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Five years and four T20I games is all Sanju Samson has to show for in his international career. A talented Wicket Keeping batter from Kerala, Sanju first got his chance as a 20 year old in Zimbabwe. He did not cover himself with glory there but again it was understandable due it being his first series as an Indian national. He then went on to give some stellar performances in IPL for Rajasthan Royals which forced the selectors to give him another chance in the New Zealand tour earlier this year.

Samson got just 2 games in the series and he wasn’t successful in the two outings against New Zealand. The biggest problem though is that though is four chances over 5 years isn’t much for a young player. Sanju Samson is a gifted hitter and an amazing talent who also gives you an added advantage of being a wicket-keeper as well. He has been amazing in the IPL for multiple seasons and has once again begun the 2020 season in stellar fashion.

The Indian selectors and team management haven’t shown any patience with young players in the XI over the past few years. Different players have different yardsticks and the selection has been unfair on certain domestic talents. Karun Nair’s name comes into mind immediately. Only in India we would see a player whose last innings was a 300 and does not play in a Test XI for 4 years. Manish Pandey is another player whose career has been mismanaged. People talking about his slow batting in ODIs etc need to understand that he is a brilliant player and a fielder and should be part of Indian plans for all formats of the game.

Sanju Samson falls under same category. As an amazingly gifted batter he needs to be given a long rope in limited overs formats. His FC average of 37 isn’t that great but he is just 25 and I am sure he will make amends on that too before he ends his career. While India’s T20 team has been struggling for hitters over the past few years it is strange to see them ignore such talents at the highest level.

India’s current LO wicket keeper is Rishabh Pant. While Pant himself is an incredible talent his performance in LO formats hasn’t been very consistent. He for sure has earned his stripes as a Test player with hundreds on first tours to Australia and England but that hasn’t translated to LO performances. In 39 innings so far in LO format Pant averages 23. He made his debut in 2018 and has already played 44 games. There is nothing wrong in backing a player like Rishabh Pant but again other players need to be extended the same opportunities. The chances and selections need to fair. This is where Sanju Samson hasn’t been backed by the management yet.

Shreyas Iyer went through the same but again the Delhi Capitals captain made a stunning comeback after the world cup and has cemented his place in the LO teams. The Indian fans are already calling for Shubman Gill, Ruturaj Gaikwad and Devdutt Padikkal to be picked for the National team but again we need to make sure we do not ignore an entire generation of talent for the future. Sanju Samson needs to be given a fair go and I hope the selectors/team management take cognizance of that. It is all good to have great talent at the domestic level but if they aren’t utilised it does not mean much.

DC’s first game against KXIP despite their win followed a similar pattern to the 2019 season. Their top order collapsed leaving too much to do for the middle order. DC’s inconsistencies throughout 2019 was due to the fact that their batters did not put in cohesive performances through the season. Shikhar Dhawan at the top had a brilliant season with over 500 runs but his partner Prithvi Shaw had a shocker. Colin Ingram, Sherfane Rutherford and Colin Munro struggled in the chances they received.

The pressure on Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant was enormous and both came out with a decent 400+ runs last season. Even though Iyer and Pant tried their best their batting collapses were too often for them to make a difference. Despite having 3 batters in 400+ list DC failed to make an impact. In the first game of the season Delhi Capitals once again found themselves in the familiar territory. The top order failed leaving again captain Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant to perform the rescue act. Delhi almost faltered but a freak innings from all-rounder Marcus Stoinis rescued them from being bowled out within their allotted 20 overs.

The personnel have changed but the problem remains. Shikhar Dhawan can have a few failures and he is not the problem, Prithvi Shaw is. The Indian Test opener had a average season last year with an average of only 22. DC will benefit from good starts in few games at the top which was few and far between last season. DC will also want more from Shimron Hetmyer at number 3 and will be hoping that the West Indian will come into some sort of form for them in the rest of the season. Marcus Stoinis looks in tremendous form with the bat but innings like the one he played in the first game does not occur regularly.

Delhi Capitals still have Alex Carey in their squad who was in amazing form in the recently concluded ODI series in England. Ajinkya Rahane is in their squad as well but I am not sure he is the right fit for DC at the moment. I don’t think there is a need to panic for DC just yet after just one game but again they will be keeping an eye out on the batters. Making the right calls at the right time is crucial in the tournament like IPL as a downward spiral can make the tournament feel really long.

Delhi Capitals have a very strong squad and with right personnel in the playing XI, they will be strong contenders for the title.

