The major talking point surrounding the IPL and the venue change has been the wickets in the UAE.
On the slower side based on evidence from historical matches there, including the T20 World Cup qualifier in 2019, franchises could find it challenging to adapt their squad built for Indian conditions to the UAE ones on offer.
Factors that could matter in terms of scoring in the UAE include:
- Slow wickets with Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah seeing just six totals in excess of 200 in 121 T20 International games.
- Six-hitting could get tricky with the long boundaries and sluggish surfaces on offer.
- Expect a barrage of spinners across powerplay, middle overs and death, like in the CPL.
Here we look at each of the eight franchises and how they could benefit or be crippled by the pitches in UAE.
Chennai Super Kings
Perhaps the best equipped franchise in terms of squad composition is CSK. Boasting of a potent spin attack and experienced batsmen, who are versatile enough to adjust to conditions on offer, CSK are tailor-made to thrive on slow, low wickets. With their home ground in Chepauk (Chennai) offering similar conditions, Dhoni’s team aren’t averse to such sluggish wickets.
Making par totals and defending them is their strength and CSK could well benefit massively from the shift to UAE.
Chennai play 11 of their 14 games in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and just three on Sharjah which has better batting wickets.
Even in the absence of Harbhajan Singh, CSK have Ravindra Jadeja, Imran Tahir, Piyush Chawla, Mitchell Santner, Karn Sharma and R Sai Kishore in the spin department.
Add to that the fact that players like Dwayne Bravo, Tahir and Santner will come off a CPL season characterised by similar wickets and CSK seem quite well-rounded in all departments.
VERDICT: Very well equipped to handle the pitches.
A squad that had freshness in plenty about it, Delhi Capitals made it to the play-offs in 2019 on the back of strong performances by their Indian players. They have retained their core group and added additional strength in local players by bringing in Ravichandran Ashwin and Ajinkya Rahane. While Rahane at least seemed a strange pick for India, in UAE, Delhi might just benefit from his presence. We could see him at the top if Prithvi Shaw fails to take off alongside Shikhar Dhawan.
In the spin department, Delhi are served by Amit Mishra, Ravichandran Ashwin, Sandeep Lamichhane and Axar Patel.
While they have two leg-spinners, an off-spinner and a left-arm spinner, all capable of slotting into the starting XI easily, Delhi seem slightly short-staffed in the spin department primarily because none of these four spinners, except Lamichhane who will count as an overseas player, have T20 as their best format. A mystery spinner or another with quite a few bag of tricks up their sleeve is evidently missing in the spin department.
It is strange that Delhi opted to go for a pace bowler (Anrich Nortje) and pace bowling all-rounder (Daniel Sams) as back-ups when Chris Woakes and Jason Roy pulled out. They still do have a potent batting line-up and a strong spin group with additional reinforcements in the pace department with Kagiso Rabada, Ishant Sharma, Nortje and Keemo Paul. Squeezing in the best pacers from this lot will be tough with the overseas restriction.
VERDICT: Reasonably well-placed to handle UAE pitches
Kings XI Punjab
It wouldn’t be far-fetched to state that Kings XI Punjab have one of the strongest batting line-ups this IPL season if they get their combinations right. In KL Rahul, Chris Gayle, Glenn Maxwell and Nicholas Pooran, they have some of the most powerful strike forces in the tournament this edition. The issue for them is that Gayle and Maxwell could struggle a touch on the slower wickets in UAE.
The middle-order, barring Pooran who is still young to the league, is a tad fragile with the Indian players good enough, yet slightly untested.
In the bowling department, Kings XI have Ravi Bishnoi – again untested – the under-19 spinner, as an exciting addition. Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, fresh off a clinical showing in the CPL, Murugan Ashwin and J Suchith are the other spinners.
Yet again, Kings XI don’t seem to have all facets of the department covered unless Bishnoi has a great tournament. A match-winning leg-spinner is sorely missing in the Kings XI line-up although they do have two of the kind in the team. If they find the right combination early on, they could still have a reasonably good tournament.
VERDICT: Not the best in the spin department, but strong batting force could make up.
Kolkata Knight Riders
On slow wickets, the one mantra that works pretty well is hitting big, long sixes. KKR have Andre Russell, Tom Banton, Sunil Narine and Eoin Morgan in that regard in the squad alongside the Indian big hitters, Dinesh Karthik and Shubman Gill. That KKR middle-order is one to rave about, but again, their success could well depend on how they use Russell. The slow pitches are familiar for the Jamaica Tallawahs star and Russell in a floating role, stepping in when the spinners man the middle overs, could work perfectly for Kolkata. Add in Morgan and Karthik, both good players of spin, and the middle-order is strong enough to counter a sin barrage on slow wickets. Narine is also ruthless against spin at the top as is Banton, if he plays.
