Thursday, February 29, 2024

IPL 2023: Jofra Archer, David Warner, Virat Kohli – who are the stars with the most riding on the 2023 tournament?

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The Indian Premier League returns on Friday, with some of cricket’s biggest stars coming together to battle it out in front of colourful, capacity crowds – but who are the major names and what are the subplots to watch out for this year?

With 2023 being a World Cup year, plus the prospect of an Ashes summer creeping ever closer on the horizon, we’ve picked out a smattering of players who have the most riding on this year’s IPL.

Who is in desperate need of a return to form in 2023? Which England player is set to announce himself on the world stage? And which Indian superstar has the biggest point to prove?

Friday 31st March 2:50pm

Ashes places to be won (or lost) in IPL

The Ashes might not appear, at first glance, to be the biggest priority right now, with the first Test at Edgbaston on June 16th still the best part of three months away. Nor is the uniquely chaotic nature of the IPL the most ideal way for those involved to play their way into form.

But needs must for some.

Australia...s David Warner reacts while walks back to pavilion after his dismissal on the fourth day of the third test match between Pakistan and Australia at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, Pakistan, Thursday, March 24, 2022. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary).
Australia opener David Warner has struggled for form in Test cricket over the last two years to leave his Ashes place in doubt

Both England and Australia have key names involved in this year’s IPL, but there’s no one whose selection is riding more on them having a successful tournament than Australia opener David Warner.

Warner is in the midst of a desperately poor run for his country, averaging just 29.48 since the start of 2021, prompting speculation that he could be dropped ahead of the Ashes – and the 36-year-old is not helped either by his wretched record in England. Warner averaged just 9.50 during the 2019 series when Stuart Broad had him on toast.

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Stuart Broad looks back on England’s 2019 summer and his Ashes battle with David Warner that he dominated.

Even Australian legend Ricky Ponting suggested Warner should have “pulled the pin” and retired after scoring 200 against South Africa in last year’s Boxing Day Test – his first Test ton for nearly three years.

But Warner has always thrived in the IPL, with his four centuries placing him level with Shane Watson and KL Rahul, trailing only Chris Gayle (6), Virat Kohli (5) and Jos Buttler (5), so what better way to play his way back into form.

He finished as the leading run-scorer in 2019, and he was back to his best last year – averaging 48 in his first season with Delhi Capitals – after a dud 2021 tournament.

Making ‘Warner Watch’ even more compelling is the fact that his coach with the Capitals is a certain Mr Ponting, who might perhaps be asked by his fiery compatriot to explain some of those comments to the press.

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Australia’s Steve Smith leaves fans guessing what role he’ll play in the upcoming IPL season in a bizarre video he posted on his social media.

Honourable mention:

Sam Curran hasn’t played a Test for England since the 2021 summer, with a back injury sustained in that year’s delayed IPL hampering his involvement. But he has become an integral member of England’s white-ball set-up, earning Player of the Tournament honours in their 2022 T20 World Cup win which helped secure him an IPL-record £1.85m deal with Punjab Kings in the process.

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Former England captain Eoin Morgan says Sam Curran’s performances at the T20 World Cup have led him to draw comparisons with Ben Stokes early in his career.

Could another starring role here help catapult him into Ashes contention, especially given injury concerns over captain and talismanic all-rounder Ben Stokes ahead of the summer?

England’s IPL injury concerns

Warner is far from the only person sweating on an Ashes spot, with England fast bowler Jofra Archer undoubtedly another. Though the concern with Archer is over fitness rather than form.

Archer is just a couple of months into a comeback from well-documented elbow and back problems that kept him out of the international fray for 22 months.

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Jofra Archer took six wickets to inspire England to a win over South Africa in just his second international match back from injury.

He is making encouraging progress, taking 12 wickets across four one-day international appearances since the turn of the year, while he also successfully came through back-to-back games for the first time when playing all three T20 internationals of England’s tour of Bangladesh earlier this month.

Archer has yet to be stress-tested in the Test arena, however. He has not played a Test match in over two years.

“If I can play one game this summer, I’ll be happy,” Archer said recently when looking ahead to the Ashes. “If I play more than one, that’s just a bonus.”

Jofra Archer celebrates after dismissing Usman Khawaja during the second Ashes Test at Lord's
Jofra Archer claimed 22 wickets at an average of 20.27 in four Ashes Tests in the 2019 series

The England quick burst onto the scene in the summer of 2019, bowling the crucial Super Over in England’s World Cup final win over New Zealand, and regularly topping 90mph during some ferocious fast-bowling spells in that summer’s Ashes on his way to 22 wickets at 20.27 in four Tests.

That’s the sort of impact England will be hoping for again from the 27-year-old this summer, but he first has the small matter of 14 IPL games to navigate.

It is sure to be the sternest examination of Archer’s new-found fitness, as he is likely to be carrying the load for Mumbai Indians throughout the competition in the injury absences of Australian Jhye Richardson and Jasprit Bumrah, the spearhead of their attack.

Honourable mention:

Ben Stokes is another whose fitness England will be monitoring carefully throughout the competition as their Test captain continues to be troubled by recurring injuries to his left knee.

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Ben Stokes describes his injury as ‘frustrating’ the Test series in New Zealand, but says his focus will be on a full recovery for the Ashes this summer.

