V.K. SANTOSH KUMAR
The Indian Premier League is the most lucrative and attractive fast-action cricket tournament in the world.
Its 13th edition, organised by the Indian cricket board, will be played in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah from Sept 19 to Nov 10.
The high-profile tournament was moved out of India this year because of the high number of Covid-19 cases in the country.
Over the three months, almost all the top stars in the game will be taking part, turning out for the eight franchises.
The tournament's non-stop, high-octane action excites fans around the world. Here eight Singapore-based diehards assess the chances of the teams they support:
Anand Natarajan (Chennai Super Kings)
The absence of seasoned No. 3 batsman Suresh Raina, who returned home for personal reasons, and off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, who preferred to skip the tournament, will be a huge dent to CSK's confidence as they are match-winners. But you never know what skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni has up his sleeve - he might unleash a new nugget.
CSK are the most experienced team in the IPL. So, even if there are ageing players, it does not matter, they perform. Some may lack practice, but that is applicable to all the teams.
Pitches in the UAE are similar to Chennai - slow and low - and aid spinners, which CSK have aplenty.
In 2014, CSK won four out of five matches played in the UAE. So, virtually CSK are on home ground.
Eight times finalists in 10 years - it will be another final with CSK in it.
Manjit Singh (Delhi Capitals)
The team's strong Indian core could fetch them the trophy.
They have Delhiites Shikhar Dhawan, Ishant Sharma and Amit Mishra and young batsmen Prithvi Shaw, Rishabh Pant and Shreyas Iyer. They have also secured the services of experienced India internationals Ravichandran Ashwin and Ajinkya Rahane this year.
Batting is top-heavy. The addition of West Indian Shimron Hetmyer has made it even more powerful. But they don't have an established finisher.
Axar Patel, Ashwin, Marcus Stoinis and Keemo Paul don't infuse much fear. DC will be heavily reliant on Pant and Hetmyer to bat through.
They have the spinners to do the job but too many strong-minded individuals could spoil the party. A top three finish is on the cards.
George Dantas (Kings XI Punjab)
KXIP have usually under-performed without a solid leadership group. They have a new combination now, but it is hard to predict how they will perform.
K.L. Rahul has a balanced side at his disposal but whether he will succeed as skipper is anybody's guess.
However, in Anil Kumble he has an able coach. And, with two of the biggest destructors in the T20 game in Chris Gayle and Glenn Maxwell, anything is possible with a steadfast approach and proper guidance.
They will definitely miss spinner Ravichndran Ashwin, who is a quality bowler (Ashiwn has moved to Delhi Capitals). But moving the venue to the UAE has played into KXIP's hands. Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Krishnappa Gowtham, Jagdeesha Suchith and Murugan Ashwin may not have the X-factor but they are quality spinners who will be more than a handful on the slowish tracks.
The problem with KXIP is lack of consistency. If that is addressed, they will make it to the top four - and lift the title.
Gopal Padia (Kolkata Knight Riders)
West Indian all-rounders Andre Russell and Sunil Narine are undoubtedly the biggest strengths. Russell can turn around matches with his incredible hitting abilities.
In Nitish Rana, Eoin Morgan, Dinesh Karthik and Russel, KKR have the best middle order in the IPL.
The pace bowling department is heavily dependent on Pat Cummins, but young pacer Prasidh Krishna will come through. There is also good backup in Shivam Mavi, Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Sandeep Warrier. The turning pitches will favour wrist-spinner Kuleep Yadav and Naraine.
KKR, who have several match-winners, including Shubman Gill, will definitely qualify for the semi-finals.
Viswakiran Kannepalli (Mumbai Indians)
Mumbai have a core of experienced and talented players (Rohit Sharma, Hardik Pandya, Kieron Pollard, Krunal Pandya and Mitchell McClenaghan) who know how to win the big games and clinch the crucial moments.
They have an outstanding pace attack too: India's premier fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah, consistent performer McClenaghan, Australian hard worker Nathan Coulter Nile and Indian domestic veteran Dhawal Kulkarni. They have brought in No. 1 ODI bowler Trent Boult and can count on Hardik and Pollard too.
The inexperienced spin attack is a worry. Krunal and Rahul Chahar, the primary spinners, are not great turners of the ball, while Anukul Roy is inexperienced and Jayant Yadav doesn't inspire confidence.
Mumbai lost all five of their IPL games in the UAE in 2014. Skipper Rohit also scored just 84 runs in five innings. They will have to forget that and play with the confidence that they have won the IPL trophy the maximum times (four).
Nishant Premkumar (Rajasthan Royals)
There are some extremely talented overseas players in the squad and the likes of Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer and Steve Smith can win matches on their own.
Spinner Shreyas Gopal's ability to get big players out makes him an important asset in the bowling line-up. But the performance of the pace bowlers has to improve.
The teams lacks a proper finisher. Riyan Parag and Gopal are good bats at 6 and 7 but they aren't out-and-out finishers.
The all-rounders have not been convincing but team work can see RR through.
Young Indian players such as Sanju Samson, Ankit Rajpoot, Parag and Mayank Markande will definitely prove they are talented.
The combined effort of the overseas stars and the rising Indian talent should see RR reach the play-offs.
Hari M. Nair (Royal Challengers Bangalore)
The perennial underachievers will shun that tag this season. RCB are a better balanced side.
The batting no longer centres on Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers. Australian limited-overs captain Aaron Finch and promising young Devdutt Padikal should provide rousing starts.
The middle order has been unreliable in the past. But this time Moeen Ali, Gurkeerat Singh, Shivam Dube and Chris Morris should come good.
Leggies Yuzvendra Chahal and Adam Zampa, who is in top form, are the bowling draws. Death bowling used to be a problem, but that has been rectified with the inclusion of Morris and Sri Lankan Isuru Udana, who has a number of variations up his sleeve. India fast bowler Navdeep Saini has also improved a lot.
Picking the right XI will matter. RCB will win the cup or at least make it to the play-offs.
Shashi Dakey (Sunrisers Hyderabad)
In David Warner and Jonny Bairstow, SRH have the most destructive opening pair in the IPL. Abdul Samad and Fabian Allen too can open with elan. With them at the top and Kane Williamson following, 170-plus runs is easily chaseable.
Afghan leggie Rashid Khan is the match-winner. With the pitches favouring him, he will be unplayable.
Inexperience and lack of firepower in the middle order have been problems. SRH have tried to fill that gap with Australian Mitchell Marsh.
Siddharth Kaul and Bhuvneshwar Kumar are accurate and effective death bowlers. But the team will have to improve their fielding. SRH have the potential to reach the play-offs and finish at least second.