The Indian Premier League is back on home soil as the 14th season of the Twenty20 tournament begins on Friday.

Due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 edition was not only delayed until late in the year but also transported away from India, with the United Arab Emirates hosting proceedings.

There was still one constant, however. Mumbai Indians once again came out on top, making it three titles in four years. The reigning champions will take some stopping again this time around, but their rivals will hope some fresh faces can help a different name secure the trophy.

Ahead of a new campaign, Stats Perform News makes use of Opta data to pick out six intriguing players who will hope to make a difference for their franchises in the coming weeks, as well as capitalise on the opportunity to impress with a Twenty20 World Cup to come in India later in 2021.


Kyle Jamieson (Royal Challengers Bangalore)

Boom or bust? Bangalore paid a premium in a three-way bidding war to get Jamieson, who became the second-most expensive player purchased at this year's auction, eventually going for 15 crores (around $2million).

The Royal Challengers went all in betting on the potential of a player who, while still in the early stages of his international career, has impressed in all formats for New Zealand. He had played just four T20 games for the Black Caps at the time – and has since endured a tough series against Australia on home soil, during which there was just one wicket at an average of 175.

Jamieson has been one of the top performers for his country in Tests, picking up 36 wickets at a staggering average of 13.27 since his debut against India last year. There have been eye-catching performances at domestic level in T20 outings – he claimed figures of 6-7 for Canterbury.

The pressure will be on to live up to the hefty fee in his first taste of the IPL, while it should help his cause that he can contribute with the bat down the order, too.

Dawid Malan (Punjab Kings)

The numbers do not lie – Malan averages 50.15 in T20 action for England, scoring his runs at a strike-rate of 144.31 runs per 100 balls. His performances have him perched at the top of the ICC batsman rankings, comfortably clear of nearest rival Aaron Finch at the summit.

And yet, for all that the left-hander has achieved, there still remains the odd doubter over his fit in England's XI, particularly as he has often built momentum through an innings, rather than putting the pedal to the floor immediately like so many of his international team-mates.

Still, in the recent series against India, Malan was the third-highest scorer with 148 runs. That tally included 68 in the decider when he showed how he is more than capable of going on the attack from the off.

Despite the impressive numbers, Punjab Kings had no competition to secure Malan's services at the auction. He now joins a franchise who has to deal with a logjam when it comes to top-order batsmen, considering the presence of captain KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal and Chris Gayle on the roster. 

Moeen Ali (Chennai Super Kings)

The England all-rounder was one of 10 players released by Royal Challengers Bangalore, having featured in only six games in 2020 as the franchise endured yet another disappointing campaign.

However, considering his ball-striking capabilities and capacity to have an impact with the ball, it was hardly surprising to see him find a new home in the auction. Now he is a member of a Chennai Super Kings franchise that has freshened things up after failing to make the play-offs for the first time in their history.

Moeen managed 309 runs and claimed 10 wickets in 2020, posting an economy rate of 7.1 runs per over, but did RCB get the most out of a player whose career IPL strike-rate sits at 158.5 runs per 100 deliveries? The 33-year-old has excelled up the order in the English domestic T20 competition, capitalising on more regular opportunities with two hundreds and 13 half-centuries.

It was perhaps surprising to see him not used in the recent five-match T20 series by England too, considering his off-spin bowling would have added a different dimension to the attack. In T20I games played in India, Moeen has an economy rate of 7.8 runs per over – that is his best in any country where he has played three or more times.

Rahul Tewatia (Rajasthan Royals)

Tewatia had made 20 IPL appearances combined across the previous five seasons before becoming a regular in 2020 with the Royals, who secured the all-rounder via a trade with the Delhi Capitals.

A left-handed batsman who also bowls leg-spin, the 27-year-old had made his debut with the same team back in 2014, then also spent a season with Kings XI Punjab (now rebranded as Punjab Kings) in 2017. However, Tewatia finally fitted in with Rajasthan last year, including claiming 10 wickets in 14 matches while going at a respectable economy rate of 7.08 runs per over.

