IPL 2017 is set to kick off today with a game between defending champions Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) and an injury-ravaged Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). Interestingly enough, the same teams clashed in the finals of the last edition where RCB failed to get across the line for the third time in the history of the IPL.
The teams have contrasting strengths this season. While one team boasts of the most destructive batting line-up in the IPL, the other boasts of a consistent and economical bowling unit.
On that note, take a look at some cracking player battles lined up for us in this opener.
#1 David Warner vs Tymal Mills
After a largely forgetful Test series, David Warner will be looking to get back to his usual destructive best. The Aussie will be returning to T20 cricket as the captain of the defending champions. While Warner has a title to defend, the English pacer Tymal Mills has to justify his hefty paycheck.
Brought in to strengthen the bowling line-up of a team that is heavily reliant on its batsmen, there is a good chance that he would be handed over the new ball against Warner and Dhawan. Mills will look to get a breakthrough early in the game while Warner will try to exploit the Englishman’s inexperience in the IPL. If the Aussie can get off to a flyer, Mills will find it hard to bounce back.
#2 Chris Gayle vs Bhuvneshwar Kumar
If RCB end up batting first, IPL 2017 will kick off with one of the most anticipated player contests. After losing Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers to injuries, RCB will be banking heavily on Chris Gayle to provide a great start. However, he will have to fend off one of the most consistent IPL bowlers and an old rival – Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Their rivalry peaked during IPL 6 when Kumar played for the Pune Warriors. When the teams clashed, it was absolute carnage as Gayle clobbered 175 runs off 66 balls. It is interesting to note, though, that Kumar was the only bowler who survived unscathed in spite of the Gayle storm. He finished his quota of four overs conceding 23 runs.
To put that into perspective, the other bowlers had economy rates of 16.50, 12, 18.66, 22.50 and 29 against his 5.75. The bowler denied Gayle absolute dominion that day.
In the final of the last edition, they faced off against each other once again. Kumar played a significant role in controlling Gayle after he took charge with 76 off 38 balls. In a game where more than 400 runs were scored, he gave away just 25 in his four overs including the crucial final over of the game and helped SRH become champions.
As they meet again, he will try to keep it tight in the first couple of overs and not give too much room for Gayle to swing his arms. Gayle will be tested by the Indian’s ability to move the ball away from the batsman and will have to play it safe for a few overs.
#3 Shane Watson vs Ashish Nehra
In the absence of Virat Kohli, Shane Watson will be leading RCB in their opener. Both these players have played in the IPL since the first edition but have had contrasting experiences. Watson has been an IPL sensation right from the days of the heroic triumph of Rajasthan Royals in the maiden season while Ashish Nehra has been quite ordinary for a major chunk of the IPL.
A couple of years ago, if someone asked me who would win this contest, the answer would have been a resounding “Watson” but things have changed in the recent past. Nehra reinvented himself and made a comeback to the national team in the shortest format while Watson’s injuries continued to weigh him down.
Nehra performed quite well for SRH in the previous edition while Watson had an absolutely dismal season with a batting average of 13.76.
The two haven’t faced each other much in the recent past but today’s will be an interesting contest between Nehra’s wicket taking deliveries and Watson’s clean hitting.
#4 Yuvraj Singh vs Samuel Badree
The middle order has been a persistent problem for SRH and assuming Samuel Badree does not open the bowling today, he would be given the opportunity to run through it. There is one hurdle, though – Yuvraj Singh.
Towards the end of the previous IPL, we saw glimpses of Yuvraj’s flair but this season, for a good start, he might have to go big against Badree.
Badree is a regular in the national team in the shortest format but has very little IPL experience. On the other hand, Yuvraj has been one of the most valuable players in the IPL.
Badree is not a big spinner of the ball but he is usually right on the money and Yuvraj will be tested by the West Indian’s accuracy and length.
Watch out for those calculated lofts. It would be interesting to see if Yuvraj goes after the West Indian early to upset his rhythm or carefully gets through his overs and attacks other RCB bowlers. Badree, meanwhile, will attempt to force the southpaw into mistakes through tight wicket-to-wicket bowling.
Traditionally, RCB have struggled with their bowling while SRH have found themselves overly dependent on Warner for runs. This opening match might break those stereotypes. It is not difficult to imagine that the outcome of today’s match will boil down to these key contests in the end.