The world’s biggest Twenty20 cricket competition kicks off on Saturday as the Indian Premier League returns for its 13th edition.
The tournament, which is taking place six months later than originally planned because of the Covid-19 pandemic, is now being played in the United Arab Emirates, with teams following strict quarantine rules on arrival into the country.
While the carnival Bollywood atmosphere we have become accustomed to with the IPL may be difficult to replicate without the raucous Indian fans present, there is still plenty to look forward to.
The eight-week competition begins with a repeat of last year’s final, with holders Mumbai Indians hosting Chennai Super Kings.
There are eight franchises representing different cities in India, with matches taking place in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.
Each squad has a maximum of eight overseas (non-Indian) players but no more than four can be selected in a starting XI.
The top four sides will then enter the play-offs, with the final taking place on 10 November.
Mumbai Indians start as favourites
The reigning champions and the most decorated IPL team of all-time with four trophies, Mumbai Indians are the bookies’ favourites to win again this year.
The signing of Australia’s Nathan Coulter-Nile and Chris Lynn adds more depth to a squad that includes the T20 experience of West Indies all-rounder Kieron Pollard and India batsman Rohit Sharma.
Mumbai also have a history of backing and unearthing homegrown young talent, such as brothers Hardik and Krunyal Pandya, who have gone on to become world-class T20 operators.
But with the slower pitches in the UAE and no home advantage, it is not a given they will lift the trophy this time.
Dhoni’s last hurrah? And KKR break the bank
Chennai Super Kings could be a force to be reckoned with, having won the tournament three times and been runners-up on five occasions.
They will be led by captain MS Dhoni, who has been an ever-present in the side since the first edition of the IPL.
Dhoni retired from international cricket earlier this year; could this be his last IPL appearance?
Kolkata Knight Riders will also be expecting a good run this year.
KKR have acquired the services of Eoin Morgan, who led England to World Cup glory last summer, and Australia bowler Pat Cummins, who at £1.7m is the most expensive signing in IPL history.
In big-hitting West Indies all-rounder Andre Russell, they have the IPL player of the tournament from 2019.
Can Kohli and AB end RCB’s curse?
A global cricketing superstar and the highest run-scorer in IPL history, Virat Kohli will have all eyes on him as he faces the competition with Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Kohli will captain an RCB team boasting a star-studded batting line-up led by South Africa’s AB de Villiers and Australia’s white-ball captain Aaron Finch.
But despite their batting prowess, RCB are still searching for their first IPL trophy win. Will this be their their year?
Australia leg-spinner Adam Zampa will looking to help RCB turn around their fortunes, while the inclusion of his compatriot Kane Richardson will add depth to the seam attack.
The unlikely friendships
Australia’s David Warner and England’s Jonny Bairstow will once again reunite for Sunrisers Hyderabad, showing the IPL can turn international rivalries into unlikely friendships.
They were the most destructive opening pair in last year’s competition, putting on 791 runs together including four century stands.
With New Zealand’s Kane Williamson coming in at number three, the Sunrisers have a top order which can take the game away from any opposition.
England fast bowler Jofra Archer and Australia’s Steve Smith engaged in a fierce battle in last year’s Ashes, but will again join forces for Rajasthan Royals.
The Royals are again putting their faith in English talent despite finishing second from bottom in 2019.
World Cup heroes Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes have retained their places in the squad, although there are doubts over Stokes’ availability.
The all-rounder missed England’s second and third Tests against Pakistan due to family reasons and was also not part of their T20I and ODI squads against Australia.
A big English presence
England’s Tom Curran is also in the Royals squad, while brother Sam will turn out for CSK, having put in some impressive performances whilst playing for Kings XI Punjab last year, including a hat-trick against Delhi Capitals.
Moeen Ali will also be playing his third consecutive season for RCB and Chris Jordan – who is England second all-time leading T20 wicket-taker – will link up with Kings XI Punjab.
Batsman Tom Banton, who showcased his batting skills in last year’s Australian T20 Big Bash where he averaged over 30, will join Morgan at KKR.