It was his batting exploits, however, that raised his profile – and one innings in particular against Kings XI. Having laboured to 17 from 23 deliveries in a run chase, he then proceeded to hit six of the next seven he faced over the boundary. The stunning spell of hitting included five maximums in an over off West Indies paceman Sheldon Cottrell, as he helped his team reach a target of 224. 

While picked in India's T20 squad to play against England, Tewatia did not feature in the series. Still, his ball striking – he scored at a strike-rate of 160.3 against pace in the last IPL, with a boundary strike-rate of 19 per cent – could lead to international opportunities in the future.

Shahrukh Khan (Punjab Kings)

To say the IPL auction was a life-changing moment for Shahrukh is an understatement. The 25-year-old batsman eventually went to the big-spending Punjab Kings – who out-bid Delhi Capitals and Royal Challengers Bangalore – for over 50 times his base price, a hefty sum based on his big-hitting potential.

Shahrukh's domestic Twenty20 record is underwhelming, but teams were interested after his exploits for Tamil Nadu in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, including 40 from just 19 balls in a quarter-final against Himachal Pradesh.

Kings head coach Anil Kumble has been suitably impressed by the new signing during practice sessions ahead of this year's competition, even heaping a little extra pressure on the right-hander's shoulders by saying he sees similarities to Kieron Pollard.

If Shahrukh can translate his domestic results to the IPL stage, it will help balance out a batting line-up that lacked depth, even with KL Rahul finishing as the leading run-scorer in 2020.

Abdul Samad (Sunrisers Hyderabad)

At 19, Samad looks a real prospect in white-ball cricket, having become just the fourth cricketer from Jammu and Kashmir to earn an IPL contract when picked up by the Sunrisers in 2020.

A first IPL experience did not have eye-popping numbers in terms of his overall output, finishing with 111 runs in 12 matches. However, a top score of 33 against the Delhi Capitals showcased his talent, including taking 14 runs off three deliveries from South Africa paceman Anrich Nortje.

The right-hander finished up with a strike rate of 170.76 for the season, aided by a boundary strike-rate of 21.5 per cent. 

Hyderabad have tended to front-load their batting line-up, though the absence of all-rounder Mitchell Marsh – the Australian has pulled out of the 2021 season for personal reasons, with opener Jason Roy signed as a replacement – may benefit Samad, if he is given the chance to continue in a middle-order role.

Mumbai Indians are favourites to claim a historic third successive Indian Premier League crown back on home soil.

The Indians retained their title in Dubai last year with a victory over Delhi Capitals, taking their record tally of IPL triumphs to a five.

Rohit Sharma's side will be the team to beat in a competition that will be played in Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, having been staged overseas in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Capitals and Royal Challengers Bangalore look the most likely sides to prevent Mumbai from becoming the first franchise to win three consecutive IPL titles.

We pick out some of the things to look out for in what promises to be a mouthwatering extravaganza of cricket, which starts on Friday in a country that will stage the T20 World Cup later this year.

 

INDIANS PRIMED FOR THREE IN A ROW

The champions start the defence of their title with a blockbuster showdown against RCB in the first game of the tournament at M. A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai.

Mumbai will have to wait for Quinton de Kock's arrival as he is on duty with South Africa, so skipper Rohit will be expected to set the tone at the top of the order.

The India opener is the fourth-highest run-scorer in IPL history with 5,230 at an average of 31.31 and, although the 2020 edition was not one of his best, he struck a rapid 68 in the final. Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav played significant hands with the bat in Mumbai's 2020 success.

Trent Boult was man of the match in that win over Delhi after taking 3-30 and the New Zealand seamer will have a big part to play with the ball along with Jasprit Bumrah.

 

STAND-IN SKIPPER PANT CAN LEAD BY EXAMPLE

Delhi's first IPL final proved to be painful in November, but they will fancy their chances of going one better under the captaincy of Rishabh Pant.