However, their bowling is a tad worrying. Sunil Narine and Kuldeep Yadav are frontline spinners and potentially good enough to forge an attacking spin duo in the middle overs.
But the back-ups seem fragile considering the make up of the squad. Chris Green is a terrific T20 spinner but is unlikely to fit in among the four overseas players. M Siddharth and Varun Chakravarthy offer promise but are largely untested at this level. If the third and fourth spin options have a good season, KKR could thrive. They have an option to replace Harry Gurney and might want to add a promising pacer who can take pace off the ball like Mohammad Saifuddin or Pat Brown.
VERDICT: Strong batting for UAE. Pacers could have a tough time this season while spin department is over-reliant on Narine.
The defending champions wouldn’t really enjoy the shift to UAE.
In 2014 the Mumbai Indians lost five games out of five in UAE, but the more concerning part is that they appear to be oblivious of what could greet them in UAE this time.
The squad is definitely not in sync with the slow pitches on offer and even when they had an option to replace a pacer (Lasith Malinga), Mumbai chose to add more pace (James Pattinson) on top of Mitchell McCleneghan, Trent Boult, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Dhawal Kulkarni and Jasprit Bumrah.
The spin attack is relatively inexperienced with Krunal Pandya and Rahul Chahar the main spinners. Mumbai seem to sorely lack an attacking spinner who can turn games on his head and it could well prove to be costly for them this season. The batting group as such also inspire less confidence when you take Wankhede out and throw Abu Dhabi and Dubai in. Chris Lynn had a horror season in the CPL in similar conditions while Quinton de Kock and Rohit Sharma also prefer pace on the ball. Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya could be their trump cards this season.
VERDICT: Poor squad combinations to have for UAE. Could struggle unless one of the young spinners have a compelling season.
While the Rajasthan batting line-up is slightly lop-sided for Indian conditions, in UAE, their combination of top five batsmen could work better than a few other teams. Steven Smith, Ben Stokes and Sanju Samson are all consolidators who can go big while Riyan Parag and David Miller can tee off in the death. That said, fitting Miller in could be tough and their batting does seem short of firepower, after Jos Buttler and Stokes.
The spinners – Shreyas Gopal, Mayank Markande, Rahul Tewatia, and even Riyan Parag the part-timer – are all leg-spinners and offer little variety.
The pace bowling – barring Jofra Archer – isn’t quite equipped to thrive in UAE. Andrew Tye and Tom Curran, the slow ball merchants, seem off colour of late while the Indians in the pace department also offer less confidence.
VERDICT: One-dimensional spin attack could make them sitting ducks to teams who play the match-up cards well.
Royal Challengers Bangalore
Royal Challengers Bangalore might actually be in with a chance to contend for the title this year given the make-up of their team. In Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Moeen Ali, they have a triumvirate of some of the best spin hitters in the format. Add in Devdutt Padikkal, top-order support in the form of Aaron Finch and late-order striking power in Chris Morris, and you have a strong batting group.
RCB bolstered their spin stocks with the smart addition of Adam Zampa on Kane Richardson’s withdrawal and also have Yuzvendra Chahal, Washington Sundar, Moeen and Pawan Negi in the spin department.
In Dale Steyn you have a solid pace bowler capable of adjusting to Asian wickets and a death overs specialist in Chris Morris, someone who can take the slow pitch out of the equation with his yorkers.
There is also variety in the Indian contingent of pacers with Umesh Yadav (skiddy) and Navdeep Saini (hit-the-deck). The Sri Lankan Isuru Udana, a slow ball expert, could also play on the slower wickets for one of the overseas batsmen or Chris Morris.
VERDICT: A well-rounded team for UAE conditions, but decision-making on and off the field could once again decide their future.
Possibly the strongest spin department in the IPL to handle UAE conditions, Sunrisers boast of variety and strength with their spin attack. Rashid Khan (leg-spin), Mohammad Nabi (off-spin) and Shahbaz Nadeem (left-arm spin) could start most games and are all different kinds of spinners. The West Indian all-rounder Fabian Allen is also left-arm while the back-up Indian spinners are also all left-arm. That said, their main starting attack is too strong to be overly worried about back-ups.
The pace bowling group – Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Sandeep Sharma primarily – could also thrive while T Natarajan with his slower variations and familiarity to slow pitches could get more matches this time.
In the batting group, David Warner, Kane Williamson and Manish Pandey are strong against spin but Jonny Bairstow isn’t quite up to that level although he can blast attacks in the powerplay and hand it over to the middle-order, a role Warner is also familiar with from a partner given that Finch plays in a similar manner for Australia.