Kings XI Punjab had a heartbreaking loss in their first game again Delhi Capitals. They were in control of the game for most of their bowling innings before Marcus Stoinis broke loose. While batting as well they started well but the middle order crumbled before Mayank Agarwal played a stellar knock to almost get them to a win.

KXIP went in to the first game without Chris Gayle. Gayle who calls himself the “Universe Boss” is obviously a legend in this format. An opener who could destroy any bowling attack on his day. The problem for KXIP though is that Gayle is always a hit or miss type of player. To be fair to the West Indian, he has had two back to back good seasons in IPL. He was second highest run getter behind KL Rahul in 2019 and his average of 40 was at a very high SR of 153. Gayle though hasn’t played any competitive cricket for a while and isn’t one of the quickest movers on the field either. Gayle is someone who hits big but again he also has a tendency to get stuck if things aren’t going good for him. He isn’t the greatest of fielders and I don’t think he prefers to bowl anymore. This means that KXIP by including him will be taking a huge chance.

Their choice of Nicholas Pooran for the first game did not go according to plan which might make them speculate for sure ahead of their clash against Royal Challengers Bangalore. It would be unfair on Nicholas Pooran though as he is no mug with the bat either in this format. He did have a poor game but again he does deserve another chance. KXIP also will be mulling over the inclusion of Mujeeb ur Rahman after Chris Jordan went for 30 runs in the last over of their game against DC. Sheldon Cottrell had a very good game with the ball thereby retaining his spot in the XI.

Karun Nair is another batter who will be under the scanner. He played a poor shot to the first ball he faced of Ravi Ashwin and kind of caused a mini collapse after KL Rahul had just gotten out. There is an option of Deepak Hooda or Mandeep Singh who are waiting in the wings for that middle order spot. KXIP also have the all-round option of Jimmy Neesham who provides them with a seam bowling option along with his batting ability off course.

While there is a lot for KXIP to ponder the primary discussion will be around the inclusion of Chris Gayle in the XI. The first game wasn’t as terrible as it seems. They could have gotten over the line if few things went their way and if their lower order did not panic. So possibly the franchise might still go ahead with the same XI giving all the players another opportunity to succeed. It makes sense as well as you don’t want to drop players based on one performance considering most of them haven’t played any cricket for months.

It will be interesting though to see if KXIP will avoid the temptation of tinkering with the XI. RCB are a very confident team with a great squad this season and it will not be easy to defeat them. The team from Punjab though boast of a very good bowling attack and they will be hoping for the batters to step up. Today will be a great game and all the eyes will be on the Kings XI team management as to what decision they would take in terms of the final playing XI.

When Suresh Raina decided to leave at the start of this season everyone expected CSK’s gameplan to take a hit. They were carrying two out of form openers and a bunch of rusty middle order bats. Raina who adds a great dimension to the CSK batting order has left a huge hole which I don’t think the team management were prepared for.

For some weird reason in the last years auction CSK went after bowlers but did not invest much on the batting front. The opening combination especially is pretty dicey for CSK. Murali Vijay who was once an explosive and consistent opener for CSK is just a shadow of the batsman he once was. His confidence seems to be non existent and that showed even during his fielding in the first game against Mumbai Indians. Shane Watson who was CSK’s star in their win in 2018 hasn’t been playing competitive cricket for a while now and that has shown in his form over the last couple of seasons.

This puts enormous pressure on Ambati Rayudu and Faf Du Plessis as the starts haven’t been what they would need for a T20 game. When Rayudu missed the game against RR due to injury CSK’s batting woes came into view for everyone to see. Ruturaj Gaikwad got a chance but we cannot be hard on the youngster after just one game. CSK would need to think about Murali Vijay’s role in the team. He has been poor in the field and has struggled to get going with the bat which means they would have to take a quick call once Rayudu comes back.

The problem for the men in yellow is that they do not have too many options in the squad. This leaves pretty less room for experimentation for the team management. The lack of batting options mean that CSK need to try and promote Ruturaj Gaikwad to open the batting alongside Shane Watson. This would also mean that Rayudu and Faf can play in their respective positions. Kedar Jadhav and MS Dhoni need to improve fast and soon in the middle order and they need to hope that Sam Curran continues to be excellent like he has been so far for the franchise.

The other major change CSK will be looking at is replacing Lungi Ngidi. The big South African made a great comeback in the first game but hasn’t been consistent enough. Josh Hazlewood can be given a chance in the upcoming games or even Shardul Thakur can get a look in which can allow CSK to play Dwayne Bravo or Imran Tahir based on the wicket for the upcoming games. Lots of things for the Stephen Fleming and co to think about ahead of their next game. The lack of batting options is something which might come back to bite them later in the season. For now moving around a few players is all they can do hoping that will be enough to get through this season.