The addition of Steve Smith, who was released by Rajasthan Royals, is a major tonic, while Umesh Yadav and Sam Billings are among their other new recruits.

Kagiso Rabada was the leading wicket-taker in last year's tournament with 30 at 18.26 and Delhi will need him to fire again along with fellow Proteas quick Anrich Nortje.

Ravichandran Ashwin should be on a high from his Test exploits for India against England, while the in-form Pant can thrive as skipper with Shreyas Iyer ruled out due to a shoulder injury.

MORRIS UNDER PRESSURE TO JUSTIFY PRICE TAG

Chris Morris became the most expensive signing in IPL history when he was snapped up by Rajasthan Royals for 16.25crore (around £1.6million).

That staggering fee put the South Africa all-rounder ahead of Yuvraj Singh (16cr) as the biggest ever auction acquisition.

Morris was 20th on the list of the leading wicket-takers last year when featuring for RCB and only batted five times, with a top score of 25 not out.

 

ROY TO REUNITE WITH BAIRSTOW

England batsman Roy went unsold at auction but was drafted in by Sunrisers Hyderabad last week after Mitchell Marsh withdrew for personal reasons.

Sunrisers coach Trevor Bayliss was clearly excited by the prospect of Roy and Jonny Bairstow forming a pairing that has served England so well.

Roy may have to wait for his opportunity or Sunrisers could tinker with the order, as captain David Warner and Bairstow have formed a dangerous opening pairing.

Delhi Capitals have revealed that all-rounder Axar Patel has tested positive for coronavirus less than a week before the new Indian Premier League season gets under way.

Axar played a massive part in India's 3-1 Test series victory over England earlier this year, taking 27 wickets at an average of 10.59 in three matches.

The 27-year-old has now gone into isolation, having contracted COVID-19 after arriving at the Capitals' team hotel.

"Delhi Capitals all-rounder Axar Patel has tested positive for COVID-19. He had checked into the team hotel in Mumbai on March 28, 2021, with a negative report. His report from the second COVID test, came positive," Delhi announced in a statement on Saturday.

"He is currently in isolation at a designated medical care facility. The Delhi Capitals medical team is in constant touch with Axar and ensuring his safety and well-being. We wish him a speedy recovery."

The Capitals face Chennai Super Kings in their first match of the tournament at the Wankhede Stadium next Saturday.

Temba Bavuma starts life as South Africa's new captain in white-ball cricket with an ODI series against Pakistan on home soil.

Bavuma has been handed the job through to the 2023 Cricket World Cup, replacing Quinton de Kock after the wicketkeeper-batsman had been leading the Proteas in all three formats on a temporary basis.

Twenty20 cricket may well be of greater importance for international teams right now in terms of planning - there is a World Cup in the shortest format to come later this year on Indian soil, plus another in Australia in 2022 - but the new reign begins with three 50-over fixtures.

Centurion hosts two of the one-dayers, including Friday's opener, with a fixture at the Wanderers in Johannesburg sandwiched in between.

South Africa lost in both the Test and T20 formats on their tour to Pakistan earlier this year, albeit they had an inexperienced squad on duty for the latter. Heinrich Klaasen was placed in charge as many of his compatriots departed to prepare to face Australia at home, only for those games to be cancelled.

The unexpected gap in the schedule has allowed South Africa to make changes with a focus on the long-term future – Dean Elgar is now the Test skipper – and there are some fresh faces in the one-day squad, with all-rounder Wihan Lubbe and fast bowler Lizaad Williams selected.

Aiden Markram and Wiaan Mulder have been recalled, while those players who will be involved in this year's Indian Premier League will be released early from international duty. With so many departing, opportunities will come for some of the less experienced individuals in the squad.

Pakistan sit just behind their hosts in sixth place in the International Cricket Council's team rankings, but go into the series having lost just one of their last nine ODI games, the solitary defeat coming in a Super Over against Zimbabwe in November 2020.

However, South Africa have won eight of their last 10 outings at Supersport Park - venue for the first and third games - and have a 4-2 record there when Pakistan are the visitors.