Head coach of the England men’s Test side, Brendon McCullum, said recently he had “no concerns” over Stokes’ involvement, praising the set-up at one of his former IPL teams, Chennai Super Kings, under the stewardship of former New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming.

Super Kings batting coach Mike Hussey has also said that Stokes will be involved only as a batter at the start of the IPL, adding that they hope his knee is good enough to see him bowling “at some stage in the tournament.”

Who has the biggest point to prove?

No one has more of a point to prove in the IPL than Virat Kohli.

He is the tournament’s leading run-scorer of all time, with 6,624 runs at an average of 36.19 since its inception in 2008, but he has never won the thing, which continues to be a huge source of frustration for the India batting superstar.

Virat Kohli's final game as Royal Challengers Bangalore captain ended in disappointment
Virat Kohli has yet to win the IPL with Royal Challengers Bangalore, finishing runner-up on three occasions

Royal Challengers Bangalore have often been the bridesmaids in the IPL, finishing as runners-up on three occasions (2009, 2011 and 2016), but they have also suffered the embarrassment of failing to make it out of the group stage seven times, with five of those instances happening during Kohli’s nine-year run as captain.

Kohli relinquished the captaincy to South Africa’s Faf du Plessis last year but it didn’t bring about a change in fortunes. RCB did at least reach the playoffs for a third-straight season but were undone by Rajasthan Royals and, more specifically, a Jos Buttler century in the Qualifier during his remarkable 2021 tournament.

At 34 years old, Kohli is still a long way from retirement – especially from the IPL, when you consider MS Dhoni is back again at 41 for Chennai – but it will be seen as a big black mark against his name if he fails to secure an IPL title in his otherwise sparkling career. Dhoni, for example, has four of them adorning his trophy cabinet.

Will 2023 finally be Kohli’s year?

Honourable mentions:

Kane Williamson has a real point to prove after a disastrous 2021 tournament with Sunrisers Hyderabad which saw him average just 19.64, at a strike-rate of 93.51. The New Zealand batter now lines up for defending champions Gujarat Titans.

There’s also some England interest in this category, with Joe Root (Rajasthan) and Adil Rashid (Sunrisers) both involved for the first time and keen to show the IPL what it has been missing by overlooking them in the auction year after year.

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Former England captain Eoin Morgan praises the impact Adil Rashid on the team and how the leg-spinner continues to get better with age.

Root can look to advance his own international T20 claims with a strong showing, having not played for England in that format since 2019.

Who is set to be the IPL’s newest star?

Harry Brook has enjoyed quite the rapid rise in the last year, culminating in the 24-year-old being snapped up for a cool £1.3m by Sunrisers in this year’s auction.

Having made his England debut in a T20 international against the West Indies early last year, Brook was fast-tracked into the team which won the World Cup in that format later in 2022. But it is his introduction into the Test arena which has been truly spectacular.

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Harry Brook hit the most runs by an England batter in a Test over when he took Pakistan leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood for 27 in Rawalpindi.

The Yorkshireman averages 80.90 across his first six Test caps, with four sensational hundreds and three fifties scored this winter alone. In fact, of the five Tests played in Pakistan and New Zealand, Brook failed to pass fifty only twice in nine innings – and one of those was when he had the misfortune of being run out without facing a ball in the final Test in Wellington.

The runs have come at some lick too. With all the talk of England’s new ‘Bazball’ approach to Test cricket, Brook is its keenest disciple, scoring at a stratospheric 98.77 strike rate in the game’s most attritional format.

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Former England captain Michael Atherton says Harry Brook’s performances have given the Test selectors a ‘real problem’ as Jonny Bairstow’s return to fitness looms.

But while Brook’s remarkable exploits will be fresh in the mind of every England fan, it’s now time for the rest of the world to take note. He managed only 56 runs from six appearances in England’s T20 World Cup triumph, including a modest top score of 20.

The IPL provides Brook with another global platform to better showcase his astonishing array of strokeplay. And one you’d imagine he will very much grasp.

Honourable mentions:

Australia's Cameron Green reacts after taking the wicket of South Africa's Theunis de Bruyn during the second cricket test between South Africa and Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Australia, Monday, Dec. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake)
Australia all-rounder Cameron Green claimed a maiden Test five-for in the Boxing Day Test against South Africa

While Curran came in as the IPL’s record signing, setting Punjab back a massive £1.85m at this year’s auction, Australia all-rounder Cameron Green followed closely behind as the second-most expensive player of all time when taken for £1.75m by Mumbai.

The 23-year-old, considered to be the game’s next great all-rounder, is fresh from claiming a maiden Test five-for on Boxing Day against South Africa, and following that up with a first Test ton in India earlier this month. A shoo-in for the Ashes this summer.

Josh Little (Associated Press)
Ireland left-arm paceman Josh Little joins up with defending champions Gujarat Titans in the IPL

Keep an eye out, also, for Ireland left-arm fast bowler Josh Little with Gujarat, the first Ireland player to feature in the IPL (Eoin Morgan had begun representing England by the time of his first appearance). Little was a surprise standout performer in The Hundred last summer, taking 13 wickets at an average of eight a pop for Manchester Originals.

Watch the 2023 IPL live on Sky Sports, starting with the season-opener between Gujarat Titans and Chennai Super Kings from 3pm on Friday

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