Some of the most explosive, exhilarating players in the world will light up the seventh annual IPL tournament in India in the coming weeks, and after a fascinating player auction this year, I'm excited to see how it plays out.
The great thing about the T20 format is that the fast paced nature brings cricket to a new audience. And, with tournaments like the Big Bash in Australia and the IPL going from strength to strength, it really is great for the sport.
I've always been of the opinion that Twenty20 cricket lends itself to the betting arena. Not only can you bet in play on each ball or over, but every match is full of momentum shifts. It only takes a wicket or a six and suddenly the entire complexion of the game has changed. The run rates might tell you what a team is on course to score, but you never know how well a team will ramp up their scoring levels in the last few overs. That's what keeps it so exciting.
Now, let's take a look at the eight teams and their respective chances this season...
Royal Challengers Bangalore 4.50
You have to fancy RCB with their batting lineup. To have either one of AB De Villiers, Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli and Chris Gayle (pictured) in your side would give you a chance, but this lot have all four of them! Add Murali's wizardry with the ball and it's tough to see them coming unstuck, but one word of warning: they're not overloaded with wicket takers. Coach Daniel Vettori will be hoping his batting lineup scores so well that the lack of depth in the bowling attack doesn't matter.
Chennai Super Kings 5.25
Chennai are my top tip for glory this year. MS Dhoni is a great captain and a master in the art of building quick, solid scores with the bat. As if that wasn't enough, they also have Brendon McCullum, who is no stranger to big scores in this format. Another key for them is the bowling of Ravichandran Ashwin. It tends to be the spinners that come to the fore in this tournament and he's one of the very best.
Sunrisers Hyderabad 6.00
As England have found out recently, both Aaron Finch and David Warner (pictured) are aggressive, powerful hitters who are tough to stop when they get into full flow. Those two will lead the batting charge for the Sunrisers, who also have Dale Steyn and Darren Sammy steaming in with the ball. This team could be the surprise package for me.
Kings XI Punjab 7.00
This is one team that doesn't fill me with confidence. I just don't think they have enough depth of quality to sustain a consistent challenge. Sure, I'd be crazy to underestimate Mitchell Johnson's prowess with the bat and ball, and there's no doubting Virender Sehwag (pictured) still has a lot to offer, but they can't rely on a significant few to carry the fight for the whole team.
Kolkata Knight Riders 8.00
Kolkata started with a win in the opening match and will be brimming with confidence. I really like Sunil Narine, he's a world class spin bowler who seems to be in top form right now. Meanwhile, there's still plenty of life in Jacques Kallis (pictured), who may have retired from the Test arena, but starred in his team's opening IPL victory over Mumbai. T20 is probably not Jacques' preferred form of the game, but he still manages to churn out runs at a decent rate. Overall, Kolkata will be there or thereabouts.
Mumbai Indians 9.00
Whenever you look at T20 lineups you're tempted to focus on the batting power, but Mumbai boast the one guy who is truly incredible with the ball, and that's the man pictured above, Lasith Malinga. He'll be buzzing after leading Sri Lanka to victory in the recent World T20 competition and with an in-form Malinga charging in for them, Mumbai will always have a chance. Meanwhile with the bat they have Mike Hussey, who has so much know-how and class that you always fancy him to put top scores together. Aside from the big names, there's a few young Indian players with good reputations in this team, so they will be looking to unearth some talent during the course of this term.
Rajasthan Royals 12.00
They might be at longer odds than some, but there's no such thing as rank outsiders in the IPL. That's what I love about the auction format - everyone ends up with a cluster of superstar players and it makes for a level playing field, kind of like in US sports with their draft system. The Royals will be led by Shane Watson (pictured), who showed off his guitar skills during the opening ceremony. His compatriot James Faulkner will be a key man for the side, because he is solid with the ball but also can be spectacular with the bat, too. I'm not sure they can win it, but I wouldn't rule them out of reaching the latter stages.
Delhi Daredevils 13.00
I think it's really tough to call how Delhi will fare this time around. One thing is for sure, though, Kevin Pietersen (pictured) will be well up for it. KP captains Delhi this year and he'll have a lot to prove after the winter that he's just had. I'm sure Kev will want to stamp his authority on the team and get them gelling. Ross Taylor is another explosive batsman who can be awesome on his day. They struggled last year, but Delhi could be the dark horses this year.
Top tournament batsman
My top tip for highest runscorer is AB De Villiers of Royal Challengers Bangalore. He's a freak at the moment - he can hit the ball absolutely anywhere and never seems to mess up. We saw his power in the recent World T20 competition and if he replicates that form then his of 41.00 will provide bundles of value.
Top tournament bowler
I have to go with a spinner here. I feel it's always going to be the spinners that cause the most damage in the Indian conditions. The one that stands out for me is Ravichandran Ashwin, of Chennai Super Kings, at tempting odds of 15.00. He doesn't travel well, but on home turf he's an unbelievable bowler who will always pick up wickets.
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