Both nations will be eager to pick up points in the World Cup Super League, particularly the Proteas as they prepare for ODI duty for the first time in over a year.

The uncapped Saud Shakeel was initially named in Pakistan's squad but has been ruled out with a leg injury, though fellow rookie Danish Aziz is expected to get a chance in the middle order after impressing in domestic action.


Bavuma takes centre stage

Bavuma will be the 16th captain for South Africa in one-day cricket; he has scored 335 runs and averages 55.8 in the format. However, this will be his first ODI appearance against Pakistan and, with players such as De Kock, David Miller, Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje among those bound for the IPL soon, the new skipper will hope to lead from the front.

Babar Lord's it over Proteas

Pakistan captain Babar Azam averages 65.7 in ODI action since the start of 2019, boasting a strike rate of 93.8 while scoring four centuries during that period. The right-handed batsman made 69 as his side won when the nations met during the 2019 Cricket World Cup at Lord's. However, neither made it beyond the round-robin stage of that tournament.

Key series facts

- South Africa and Pakistan have alternated between victory and loss in their last four ODI matches against each other; the last time they met was during the 2019 World Cup, when the Proteas lost by 49 runs.  

- South Africa have won their last three ODI matches (all against Australia); the last time the Proteas won more consecutive matches in the format was between January and March 2019 (six matches).

- Pakistan have a catch success rate of 72 per cent in ODIs since the start of 2019, the lowest share of any Test-playing nation in that time; they have dropped 40 of the 144 chances presented to them.

- South Africa have lost only one of the nine men's multi-game bilateral ODI series played against Pakistan (W8). However, the solitary defeat was at home when Pakistan toured in 2013.

- Fakhar Zaman (currently 47 innings) needs 40 to reach 2,000 runs in ODIs (1,960 runs); if he gets there in this game, he will be the third fastest to reach the milestone for Pakistan (Zaheer Abbas and Babar Azam).

England paceman Jofra Archer will require a fortnight of rehabilitation after undergoing surgery on his right hand.

Archer was ruled out of the recent ODI series defeat to India with an elbow injury and underwent an operation on his hand on Monday, repairing damage done when he was cleaning a fish tank in January.

The quick will miss the start of the Rajasthan Royals' Indian Premier League campaign as he recovers from the procedure.

"England pace bowler Jofra Archer underwent successful surgery to his right hand on Monday. A fragment of glass was removed during the operation to his middle finger on his right hand." an ECB statement said.
 
"He will now commence two weeks of rehabilitation. The consultant will review him before returning to training.

"Further update on his elbow injury will be provided once he has returned to bowling to assess the effectiveness of his recent injection.
 
"Archer suffered a cut to his hand while cleaning at his home in January shortly before flying to India to prepare for the Test series.

"The ECB's medical team managed the injury throughout the tour, and it did not impact on his availability."

The Royals start their IPL campaign against Punjab Kings on Monday April 12.

Rishabh Pant will captain Delhi Capitals in the Indian Premier League after Shreyas Iyer was ruled out due to a shoulder injury.

Iyer damaged his left shoulder while fielding in the first match of India's 2-1 ODI series victory over England in Pune.

The batsman will not be available to lead the capitals, so his in-form India team-mate Pant will take over as skipper.

Wicketkeeper-batsman Pant said: "Delhi is where I grew up, and where my IPL journey began six years ago. To lead this team one day is a dream I've always harboured.

"And today, as that dream comes true, I feel humbled. I am truly grateful, especially to our team owners, who considered me capable enough for this role.

"With an amazing coaching staff, and a plethora of accomplished seniors around me, I can't wait to give my absolute best for Delhi Capitals."

Iyer said: "When I sustained the shoulder injury, and Delhi Capitals needed a leader for this edition of the IPL, I had no doubt that Rishabh would be the best man for the job.

"He has all my good wishes to make amazing things happen with our absolutely incredible team. I'm going to miss the team tremendously, and will be cheering for them throughout."

