India set to ignite world cricket as IPL 6 begins

With its glamour, packed stadiums, superb atmospheres and a sprinkling of the best players in world cricket, what’s not to like about the Indian Premier League?

The money-spinning Twenty20 tournament, in its sixth year, will officially start tomorrow with the grand opening ceremony, but most cricket fans will be looking forward to Wednesday and the first match between defending champions Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and Delhi Daredevils (DD).

KKR, owned by Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan, boast a very strong side once more with South African limited overs specialists Jacques Kallis and Ryan McLaren set to feature prominently alongside the mysterious off-spin of Sunil Narine.

Big-hitting wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum, who famously smashed 158 in the inaugural IPL match, will hope to transfer his recent good form for New Zealand into another superb IPL season, while Brett Lee, skipper Gautam Gambhir and England’s Eoin Morgan join Yusuf Pathan and Brad Haddin in a squad that should be in contention for a second successive title.

KKR’s roster would have been further boosted by the addition of world number one-ranked all-rounder Shakib al-Hasan, but the Bangladeshi cricket board wanted their star international players available for their tour of Zimbabwe, and so al-Hasan misses out alongside compatriot Tamim Iqbal, who had signed a contract with Pune Warriors.

In fact, the political controversy surrounding IPL 6 has threatened to overshadow the build-up to this great tournament.

The usual political hostilities between Pakistan and India persist, but until the various differences between Pakistan and India both on and off the field can be resolved, the IPL will not develop as fast as it might otherwise have done.

More recently, due to ethnic conflict between the Sinhalese people on India’s eastern coast and Sri Lankan rebels from Tamil Nadu, no Sri Lankan players will be allowed to play at Chennai.

This affects IPL heavyweights the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) the least as seamer Nuwan Kulasekara and spinner Akila Dananjaya are the only Sri Lankans in their squad and will likely play only bit-part roles throughout the IPL campaign.

Critics of the ban have pointed out that this favours Chennai, particularly as world-class players such as Muttiah Muralitharan, Kumar Sangakkara, Lasith Malinga and Tillakaratne Dilshan will not be allowed to play for their respective teams.

Politics aside, Chennai have an excellent group of players to count upon as they look to regain a title that they have won twice in the past three seasons.

Indian talisman MS Dhoni continues to skipper the side, with fellow Indian superstars Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja and Ravi Ashwin providing exciting reinforcement.

Added to that quartet are the explosive talents of South African stars Francois du Plessis, Chris Morris and Albie Morkel, while Australian seamers Dirk Nannes and Ben Hilfenhaus will look to bowl tightly in a formidable attack which is enhanced by the tricky variation of West Indian all-rounder Dwayne Bravo.

Bravo’s international team-mate Chris Gayle continues his contract with Royal Challengers Bangalore, and the Jamaican is capable of scoring rapidly with his unrivalled big-hitting.

Gayle has shown in previous IPLs that no stadium is big enough for his gargantuan six-hitting, and he is ably assisted by fellow fast-scorers AB de Villiers, Virat Kohli and Dilshan.

Muralitharan and Daniel Vettori will supply their usual guile for a relatively fragile bowling attack, which is spearheaded by swing bowlers Zaheer Khan and Ravi Rampaul.

Perhaps the biggest threat to Chennai in this tournament will be Mumbai Indians, who are traditionally strong and are fortunate to have a plethora of international stars in their ranks.

Home favourites Sachin Tendulkar and Rohit Sharma are joined by compatriots Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha, while Malinga, Ricky Ponting, Munaf Patel, Mitchell Johnson and Kieron Pollard complete the Indians’ strong squad.

Delhi Daredevils will be without the influential Jesse Ryder and Kevin Pietersen, the former after suffering a fractured skull in a disgusting attack in Christchurch, but they will have the big-hitting Virender Sehwag and David Warner at their disposal, together with IPL 5’s purple-cap (leading wicket taker) winner Morne Morkel.

England players are scarce finds in the IPL though, as the tournament clashes with the Test series against New Zealand. Consequently, limited overs experts Eoin Morgan (KKR), Dimi Mascarenhas (Kings XI Punjab), Owais Shah (Rajasthan Royals) and Luke Wright (Pune) are the only notable inclusions.

Other international stars set to appear include the fiery Dale Steyn and Cameron White for newly-formed outsiders Sunrisers Hyderabad, formerly known as Deccan Chargers.

Pune, meanwhile, have the brutal Yuvraj Singh, Ross Taylor and Marlon Samuels alongside the crafty Steve Smith and Robin Uthappa and will be seeking an improvement on last season when they could only manage to finish last of the nine teams.

The bookies have Kings XI Punjab as the rank underdogs, but the team based on the foothills of the Himalayas includes Australian legend Adam Gilchrist, Mascarenhas and the reliable Shaun Marsh and David Hussey in their team.

Kings XI Punjab’s weakness has historically been their bowling and they have seemingly done little to address that problem with Ryan Harris, Praveen Kumar and Piyush Chawla the leading internationals in their attack.

Rajasthan Royals, owned by Bollywood darling Shilpa Shetty, complete the 2013 line-up and could prove to be dark horses after assembling an intriguing squad for IPL 6 which includes the exquisite yet orthodox shotmaking of Ajinkya Rahane and Rahul Dravid.

Firepower is provided in the shape of Shane Watson and Shah, while the world’s fastest bowler Shaun Tait is joined by Fidel Edwards and Australian veterans Brad Hogg and Brad Hodge.

Despite the controversy hindering the build-up to the tournament, IPL 6 has the potential to be the best so far – and with the likes of Tendulkar, Dhoni, Gayle and Steyn on show it should prove an irresistible attraction to cricket fans across the globe.

  • ITV 4 will screen every match of the IPL live in the UK.
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England should not underestimate Kiwis

It’s fair to say New Zealand cricket is going through a rebuilding process at the moment.

Gone are the days of Shane Bond, Scott Styris and Chris Cairns.

The Kiwis are instead left to call on the talent of players such as Ross Taylor, Daniel Vettori and Brendon McCullum.

In Test cricket, New Zealand are definitely short of talent. In a recent tour of South Africa, they were destroyed by the world’s number one side.

However, in the one-day formats of the game the New Zealanders are more adept.

They rolled the South Africans over in a three-match series and could have whitewashed them had the hosts not rescued a one-wicket win with the final ball of the match.

The visit of England starts with the tourists facing a warm-up against a New Zealand XI almost immediately after Superbowl 47 ends, and provides the Kiwis with a chance to build upon that notable success and start to resurrect their Test performances against one of the best sides currently around.

England welcome back Graeme Swann, James Anderson and Stuart Broad for the three-match ODI series which follows a trio of T20 Internationals.

Chris Woakes comes in at the expense of the injured Tim Bresnan and deservedly dropped Jade Dernbach, while young Middlesex all-rounder James Harris also makes the ODI squad.

The conditions in New Zealand have traditionally favoured England’s bowlers, and the superb James Anderson will once again get the chance to torment another Test side with his varied armoury of swing.

England should easily beat the Kiwis over the three Tests, in much the same manner as they swept the West Indies aside last season.

The shorter formats of the game should provide a more competitive show, especially in the T20 arena where New Zealand will be at their strongest – Taylor and McCullum can destroy any attack given their explosive batting styles.

The tour promises to be an intriguing examination of England’s recent one-day shakiness – particularly with bat in hand – but if they play to their capabilities, and are wary of an evolutionary Kiwi side, they should enjoy a fruitful trip Down Under.