The biggest cricket carnival of the year, the 2023 Indian Premier League, is about to hit town once again.

Franchises are back at their home venues for the first time in four years. There’s a brand-new Impact Player rule allowing each team to substitute in one player every game – what effect will that have? And how will teams manage the workload of star players as we approach the ODI men’s World Cup later this year?

Heading into the 2023 season, which begins on Friday with a clash between defending champions Gujarat Titans and 2021 winners Chennai Super Kings, let’s evaluate the credentials of the tournament favourites, analyse the dark horses and highlight three players to look out for.  

The Favourites

Gujarat Titans

Gujarat Titans romped home to a maiden title last year. Their title charge was built on the back of a rock-solid middle-order (No. 4-7) that collectively averaged 39.8 runs per wicket in 2022, the best among all teams. Their top-scorers in Hardik Pandya, David Miller and Shubman Gill have all maintained excellent form, each averaging over 40 in men’s T20Is in India since the end of last year’s IPL.

Most runs in men's t20is since end of IPL 2022

The Titans will turn to Mohammed Shami and Rashid Khan to spearhead their bowling again. No one took more wickets in the powerplay in IPL 2022 than Shami (11) while Rashid has taken at least 17 wickets in every IPL season so far and has never conceded an economy rate higher than 6.74 in a single campaign. Lockie Ferguson’s departure will allow Alzarri Joseph to step up. The Antiguan quick showed his promise by picking up a career-best 5-40 in the third T20I against South Africa earlier this week.

Fresh additions in Kane Williamson and Shivam Mavi lend more balance to Gujarat’s top order and bowling respectively, while the upside of Abhinav Manohar and Rahul Tewatia adds explosiveness down the order.

Sunrisers Hyderabad

Sunrisers Hyderabad enter this year’s IPL with a stacked batting line-up. One of them, Abhishek Sharma, burst onto the scene in last year’s IPL, scoring the most runs by an Indian during the powerplay (255). He will be joined atop the order by Mayank Agarwal and Rahul Tripathi.

Captain Aiden Markram and Heinrich Klaasen had stellar showings in the SA20 league while Glenn Phillips has logged seven scores of 50+ runs in T20Is since the end of IPL 2022, the fourth-most by any batter. Harry Brook scored 436 runs in the Vitality Blast 2022 striking at 163.9 and hitting a boundary every five balls.

SA20 2023 - Percentage of team runs

Umran Malik led Hyderabad’s bowling last season, taking 22 wickets in the tournament, the most by any Indian paceman. He also induced a batting false shot on 45% of his deliveries, the most by any bowler (min. 10 overs bowled).

The likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kartik Tyagi, Washington Sundar and T. Natarajan round out the Sunrisers’ Indian bowling core, while Marco Jansen and Akeal Hosein can play a part depending on conditions.

Rajasthan Royals

Last year’s finalists, the Rajasthan Royals, will once again depend on the services of Jos Buttler, the man with the golden bat. Buttler piled up 863 runs in IPL 2022 and followed it up with another 391 runs in SA20 League, top-scoring in both competitions. He matched his guile at the top with his explosiveness at the death last season.

IPL Preview - Batting at death

Any IPL side is only as good as its Indian core and the Royals are sorted with the likes of Yashasvi Jaiswal, Sanju Samson and Devdutt Padikkal in the ranks. They’ll be ably supported by Shimron Hetmyer, who was one of only two batters to score more than 200 runs at the death (overs 17-20) in the IPL last season. His compatriot Jason Holder will also come in handy for finishing games.

Rajasthan really mastered bowling in the powerplay last year. Their economy of 6.8 was the best among all teams and their strike rate of 23.5 was the third best in this period. Prasidh Krishna contributed heavily towards this cause and his absence will hurt the Royals, but Trent Boult remains as potent as ever. Last year’s Purple Cap winner, Yuzvendra Chahal can be trusted to take over the reins in the middle overs.

IPL 2022 - bowling in middle overs

Obed McCoy has been the Royals’ pacesetter at the death. McCoy had a strike rate of 7.4 in those overs last season, which was the third best rate among all bowlers (min. 50 balls). The likes of Kuldeep Sen, Navdeep Saini, Sandeep Sharma, Adam Zampa and Ravichandran Ashwin round out Rajasthan’s bowling.

Dark Horses – Delhi Capitals

Coming into IPL 2023 without a title to their name, the Delhi Capitals have one of the most balanced squads in the competition. Combining batting strength with the likes of Prithvi Shaw, David Warner, Manish Pandey and Mitchell Marsh with the addition of an attacking Phil Salt has given them more depth. In terms of a bowling attack, the Capitals’ roster boasts a fine spinning pair of Kuldeep Yadav and Axar Patel, mixed with some strong overseas pace options in Mustafizur Rahman, Anrich Nortje, and Lungi Ngidi. Indian talent in Ishant Sharma, Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Chetan Sakariya rounds out the team.