Delhi, runners-up last year, start their IPL campaign against Chennai Super Kings at the Wankhede Stadium on April 10.

 

England paceman Jofra Archer has been ruled out of the ODI series against India due to a worsening elbow injury.

After a 3-1 Test series defeat and a 3-2 setback in their T20I clashes with India, world champions England will look to end their tour on a high in three ODIs to be played in Pune over the next week.

Archer will be flying back home for checks on his injury, however, and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) said he must also miss the start of the Indian Premier League (IPL).

That deals a blow to Rajasthan Royals ahead of the tournament that begins on April 9, with Archer having impressed against India in the T20 games.

The ECB said on Sunday: "Jofra Archer is returning to the UK for further management and investigation of his right elbow injury.

"Archer's elbow issue has deteriorated over the course of the Twenty20 International series and made it increasingly challenging for him to maintain performance levels. He has been deemed unfit for selection for the ODI series that features matches on 23, 26 and 28 March.

"The ECB medical team will assess the player and, together with Jofra, develop a treatment plan and a return-to-play schedule in due course. As a consequence, Jofra will miss the start of this year’s Indian Premier League."

England's ODI squad, aside from the obvious loss of Archer, is comprised of players selected for the T20 series and the reserves for those games.

 

England squad: Eoin Morgan (captain), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Sam Billings, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Tom Curran, Liam Livingstone, Matt Parkinson, Adil Rashid, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, Reece Topley, Mark Wood.

Also travelling with the squad: Jake Ball, Chris Jordan, Dawid Malan.

Virat Kohli has revealed he will open the batting during the upcoming Indian Premier League season as he prepares to take on that role for India in the Twenty20 World Cup later this year.

The 32-year-old was named at the top of the Indian order in a T20 international for just the second time since 2018 ahead of Saturday's series decider against England.

That decision paid off handsomely as Kohli struck an unbeaten 80 off 52 balls to help his country to a huge total of 224 and, ultimately, a 36-run victory that clinched a 3-2 series win.

And the captain explained after the match that he is planning to continue in an opening role for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL next month, with one eye on doing the same for India when they host the T20 World Cup in October.

"I am going to open in the IPL as well," he told Star Sports.

"Look, I've batted at different positions in the past, but I feel like we do have a very solid middle order now, and now it's about your two best players getting the maximum number of balls in T20 cricket. So I would definitely like to partner Rohit at the top.

"As I rightly said, if we have a partnership and we both are set, then you know that one of us is going to cause some serious damage. That's exactly what we want. 

"And the other guys feel much more confident when one of us is still in and set, they know that they can play more freely. 

"It augurs well for the team and I would like this to continue, and hopefully continue that form through to the World Cup."

Kohli also revealed that India's preparations for the T20 World Cup will be aided by a number of short-form games against England to be played after their scheduled Test series in August and September.

He added: "I just found out that we might have some more after the Test series against England.

"[We are] more or less sorted [in terms of who will make the squad]. We are very very confident. Very happy with how things have panned out. We just want to keep moving forward with more positivity and fearlessness."

Chris Morris became the most expensive signing in the history of the Indian Premier League as franchises filled out their rosters during Thursday's auction in Chennai. 

Morris was eventually signed by Rajasthan Royals - who he played for in 2015 - following a bidding war that saw four teams battling it out to secure the services of the South African all-rounder. 

His final price finished up at 16.25crore, which equates to around £1.6million, putting him ahead of Yuvraj Singh (16cr) on the list of biggest auction purchases in the global Twenty20 tournament.

"I'm super-stoked, super-humbled to be joining Rajasthan again," Morris said in a video message posted by his new team on Twitter.

"I had an unbelievably good time, and a good season, one of the better times in my cricket career, with Rajasthan in 2015, so I'm unbelievably happy, unbelievably excited.

"We have a very good squad, so joining up with Rajasthan is a very cool experience."

