NEW DELHI, April 9: Mumbai Indians have assembled a side that looks even stronger than their back-to-back title-winning teams, with only Delhi Daredevils and Sunrisers Hyderabad appearing capable of denying them a third straight Indian Premier League (IPL) crown.
Mumbai get the money-spinning tournament rolling in Chennai on Friday, just four months after claiming their second successive title, with a match against Royal Challengers Bangalore, led by India captain Virat Kohli.
Captain Rohit Sharma headlines a Mumbai batting lineup teeming with explosive hitters including Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav, who made impressive India debut in the recent Twenty20 series against England.
Power-hitters Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya are adept at launching a late assault, while Trent Boult’s powerplay skills and Jasprit Bumrah’s death-overs mastery mean they have no real bowling woes either.
So dominant are Mumbai that they have won five of the last eight titles and former England captain Michael Vaughan has said this side might be even better than India’s Twenty20 team.
South Africa quick Dale Steyn was in no doubt Mumbai were the favourites again.
"I have got them as number one," he told www.espncricinfo.com this week. "I'm going with them winning it again."
David Warner led Hyderabad to their maiden IPL title in 2016 but the Australian’s nagging groin injury remains a concern.
Hyderabad also lack firepower in their lower order, though they have a potent bowling attack that includes swing bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Afghan spin spearhead Rashid Khan.
Delhi had to change their captain after Shreyas Iyer, who led them to their maiden final last year, was ruled out of the tournament with a shoulder injury.
At 23, Rishabh Pant will be the IPL’s youngest skipper this year but Delhi head coach Ricky Ponting has high hopes for the stumper-batsman.
“I think extra responsibility is going to sit really well with him,” the former Australia captain said.
“We’ll help him through, but honestly, I don’t think he’s going to need much help at all.”
Bangalore, the tournament’s perennial underachievers, have added Australian Glenn Maxwell to the batting order but their death-overs bowling remains a worry.
England captain Eoin Morgan will lead Kolkata Knight Riders’ quest for a third title but Chennai Super Kings, who finished second from bottom last year, may struggle again.
The three-time champions failed to make the playoff for the first time last year and their core of ageing players, including captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, had little game time heading into this year’s tournament.