before dew kicked in. The 7.30pm starts were put in play to ensure matches didn't spill over past midnight, as had become the trend in previous seasons. The dew factor will be on the mind of teams this time around, too, when they go out to toss.
Short straight boundaries, bigger square boundaries
All four venues have short straight boundaries, measuring around 70 yards. Surfaces at all four venues are also known for good bounce and carry. The red-soil decks in Mumbai help the ball come nicely on to the bat. This means the par score could hover close to 170-180. Harshal Patel, IPL 2021's highest wicket-taker, believes bowlers can still dominate by using hard lengths on fresh pitches, as will be the case at all four venues. Harshal reckons another good strategy to counter the short straight boundaries would be to bowl very full and either at the heels of the batter or wide outside off stump. Why? To bring the longer square boundaries into play. However, teams will also need to keep in mind that one square boundary might be significantly shorter than the other; it is understood each of the four venues will use five pitches across the square to ensure all of them remain lively through the league phase.
Wristspinners vs fingerspinners
Surfaces at each of the four venues have different characteristics. While the numbers are strongly stacked against spinners of every variety, it can't be denied that spin will eventually play a part, mostly from the second half as pitches begin to tire. In the first half, though, wristspinners who are quicker through the air are likely have an edge over traditional legbreak bowlers. So expect the likes of Rashid Khan and Ravi Bishnoi to prosper as compared to, say, Kuldeep Yadav, who has struggled with his pace variations lately.
The bounce, the short boundaries, and dew are all factors that could work against loopy wristspinners. Based on the history of the venues, the role of the fingerspinners would be to contain. Their role could change towards the business end as surfaces slow down considerably due to the heat and the volume of cricket played through the tournament.
An emerging crop of new leaders
IPL 2022 will unveil four new captains: Mayank Agarwal (Punjab Kings), Hardik Pandya (Gujarat Titans), Ravindra Jadeja (Chennai Super Kings) and Faf du Plessis (Royal Challengers Bangalore). Among them, only du Plessis has the been a long-term captain, at South Africa, but even he will acknowledge that leading a popular franchise like RCB is a different challenge. His predecessor Virat Kohli, a highly successful international captain, could not take the franchise to a title in nine seasons.
Agarwal might be happy to team up with former India captain and coach Anil Kumble, but it is his responsibility to quickly earn the trust and respect of a team brimming with explosive batters. In addition, he may also have some pressure from the ownership for they have been desperate for Punjab to win an IPL title. They have rebranded the team, wiped slates clean, and changed coaches and captains several times. Will it be their year?
Jadeja was announced as CSK captain just 48 hours before their first game and has admitted he has "big boots" to fill. He will, however, benefit from Dhoni's presence even though the former India captain will want Jadeja to be his own man. That is the key to successful teams: they are made in the image of their leaders.
A test of India's talent pool
The IPL's expansion to a 10-team event will test the tournament's quality. The fluctuating auction prices for certain skillsets was the first indicator of the challenges of demand vs supply, with teams chasing the same set of players rather than looking for new ones. There is a possibility of frequent one-sided matches, which was the case a decade ago during the 2011 season when the IPL had 10 teams for the first time.
If that happens, it could affect the narrative surrounding the last days of the league phase. Since 2016, the playoffs spots have only been confirmed after the last match of the league phase. Can the 10-team IPL keep that trend going? Some pundits want the IPL to allow teams to field five overseas players in order to keep its competitive nature alive, but that might not necessarily work.
Take this auction, for example. Lucknow Super Giants, Punjab Kings and Delhi Capitals failed to even fill their quota of eight overseas slots. Then there is the issue of availability with several overseas players missing the initial set of matches for their teams. One advantage of the additional teams is that it offers opportunities to several more Indian players, especially uncapped ones. While the youngsters will be excited, their franchises will remain anxious and hopeful that they can fulfil their talent and withstand the pressure of the IPL.

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo. Gaurav Sundararaman is a Senior Stats Analyst.