Royal Challengers Bangalore were big spenders in their bid to secure a maiden title this year, getting New Zealand paceman Kyle Jamieson for 14.25cr (£1.5m) having already signed Australia all-rounder Glenn Maxwell (14cr - £1.4m) for a fraction less than that earlier in proceedings. 

Jhye Richardson also collected a huge deal, snapped up for the same price as compatriot Maxwell by Punjab Kings, who added another Australian paceman to their roster in Riley Meredith, who has yet to play international cricket in any format. 

Having been released by Rajasthan Royals at the start of this year, Steve Smith is now a member of the Delhi Capitals, along with India fast bowler Umesh Yadav and Englishman Sam Billings. 

Moeen Ali saw a considerable rise from his base price, the England all-rounder eventually going for a final sum of £700,000 to Chennai Super Kings. 

While a premium was paid for pace bowling during the auction, the market was a little less frantic for batsmen. 

Dawid Malan – who sits top of the International Cricket Council's batting rankings in the shortest format – will play for Punjab Kings, but English openers Alex Hales and Jason Roy both went unsold. 

Bangladesh all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan is heading back to the Kolkata Knight Riders for 3.2crore (£315,000), while Krishnappa Gowtham went for 9.25crore (£900,000) to the Super Kings, making him the most expensive uncapped India player ever.

As for Mumbai Indians, the main additions by the two-time defending champions came to their bowling attack as they added Adam Milne, Nathan Coulter-Nile and leg-spinner Piyush Chawla. 

The 14th edition of the IPL is scheduled to begin during April and run into May. Last year's delayed tournament was staged in the United Arab Emirates due to the coronavirus pandemic.

England batsman, Tom Banton, believes rising West Indies star Nicholas Pooran could be the best six-hitter in the game at the moment.

The 25-year-old has seen his stock rise after a big-hitting display in the Indian Premier League (IPL) last year, a trend that he has continued in the Abu Dhabi T10 league.  In a league with the likes of his West Indian compatriot Chris Gayle and Chris Lynn, it is Pooran who leads the way with 33 sixes and 21 fours in 9 matches.

In fact, Nicholas Pooran has scored more runs from fours and sixes than Gayle - his 89 off 24 balls for Northern Warriors against Bangla Tigers last month included 84 runs from boundaries, while Gayle chalked up 78 in his savage 84 off just 22 balls on Wednesday.

"He's different level that guy," Banton said in an interview with ESPNcricinfo

"Anyone that bowls to him, he'll get hold of. I reckon he's the best in the world at the minute at [hitting sixes],” he added.

"We're actually playing them in a few days' time so I'm going to try and talk to him and actually see what he does. He probably doesn't do anything different to anyone else, he's just a lot better than everyone else."

Pooran’s Northern Warriors are currently second in the Super League standings but are at the top of group A.

Dale Steyn has announced he will not be playing in the Indian Premier League this year, though the fast bowler insists he is not retiring just yet. 

Steyn was part of the Royal Challengers Bangalore squad for the 2020 edition of the Twenty20 tournament, with the competition temporarily moved to the United Arab Emirates due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in India.

The 37-year-old played in three games, taking one wicket, but has made himself unavailable for the franchise in the 2021 campaign. 

However, revealing his decision on Twitter, South Africa's record wicket-taker in Test cricket confirmed he will still feature in other T20 leagues around the world in the coming months, as he has no immediate plans to hang up the bowling boots just yet.

"Just a short message to let everyone know that I've made myself unavailable for RCB at this year's IPL," Steyn wrote.

"I'm also not planning on playing for another team, just taking some time off during that period. Thank you to RCB for understanding. No I'm not retired."

He then posted a further tweet, adding: "I will be playing in other leagues, nicely spaced out to give myself a opportunity to do something's [sic] I've been excited about as well as continue to play the game I love so much. 

"NO, I'm NOT retired."

Steyn did retire from Test cricket in August 2019, finishing his career in the longest format with 439 wickets at an outstanding average of 22.95.

However, he has continued to play for the Proteas in the T20 format; his most recent international appearance came against Australia in February 2020.

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