Ed Hawkins bemoans the lack of contenders to IPL holders Mumbai so picks the rags, arguing they are no worse than shorter prices for glory...
"Once again the contenders have more crore than phwoar. Mumbai aside each and every team has a hole that they have failed to plug"
Who can take out Mumbai?
The Indian Premier League is a seven-week, 60-game tournament. And then Mumbai Indians win. Don't we say that every year? Yes. And five times in the last eight years you would have sounded very shrewd indeed.
It was only in November that Mumbai won that fifth title, barely breaking a sweat in the UAE. They are no better than 5/2 for a sixth with Sportsbook. At such a skinny price one would expect there to be a swathe of value elsewhere. There isn't.
After Rohit Sharma's team beat Delhi Capitals in the final last year, we wrote that for all the hype, the money and the superstars, the IPL was an uncompetitive fraud. There is one outstanding team when there should be several. The auction system level-playing field demands that. Instead we were treated to seven teams which assembled unbalanced squads and were unable to work out their best XI.
Once again the contenders have more crore than phwoar. Mumbai aside, obviously, each and every team has a hole that they have failed to plug, while several, incredulously, will begin the campaign again unsure of their best combination.
This is why Mumbai dominate. They pick the best players for the best positions and have recognised the worth of domestic talent instead of pricey overseas recruits. As discussed in our team-by-team guide, they have no weaknesses. Perhaps only the Covid surge currently threatening India can stop them.
So if you are inclined to take the 5/2, go ahead. They will, undoubtedly, qualify and then you have a tasty wager about a powerhouse unit getting two chances to make it to the final. But we're guessing you're not reading a preview of the tournament to be told that Mumbai are the best team. You know that. The tough question to answer is: who can possibly go closest to stopping them?
Delhi are the second favourites at 9/2. They are a curious case because they may well be the one team who will reckon, from ball one, they know what their best team is. But they could well be wrong.
Coach Ricky Ponting insisted on playing Marcus Stoinis out of position for majority of last season in a finishing role when he is, in fact, better suited to opening. If Ponting pairs Shikhar Dhawan and Stoinis up front they have intent in the powerplay. To do that, though, Delhi will have to sacrifice Anrich Nortje, who was superb last season but a fit Ishant Sharma shouldn't be a downgrade. That frees space for Sam Billings or Shimron Hetmyer to bolster the middle-order.
The bottom line about Delhi is price. For two seasons punters have been taking decent numbers about a similar Delhi set-up. So it seems a squeeze to side with them again at prohibitive odds, particularly as they have lost captain Shreyas Iyer to injury and Rishabh Pant has taken over.
Same old Bangalore
There are many who reckon that this could be the year for Royal Challengers Bangalore (they also say the same every year, by the way). Is it? Possibly. However, in what will now become a protracted discussion about ifs, buts and maybes for the remaining contenders, Bangalore head the queue of teams which must do something which, according to the data and all rational thought is unforeseeable.
By some trick of the Gods Bangalore must, somehow, learn to bowl at the death. Twas ever thus with this mob. Over the last couple of editions they have moved towards putting more investment into bowling resources (namely the capture of Chris Morris who has now left for Rajasthan) but their recruitment has been worrying regressive. Indeed, spending big on big bats is a return to the bad old days while replacing Morris with the expensive Kyle Jamieson is a worry.
With Bangalore being so leaky at the denouement in the field, tight games could well go against them. There is no doubt that a front four of Virat Kohli (a bet for top-bat), Dev Paddikal, AB De Villiers and Glenn Maxwell is magnificent but, as we always say with franchise leagues, hit for show, bowl for dough.
Which leads us to Sunrisers at 13/2. We would rate them a better outfit that Bangalore because they are the best bowling team in the tournament. That's an edge for you. And we would be all in had they bothered to sign finishers in that middle- to lower-order. It has been their weaknesses for years but they stubbornly refuse to do anything about it. There is no more irritating franchise than Sunrisers in that regard.
The 'if' with Sunrisers is Abdul Samad. If he can continue his upward trajectory then they should be dangerous in the play-offs. A top-four berth might well be strong value at 5/6.
Kolkata Knight Riders are an interesting case at 7s. They need to solve ponderous batting - only Chennai scored as slowly last term - and a bowling unit which lacks variety. They may also do well to leave out Sunil Narine as he unbalances the XI. And take a big call on Andre Russell if he is not performing. Lockie Ferguson's pace bowling is undervalued but without ruthless selection calls he is unlikely to feature much.
Chennai are another outfit which failed to make use of the draft. They desperately needed an opening batsman of intent. They didn't get one. Nor did they strip out overseas old stagers like Faf Du Plessis, Dwayne Bravo or Imran Tahir. Moeen Ali is a terrific capture, though.
Punt on Punjab
Rajasthan Royals are praying that Jofra Archer can come back from surgery and an elbow injury. Even with him in their XI last season they finished bottom and the 4/1 about a repeat looks a very big price indeed.
The rags are Punjab Kings. And, as you would expect, they have problems. But. And it's a big but...they are one of the few teams to have strengthened from last season, brining in the exceptional Jhye Richardson and Riley Meredith to shore up profligate bowling.
In KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal they have an outstanding opening pair, strong hitting options with Nic Pooran and Chris Gayle and late-order power with Moises Henriques or Fabian Allen. They also boast excellent spin options with Ravi Bishnor and Murugan Ashwin.
It is true that, in some matches, they could well be forced to play only five bowlers. But they are 13.012/1 for a reason, chiefly that they don't have a domestic middle-order batsman of repute.
Whether that price is justified considering they appear to have as many issues as shorter=priced teams remains to be seen. What isn't hard to fathom is the possibility they could improve by a solitary win from 2020 to be bang in the mix for the top four. Taking the chunky number now on the exchange and trading later on seems to the smartest option in a dim-witted tournament.
Ed Hawkins P-L
Based only on available prices. Does not include back-to-lay in-running match advice or commission rate. Figures 2013-2016 on 1pt level stakes. Includes Hawk-Eye stats column p-l & COB Best Bets year end