The Indian Premier League returns for its biggest season on Saturday, with a galaxy of top names and two new franchises expanding the world’s richest cricket competition to 10 teams for its 15th edition. Crowds will, initially at least, be limited to 25 per cent capacity with group games restricted to four venues — one in Pune and three in Mumbai.
International T20 greats such as Australia’s David Warner and England’s Jos Buttler will be back for two months of high-octane cricket, but fellow Englishman Ben Stokes and West Indies veteran big-hitter Chris Gayle are big names who will be missing.
Because of the coronavirus epidemic, the clubs will be placed into two groups of five based on their past IPL records for a 70-match regular season that will be the first to be completed exclusively in India since 2019.
Last month’s auction saw the 10 teams spend $75 million on 204 players, with the Mumbai Indians bringing back Ishan Kishan for a stunning $2 million. The most expensive overseas player was England hitter Liam Livingstone, who cost the Punjab Kings $1.52 million to help them win their first IPL title.
Gujarat Titans, owned by US venture capital firm CVC, and Lucknow Super Giants, funded by Indian entrepreneur Sanjiv Goenka, are the two new teams, which have a combined cost of $1.6 billion.
The Mumbai Indians, captained by Rohit Sharma, are the most successful IPL team, having won five titles in a row in 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019, and 2020.
The defending champions, Chennai Super Kings, are led by seasoned former India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and will play Kolkata Knight Riders, owned by Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan, at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium on Saturday.
The two-month spectacle will feature 74 matches, with teams led by previous greats such as Australians Ricky Ponting and Tom Moody, New Zealand’s Stephen Fleming, and Sri Lanka’s Mahela Jayawardene.
Gujarat Titans have signed Afghanistan’s highly rated spinner Rashid Khan, but England’s Jofra Archer, who missed the Ashes in Australia due to an elbow injury, may not be available for the Mumbai Indians.
The event began in India in April of last year but was forced to terminate a month later due to an increase in Covid infections across the country.
Chennai Super Kings defeated Kolkata Knight Riders in the final on October 15 in Dubai, after the tournament resumed in September in the United Arab Emirates. Due to the epidemic, the IPL will be held in the United Arab Emirates in 2020.