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Part two of the Twenty20 Champions League Preview:

  • The Bangalore Royal Challengers have almost as many South Africans in their squad as the sides representing that country (even without the injured Kevin Pietersen). Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher and Dale Steyn all feature, whilst Rahul Dravid demonstrated in this year’s IPL that there’s a role for him in Twenty20 cricket which doesn’t simply involve driving down the run-rate.
  • Somerset‘s preparation has been dominated by Marcus Trescothick’s return to India, with some of the coverage seemingly willing him to suffer a breakdown. Assuming all is well with Trescothick, he and Justin Langer make an experience opening pair, with possible future ‘England’ wicketkeeper Craig Kieswetter also capable of making quick runs. It’s difficult to assess how well the English sides will do, but at first glance it seems a mighty task for Somerset to win the tournament.
  • Sussex have a reasonably balanced side which was impressive during the English domestic Twenty20 Cup, with the batting of Michael Yardy and Ed Joyce and the bowling of James Kirtley particular highlights, with Luke Wright and to some extent Yasir Arafat capable both of adding runs and taking wickets at crucial moments. The side may struggle against some of the millionaire IPL teams, but perhaps greater experience of Twenty20 cricket will count in their favour.
  • Trinidad & Tobago are arguably considerably stronger than the side which is representing the West Indies at the moment, with Dwayne Bravo one of the stars of the (now presumably defunct) Stanford 20/20 competition alongside spinner Dave Mohammed, and with Windies wicketkeeper Dinesh Ramdin also in the side.
  • Wayamba have the experience of Mahela Jayawardene and the magic of Mendis. The latter will most likely bamboozle a number of players who are missing international experience, although he didn’t quite live up to his billing for Kolkatta in the IPL. The side look more like dark horses than front-runners, but, as I’ve already said, anything could happen over 20 overs.
  • Victoria might suffer for the loss of Dirk Nannes, but David Hussey and Brad Hodge have the class to make an impact with the bat. Bryce McGain has another chance to make an impact outside of Australia following his disappointing Test ‘career’.
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Kevin Pietersen has, presumably half-jokingly, admitted that he’s not very good at something. The fact that KP is capable of articulating the idea that he isn’t amazing at everything will be shocking enough in itself to some, but that’s not all – the thing he’s not great at is cricket.

“I’m not very good at Twenty20 cricket”, Pietersen told the Mirror (the English tabloid paper, that is, rather than the reflective surface – I imagine that his comments to the latter are more along the lines of ‘hey there, looking good’). Presumably, the Bangalore Royal Challengers, who paid more than $1.5m for Pietersen in the second IPL auction only to see him dramatically underperform, would agree.

KP has a history of odd pronouncements. He previously called Twenty20 ‘a silly game with silly shots’, which is doubly strange given his well-documented predilection for unorthordox shots of his own. It’s also worth remembering that this is the man who made a resignation statement containing the phrase “I wish to make it very clear that I did not resign as captain of the England cricket team this morning“.

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The IPL is getting towards the business end now, but who’s going to win it? Cast your vote below.

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There was much excitment in some quarters when it was announced that English players would be available for the second season of the IPL, and Chennai and Bangalore alone spent $3m between them on Flintoff and Pietersen respectively, but how have England’s IPL stars got on so far?

  • Kevin Pietersen has struggled too, getting out cheaply in nearly every innings. His famed aggression hasn’t always been on display for Bangalore (at least not until after he’s out), and the treatment he’s getting from the South African crowds can’t have helped. Having captained his side to four defeats in a row, the Royal Challengers might not be too upset to see the back of him when he returns to England.
  • Dimitri Mascheranhas, the only English player with prior experience of the IPL, made an explosive start to his second season, taking 2 wickets in 2 balls, and batted well against Kolkatta. He seems to have graduated from last year’s bit-part at Rajasthan to the role of front-line bowler, and has taken the wickets of some very good players indeed.
  • Owais Shah has apparently enjoyed practising his Hindi with his Delhi Daredevils team-mates, and has had plenty of time to, with little in the way of cricket to occupy himself with.
  • Ravi Bopara blasted 84 from 59 balls against Bangalore, and claims that he has now learnt how to open in Twenty20 cricket, something that may bring cheer to England ahead of the World Twenty20 in June.
  • Paul Collingwood has made it onto the field, but only as a substitute fielder (would it be cruel to suggest that Delhi signed him with that in mind?), and may not get a chance before England duty calls.

