The 12th edition of the Indian Premier League will be watched with more interest this year.
With the World Cup looming large, the players will have a lot on their minds notwithstanding it being a T20 tournament.
They will be anxious to perform on the planet’s biggest T20 stage and catch the attention of the selectors ahead of the 50 overs showpiece event which begins days after the IPL ends.
While the likes of Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle and Jos Buttler are already big hits with the fans, others like Rishabh Pant and Vijay Shankar will be looking for attention with good performances.
Harish Kotian/Rediff.com looks at 12 players to watch out for in IPL-12:
The young Delhi wicketkeeper-batsman had a good tournament last year, smashing 684 runs in 14 games at a strike rate of 173, which saw break into the Indian team.
Rishabh was at his dominant best, hitting the most number of sixes (37) and fours (68) in IPL-11.
He was, in fact, Rediff.com‘s Most Valuable Player in IPL-11.
Certainly, a good showing in IPL-12 will help clinch a World Cup spot.
DK was left out of India’s ODI squad for the recent Australia series. The IPL now offers him a golden chance to force his way back into the team.
Despite the additional responsibility of captaincy last year at the Kolkata Knight Riders, DK gave a good account of himself, scoring 498 runs in 16 games, playing some crucial innings lower down the order.
On current form, Virat seems unstoppable, having scored runs aplenty across all formats.
His primary aim this year will be to lead Royal Challengers Bangalore to its maiden IPL title.
Already, Gautam Gambhir has taken a shot at Virat’s tenure as RCB captain, saying, among other things, ‘He has been very lucky and should be thanking the franchise that they stuck with him.’
Shami has been in good form and rhythm in limited overs cricket since the Australia tour and has sealed his spot as the frontline pacer for the World Cup.
However, the main challenge will be sustaining that form and, more important, keeping himself injury-free.
Back in the thick of things after serving a one-year ban for ball tampering, Steve will be keen to re-start his career with a bang.
He missed IPL-11 after being banned by the BCCI and will be eager to make up for lost time.
Rajasthan Royals will be strengthened by Steve’s towering presence.
Dave — who was also banned from the game for ball tampering in the Capetown Test last March — is keen to banish the demons of the past during this IPL.
V V S Laxman, who mentors Sunrisers Hyderabad, believes Dave ‘is not only a premier match-winner but his leadership skills are also unmatched.’
Though Dave — who led Sunrisers to the IPL crown in 2016 — will not captain the side this year (Kane Williamson is the Sunriser skipper), he will want to make a Warnesque statement with the bat and push his case for inclusion in Australia’s World Cup team.
When Ashton Turner turned it on in the ODI game in Mohali, those wise men in Jaipur, who engineered a coup by signing the young Aussie for the Rajasthan Royals, must have been thrilled.
Ashton attained instant stardom with a destructive match-winning 84 from 43 balls at Mohali and will look to continuing that and his Big Bash form in the IPL.
His variations troubled batsmen worldwide in the last year and it will be interesting to see if he can continue his good form in the IPL.
Last year, he claimed 17 wickets in 16 games, but was expensive — conceding 8.14 runs per over.
The West Indian ace proved why he is literally a sleeping giant, having returned from hibernation to explode back to life like the Gayle of old.
He was at his scary six-hitting best against England recently and in what could be his final IPL, the tournament will hope that he comes here with his ‘beast mode’ turned on.
As he famously remarked, he ‘saved’ the IPL last year after nearly going unsold at the auction and this year could provide more fireworks.
‘Universe Boss’ holds the record for the most sixes in the IPL — 292 sixes from 111 games and also the highest score in the IPL — 175 not out from 66 balls against the Pune Warriors in 2013.
Vijay has suddenly thrown his hat in the World Cup ring.
If he continues to excel in the IPL, it will be hard for the Indian selectors to ignore him.
Last year he made some valuable contributions for the Delhi Daredevils, scoring 212 runs in 13 games.
There is no stopping Buttler when he gets going, as he proved in the IPL last year.
The English wicketkeeper-batsman hammered 548 runs in 13 games at a strike rate of 155.
He looks in ominous form going into the IPL, having recently slammed 150 from 77 balls — laced with 13 fours and 12 sixes — in an ODI against the Windies.
The all-rounder has been one of the most dependable players for KKR over the years.
One of the most destructive batsmen in T20 cricket, he has the ability to single-handedly win games for his team.
Russell scored 316 runs last year, but what caught the eye was his staggering strike rate of 184.
He is also more than handy with the ball, having picked up 13 wickets last year.