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SPORTS STORY

IPL is back

Alan Dudman previews this year’s instalment of the Indian Premier League, complete with lofty player price tags, big hitters, short boundaries and drama galore

Who would like to buy Michael Yardy for $400,000? Nobody, judged on the events of the annual stampede that is the IPL auction. A few frenzied days of bidding madness make it a cricketing fusion of Take Me Out and Bargain Hunt, the end product being this year’s extravaganza that is IPL4, and a chance to see if Indian batsman Gauthan Gambhir is really worth $2.4 million? And he’s not the only one with a stupid price tag for the world’s highest-profile 20-over tournament.

Yes the sums are ludicrous, I for one am scratching my head over the latest cricket millionaires, but this tournament is a great spectacle. Big crowds, big hits, dancers and a fat load of sixes. It’s Mike Brearley tactics with Bollywood style, and a bonanza squeezed into 74 matches. Plus a host of betting opportunities to hopefully provide a profit.

Remember these are franchise teams, with players swapping sides on a regular basis. Flat wickets with short boundaries and quick outfields make for big scoring, while teams with plenty of spin options should do well with the trend of taking the pace off the ball working nicely in recent domestic 20-over games. Slow bowlers can get a stranglehold on matches, especially on the sub-continent slower pitches.

The Chennai Super Kings will undoubtedly be popular as the reigning champions, and will be around the 5/1 mark to defend their crown. The base of a good IPL side is the strength of the home talent mixed with the big money overseas players, and the holders look good. Chennai are captained by Indian skipper MS Dhoni and have plenty of batting talent, including Suresh Raina who had a brilliant IPL3. Dhoni proved his worth in the tactical department last year, and showed the importance of a captain bringing a team together. Raina at around 25/1 as top tournament scorer is vaguely interesting if Chennai repeat their success.

Last year’s beaten finalists Mumbai Indians have the marquee names, but not quite the marquee price. Around 7/1 is the best one can hope for with Sachin Tendulkar’s men. Mumbai have some good uncapped players, which is always handy, plus bargain buy Davy Jacobs. The unheralded South African opener is lethal and averaged 47.66 in the Champions League T20. Opportunities to back him as innings top run scorer could be potentially interesting at around 9/1 – given Tendulkar and the exciting Rohit Sharma will always be shorter in the market. Sharma incidentally fetched $2 million in the auction.

One of the strongest squads could be the Royal Challengers Bangalore – and maybe a price of near 10/1 for glory could give a good run for the money. The franchise once again has plumped for some good Indian batting talent, headed by Saurabh Tiwary and his $1.6 million price tag. He shone in IPL3 and as a local player will bring in the crowds. Bangalore have a strong unit with Tillakaratne Dilshan, AB de Villiers, the bilingual Dirk Nannes and Zaheer Khan. The tactic of backing them to win their matches outright in their 14 group games should yield a profit, and they should qualify.

King’s XI Punjab are the ones to be against for this year’s shindig. They have a fairly underwhelming squad captained by the veteran Adam Gilchrist and their bowling (as was the case last term) looks weak. I find it hard to see them progressing to the knockout phase.

The same logic applies to the Rajasthan Royals (generally 12/1), as they have the weakest squad and are light on Indian players. The Kolkatta Knight Riders look very poor in the bowling department, but have the best-coloured helmets (gold), while new franchise the Pune Warriors (10/1 generally) invested heavily in Robin Uthappa and Yuvaj Singh (combined cost of nearly $4 million).

If only I could wear one of those gold Kolkatta helmets and a pair of gold pads. They would look fantastic in the Hertfordshire league.

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