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The second season of the IPL (or the first season of the SAPL, if you prefer) gets underway this weekend, so here’s the lowdown on the teams taking part:

Bangalore Royal Challengers
Bangalore’s main pre-season activity was the purchase of Kevin Pietersen and KP will join a host of his fellow countrymen in Kallis, Steyn and Boucher. Last year the Royal Challengers finished seventh of eight teams, with only 4 wins, and Rahul Dravid didn’t look much of a Twenty20 batsman last time out, so it is to be hoped that the signing of Pietersen and the availability of Nathan Bracken following injury last year will improve things.

Zaheer Khan has departed to the Mumbai Indians in a swap deal for Robin Uthappa, but Steyn and Bracken – when available – should be enough to keep the bowling up to standard. Nevertheless, the Royal Challengers are unlikely to be amongst the favourites for the competition this year (although as Rajasthan showed last year, the odds may not be a fair indicator of each team’s relative chances).

Chennai Super Kings
Initial indications are that Chennai look strong again this year. Matthew Hayden’s retirement from international cricket means he is available for the whole competition, and new signing Andrew Flintoff, if fit, could potentially be the archetypal IPL all-rounder. In addition, MS Dhoni remains a potent threat.

Last season, the Super Kings lost out to Rajasthan in the final on the last ball, and the squad looks good enough to go one better this time around if fortune (and fitness) favours the Super Kings.

Delhi Daredevils
Dehli have been hit by the loss of Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Asif, but have added Australian master blaster David Warner and English duo Paul Collingwood and Owais Shah. Perhaps most important of their new additions is ‘Dirty’ Dirk Nannes, a Twenty20 specialist who has been part of successful Middlesex and Victoria teams in the shortest form of the game.

Dehli also have the likes of Sehwag, Gambhir, Vettori, de Villiers and McGrath at their disposal, so if the Daredevils can get the make-up of their side right, they have a strong chance of success. The fact that most of their overseas stars will be available throughout may lead to the odd selection problem, but they will be problems of the sort that other franchises would like to have.

Deccan Chargers
Last year’s wooden-spoon winners in dead last place, the Chargers suffered heavily in the batting department as Shahid Afridi, Scott Styris and even Herschelle Gibbs failed to live up to expectations. he has been recalled, and they have a preponderance of all-rounders having also added Dwayne Smith and Ryan Harris.

RP Singh is also under pressure after a disappointing season last year, as is Chaminda Vaas, and Fidel Edwards’s arrival should improve the effectiveness of the bowling unit. In all, there is some hope for a better performance this year, although it would be hard for the Chargers to do any worse.

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The IPL has announced the fixtures for its second season (or at least “the tentative Match Schedule”), with the main headline-grabber being the Chennai Super Kings vs Bangalore Royal Challengers match in Chennai, which may see the newest two marquee players, England lynchpins Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen making their IPL debuts on opposite sides, potentially with the latter captaining his new side.

Whether or not Flintoff will be fit (or allowed) to take part in that match, or any other in the IPL, is still open to question. The tone of the discussion around whether Flintoff should take part hasn’t been particularly balanced so far, but the amount of money involved (not just for the player himself – the IPL is struggling for sponsors and Flintoff is the sort of name that will draw in spectators) is likely to tilt things in favour of his participation.

UPDATE: The revised fixtures (now that the whole thing’s in South Africa) can be found here.

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The IPL trading window is about to close, and what is likely to be the biggest transfer (at least until the auction, when England’s players will be available) has just gone through. The Mumbai Indians have traded Robin Uthappa to the Bangalore Royal Challengers in exchange for Zaheer Khan. The deal reunites each player with his ‘normal’ domestic side.

No money changed hands, which suggests the players are of roughly equal worth. But which team got the better end of the deal?

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