Shaw has been a reliable opener for the Delhi Capitals over the last five seasons, scoring 200+ runs in each of those editions. While Shaw’s likely opening partner would be Warner, Salt’s current form says otherwise. In the latest edition of SA20, Salt was a pivotal piece in his team – the Pretoria Capitals – going all the way to the finals.

SA2020 2023 - best batting performances

Salt’s strike rate of 153 in the tournament was the second-best among all batters (min. 150 balls faced), and the 238 runs he scored during the tournament was the joint-second highest by any Pretoria batter. Even in The Hundred 2022, Salt’s total of 353 runs was second to only Dawid Malan (377 runs).

Warner can still provide some stability to the Capitals’ batting line-up coming in at three or four. Playing the Australian a little lower down the order could also benefit Delhi’s young Indian uncapped batters like Sarfaraz Khan and Aman Khan. Additionally, Warner has a wealth of experience as a captain in the IPL – winning 51% of the matches he has captained, the fourth-best among all skippers (min. 60 matches captained). Warner’s leadership will be much-needed aid for the missing Rishabh Pant, who is out due to injury.

Spin bowlers IPL 2022 - best strike rate

In the bowling department, Kuldeep was highly successful last season. His bowling strike rate (14.2) was only second to Wanindu Hasaranga (13.2) among spinners (min. 25 overs bowled). With a combination of high-performing individuals and some consistency, the Delhi Capitals could be an unexpected contender and a potential banana skin for the favorites.

Players to Watch

Shubman Gill (Gujarat Titans)

Ever since his debut in the IPL in 2018, Shubman Gill has been a run machine in the competition. Overall, he has scored 1900 runs in 74 games in the tournament at a decent average of 32.2.

The top-order batter was simply sensational in the IPL 2022 scoring 483 runs in 16 matches at an average of 34.5 and a strike rate of 132.3. He registered four fifties last season and was the fifth-leading run-getter come the end of the tournament. He was also the Gujarat Titans’ second-highest scorer and played a crucial role in their maiden IPL title.

t20is most runs since end of T20 World Cup

Shubman has been exceptional of late, taking international cricket by storm. He’s scored 202 runs in six matches in the shortest format since the 2022 T20 World Cup, at a mind-boggling strike rate of 165.6.

In fact, since the end of the T20 World Cup last year, only Suryakumar Yadav (391) and Litton Das (224) have scored more runs than Gill among batters from full-member sides whilst his strike rate is second only to SKY (min. four innings). Given his current form, it would not be surprising if the Indian batter lights up the upcoming edition and puts himself in firm contention for the IPL Orange Cap in 2023.

Sam Curran (Punjab Kings)

Punjab spent big on the England all-rounder in the IPL 2023 auction, making him the most expensive player in the tournament’s history at INR 18.5 crore. This came after the Englishman excelled for his country in the T20 World Cup, where he led England to victory and was named player of the tournament. He scalped 13 wickets in the tournament, the most by any bowler since the Super 12 phase.

Bowling in the slog overs - 2022 T20 World Cup

Curran’s reputation as a death bowler grew during last year’s T20 World Cup, when his ability to stifle opposing batsmen in the final overs transformed him into a potent weapon for champions England. Nine of his 13 wickets came in the slog overs (overs 17-20), the most by any bowler. Indeed, his bowling strike rate of 7.1 was the best for any bowler to have bowled a minimum of 30 balls in that phase of the game. Performance of the same calibre will be expected of him when he comes out to bowl for Punjab this season.

Harry Brook (Sunrisers Hyderabad)

If there is one batter who has risen to prominence in the last year, it’s Harry Brook. Brook, regarded as an all-format superstar, will look to be the premier batter for Sunrisers Hyderabad in the absence of Kane Williamson. Having made his international debut in a T20 against the West Indies last January, Brook has carved out a place in England across all three formats. He’s already won a T20 World Cup and has smashed four tons in six Tests.

Best strike rate in Men's Test Cricket

Despite making his Test debut in September 2022, by February 2023 he became the first batter to reach 800 runs in their first nine innings. He’s on course to be the fastest player ever to hit the 1000-run landmark. And he’s achieved all of that at a strike rate of 99 which happens to be the highest rate by any batter in the men’s format to have faced a minimum of 200 balls. That’s the reason why Brook is considered by many to take this tournament by storm.

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