Having modified his bowling action, will Sunil Narine remain the same attacking force he has been for the past three seasons with Kolkata Knight Riders, who have emerged IPL champions twice mainly because of his exploits?
Considering the drive to report bowlers with suspect actions has gathered pace only in the last year or two, there are not many reference points to understand if and how a modified action affects the bowler's performance. By the end of April, however, we should have a good idea: Narine returns to a high-profile event in the IPL on Wednesday while Pakistan offspinner and former No.1 Test bowler Saeed Ajmal will play in the Bangladesh Test series later this month.
There is bound to be anxiety in the Knight Riders camp considering they cannot afford to lose Narine. The West Indies spinner has taken 28% of the total wickets taken by his team.
According to former Pakistan offspinner Saqlain Mushtaq, who was also briefly the spin-bowling consultant with West Indies, Narine's biggest strength is that he keeps his bowling and his plans simple. He does not experiment too much. His confidence in his plans has made him the best spinner in Twenty20 cricket. Even with an altered action Narine should be expected to stick to his winning method.
Can RCB deliver bang for the buck?
Virat Kohli. Chris Gayle. AB de Villiers. Players who belong to the most flamboyant IPL team: Royal Challengers Bangalore. The bling glitters but does not get you the trophy. Royal Challengers have made it to the last-four stage three times now, same as Knight Riders. But where Knight Riders have two IPL titles to show, Royal Challengers' vaults are empty. In fact, Royal Challengers are the only team to play in two or more IPL finals without winning.
The franchise has faced stringent criticism for the way Vijay Mallya, the team's owner, has spent millions at auctions to buy players who failed to deliver. But the side's bowlers have been equally indulgent, and have come out worse in the recent editions of the tournament.
Among teams that have played in each of the last three IPLs (2012-14), Royal Challengers' bowlers have the worst economy rate (8.00), the second-worst average (28.78) and the third-worst strike rate (21.6). In the same period, their bowlers have taken the second-fewest four-wicket hauls (four). So no matter what records Gayle, Kohli and de Villiers break, their bowlers are happy to emulate them except in a losing cause.
One of the biggest weaknesses that Royal Challengers face is the absence of a quality, match-winning spinner. Last year Yuzvendra Chahal, the Haryana legspinner, was one of the finds of the tournament with his thrifty legbreaks mixed with googlies. But age and inexperience limit his talent. Royal Challengers have consistently missed out on finding a spinner who could stamp his authority and hold one end while the quicks attack from the other.
The Daredevils conundrum
Delhi Daredevils is the other high-profile franchise that has never won the IPL. A stable and continuing leadership group comprising the coach and captain, a set of senior players who form the core, along with a few young Indian domestic performers are the building blocks of any successful team.
However, Daredevils' owners have been impatient in the tournament as they have constantly chopped and changed their squad. They have let go of matchwinners like Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, de Villiers, David Warner, thus letting go of a potentially championship-winning team.
It is equally vital that owners allow the captain and coach to make the cricketing decisions and give them the space, freedom and time to test their decisions. Chennai Super Kings have left the cricketing decisions to the pair of MS Dhoni and Stephen Fleming. Rahul Dravid calls the shots at Rajasthan Royals. Gambhir, Trevor Bayliss and Wasim Akram make collective decisions at Knight Riders.
This time Daredevils seem to have given Gary Kirsten a chance to pick his own set of people he can trust in the form of JP Duminy as the captain and Alfonso Thomas as bowling coach. Kirsten has been modest to admit he is still in the learning phase as an IPL coach. In his first year, Daredevils finished at the bottom last season with just two wins.
This season Kirsten called the shots at the auction for the marquee players in his quest to assemble a balanced squad. Now that he has what he wants, his challenge would be to quickly form the bonds and links between the overseas and Indian players. This time he will also have the services of Praveen Amre, a successful domestic coach. Amre can help provide inputs on the unknown domestic players to Kirsten and Duminy as it is vital that the young Indians perform.
The World Cup scoring rate hangover
One of the revelations coming out of the World Cup was the significant advances in the scoring rate in the final 15 overs. In that period, teams batting first scored at 8.82 runs per over, which was 40% more than the run rate during the same overs for the teams chasing. Obviously the new field restrictions of having only four fielders outside the circle hurt bowlers in ODIs, but you did not see the same merciless mode of attack witnessed during the World Cup in the first two years after the ICC had introduced the new rule.
Can such a significant change inspire batsmen and coaches to adopt a different approach? The average par score for teams batting first for all seasons played in India is 161 from 382 matches. The modus operandi used by batsmen in the past IPLs has been to start aggressively in the Powerplay overs (usually score at 10 an over), consolidate till the 15-over mark before going to the kill again in the final five overs. But that figure is likely to see a correction if teams adopt the batting strategy as in the World Cup.
As pointed out in the last week's Numbers Game, in matches between the top ten teams, of the 20 times that teams had five or more wickets in hand after 35 overs, they won 16 - that's four out of five matches. This will be a key facto in T20s considering teams have more wickets in hand when they go in to bat.
Fast bowler's dilemma: Attack or concede
Eight of the top ten wicket-takers in the World Cup were fast bowlers. Considering most surfaces supported pace and had true bounce, the quicks had the license to attack and supportive captains to back them with dominating fields.
Now, can such an aggressive approach be replicated by teams in the IPL? Obviously the surfaces will get slower as the tournament stretches. There will be hardly any swing and the dew would be a big factor in the evening matches.
Still, is it not better for the fast bowlers to attack in the limited amount of time they have and take wickets rather than concede? It is a risky strategy but fast bowling coaches like Allan Donald (Royal Challengers), Shane Bond (Mumbai Indians) will fancy no doubt. A key element for that strategy to go well would depend on the success of the Indian players. Interestingly, seven of the top ten fast bowlers last IPL were Indians with Mohit Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Sandeep Sharma finishing as the top three in that category.