The world's biggest T20 league is knocking at our doors and it's obvious that neither the fans nor the players can stay calm now. The glittery action-packed league has returned its home after a year. Closed door matches will be played but aren't we already used to it?
IPL in its 13-year-long history has seen hundreds of nail-biting encounters. Batsmen with massive bats in their hands, bowlers releasing the ball in vivid fashions and fielders pulling out blinders, all have grabbed the limelight. The fourth pillar of the game is also visible in abundance but hardly do we take a note of its impact. They have changed the face of cricket, not just the T20 format. With league cricket growing leaps and bounds, franchises are very careful picking these players who wear gloves and helmets for almost the entire duration of the match.
Wicketkeeper-batsmen play a huge role today. Their catches matter, their role in taking DRS review matters, they also are pivotal in helping the captain set the field. In IPL 2021, we have 8 star wicketkeeper-batsmen. 4 of them will be seen leading their team. Most of them are in good form but all of them have to prove themselves all over again. Whether a legend of the game or just a rookie looking to fly high, in the circular ground, all will be equals.
With a couple of days left for the 14th edition to start, let's have a look at these stars, who are masters behind the stumps and magicians with the bat.
Rishabh Pant: First time captain in the IPL. At just 23, Rishabh Pant has taken the cricket world by storm. Pant scored 343 runs in 14 matches last season. He wasn't included in the white-ball fixtures of India's tour of Australia and left out of the eleven for the 1st Test. However, the wicketkeeper-batsman has done nothing wrong after it. From firing in the Sydney Test and almost winning the match for India to finally delivering a win for his team with a breathtaking knock in Brisbane. His form continued in the England series, where he hit someone like James Anderson for a reverse-scoop over 1st slip.
Delhi Capitals have named their pocked-sized dynamite the captain after regular captain Shreyas Iyer injured his shoulder during England ODIs. The Delhi batsman has been vocal about his ambitions after his dream come true moment.
Sanju Samson: Another first time captain who is replacing someone like Steve Smith. Probably the biggest Indian star in the Rajasthan Royals. He had a blistering start to his IPL last year but things went downhill from there. He managed to score 375 runs in the 14 matches but most of it came courtesy his few good outings in the beginning.
He played in all the 3 T20Is on Australia tour but managed only 48 runs at an average of 16. He did not get a chance to play in the ODIs despite being in the team.
The 26-year-old will be captaining a team having heavyweights of the game like Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Chris Morris.
KL Rahul: The third India wicketkeeper-batsman and also a captain on the list. The star India batsman had a mixed first season as captain of the Punjab Kings. His team fought really hard towards the end to enter the playoffs. KL Rahul on the personal front was second to nobody.
670 runs at an average of 55.83 and strike rate of 120.34. But he lost his form thereafter. 3 ODIs and 93 runs (1 fifty), and 81 runs from 3 T20Is. He came back home with injury and without playing any Test in the 4-match series.
The 28-year-old came under a lot of criticism during the England T20Is but he has roared back to form just on time for Punjab. A half-century and a century in the ODIs has brought back Rahul's lost form.
Dinesh Karthik: The senior India batsman recently led Tamil Nadu to a trophy win in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and spent the time after that as a commentator for Sky Sports. The 35-year-old is back with the KKR squad.
He stepped down from captaincy mid-way in the last season and aided Eoin Morgan in all his capabilities. His finishing ability, his skills (both batting and wicket-keeping) have never been in doubt but can Dinesh Karthik show a fair consistency and make Morgan and his team's job easy. Only 169 runs in 14 matches is what Karthik managed last season. KKR will need a very mature and improved middle-order batting performance from him.
A national comeback for Karthik looks beyond achievable but this at the same time can be his source of inspiration. Let the old warhorse show that he has some fire left in his belly.
Jonny Bairstow: Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) star Jonnny Bairstow is one of the major cogwheels of his team's setup. His fury on the top alongside his partner David Warner leaves a devastation which oppositions find difficult to recover from. The England batsman aggregated 354 runs from 11 matches last season.
He was at his brutal best during the white-ball fixtures against India. 94 runs off just 66 balls in the 1st ODI before slamming 112-ball 124. He was adjudged Man of the Series for his effort.
Quinton de Kock: Mumbai Indians South African wicketkeeper-batsman is embroiled in a controversy because of his 'fake fielding' to run-out Fakhar Zaman on 193. The opener has the attention already and runs from his bat could see him make some more headlines.
The 28-year-old accumulated 503 runs in 16 matches of IPL 2020, the 6th highest by any batsman. In his last outing against Pakistan in the 2nd ODI he struck 80 runs off 86 balls.
AB de Villiers: 'The spaceship has arrived," RCB had tweeted upon his arrival in India for IPL 2021. The swashbuckling South African is ready to weave more magic in the IPL. It will not be wrong to say that an IPL is not complete without a ABD show.
He amassed 454 runs from 15 matches of the 13th edition of the IPL. On a lot of occasions he was seen battling alone for his team. His 37-year-old's strike rate has never actually dipped and he undoubtedly provides solidity in the middle-order. Virat Kohli is set to open this season and so the onus in the middle-overs will be more on Mr. 360 degrees.
169 IPL matches and almost 5,000 runs but still without a title. End of drought for the right-hander in 2021?
MS Dhoni: Last but not at all the least. The king of kings MS Dhoni. He is far away from his glorious past wherein he could turn any match on its head. At 39, the trendsetter and the legendary wicketkeeper batsman has decided to give one more chance to end his career on a high.
CSK failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in their IPL history in 2020 as Dhoni managed only 200 runs from 14 matches.
Dhoni's batting approach of taking the match deep by batting at a low strike rate and then losing the match while trying to do so has been under the scanner. The former India captain has also been criticised for not promoting himself up the order at crucial junctures of the match.