Steven Smith led Rajasthan Royals have been the perennial underdogs of the Indian Premier League. This tag has stuck with them despite their title win in 2008 against all odds with a team which had no superstars besides their inspirational captain Shane Warne. The team which Shane Warne took to victory had Indian cricket’s future and players from around the world who were trying to make a mark or comeback. RR was the home for Shane Watson, Ajinkya Rahane and Ravindra Jadeja, who went to become great international success.

The situation though is different now with RR as they boast of some influential international superstars. Steven Smith, their captain is considered one of the best players in the world. Jos Buttler is one of the most feared bat in the limited overs format and they also boast of arguably the best all-rounder in the world Ben Stokes in their ranks. Jofra Archer who is one of the most exciting talents in the world also lifts their bowling attack. Despite having such international superstars in their mix, the one thing the RR camp lacks is the presence of an Indian superstar.

They do have some excellent Indian players this season though. Sanju Samson has been their main stay but again Robin Uthappa’s inclusion means they don’t have to worry about opening problems. They also have the brilliant Shreyas Gopal who has been brilliant for them over the last couple of seasons. It does seem like the team management had put in lots of thought in assembling a good squad this season. Even though Rajasthan Royals never come in discussions when favourites for winning the title are discussed, they may well be the team to look out for this season.

They did struggle after their internationals disappeared last year but with the possibility of everyone being available for the full tournament they are a team who need to be considered as true contenders. They have a squad this time which for sure can rise above the underdogs tag and can give the more popular teams run for the money. They have good balance of youth and experience in the squad and a good mix of Indian and foreign players

My RR XI for tonight:

Robin Uthappa, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Sanju Samson (WK), Steven Smith (C) (O), Mahipal Lormor, David Miller (O), Manan Vohra, Riyan Parag, Shreyas Gopal, Jofra Archer (O), Varun Aaron, Jaydev Unadkat, Tom Curran

The above XI gives a good balanced look. In the absence of Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler for the first game Rajasthan Royals need to be little creative. David Miller comes into the middle order and they would need to pick between Tom Curran and Oshane Thomas in the pace bowling department. They have some good Indian pacers like Ankit Rajpoot and Kartik Tyagi who can come into the mix as well. Young Yashasvi Jaiswal will be a exciting player to watch this season. He was brilliant in the U19 WC and it will be interesting to see how he copes with the pressures of the IPL. So quite a lot of options for Steven Smith to choose from and it is a happy headache to have for a captain. RR will be looking to start well in a tough tournament. There aren’t any weak teams this time and all squads look well balanced. We have already have 3 close games to start the season and tonight promises to be yet another cracker.

A star studded franchise led by one of the most influential cricketer of the era, Royal Challengers Bangalore seem to have got it all but for an IPL title. For some reason despite having a talented and best cricketers around the world, RCB has never been able to put together a title winning season. Virat Kohli and AB De Villiers have been the constant for the franchise and they have in fact carried the hopes of the team for over 12 seasons.

This time again Virat Kohli led RCB have one of the best squads in the tournament. AB De Villiers and Captain Virat Kohli are back again in the mix. The biggest problem for RCB over the last two seasons have been their openers. Since they have gotten rid of KL Rahul and Chris Gayle, the team has struggled to find the right combination at the top. This has meant that Virat Kohli has had to move up the order leaving the middle order inexperienced. The signing of Aaron Finch though will help RCB a great deal on that regard.

The Australian captain has been match fit and is coming straight after a ODI series in England which would mean that along with Parthiv Patel, RCB has finally taken care of the opening combination at least for now. They also have another exciting signing of 20 year old Devdutt Padikkal who has had an incredible start to his T20 career averaging 64 at a SR of 175. His addition in the middle order will be exciting for RCB.

Their bowling arsenal is strong as well with the legendary Dale Steyn and India’s Navdeep Saini. Adam Zampa has been roped in and they have the ever reliable Yuzvendra Chahal in the squad as well. Even though Zampa has been in tremendous form for Australia in the recently concluded ODI series, it is hard to see him make the X1 for the first game. Washington Sundar’s availability means Moeen Ali will be benched as well.

Similar to most of the seasons RCB once again have a great squad and excellent talent at their disposal. The biggest criticism they have received over the years is the way they use their squad. Their selection is all over the place and Virat kohli hasn’t shown too much patience with players which means the consistency in the X1 is something which is non existent.

Also the Bangalore venue hasn’t been kind to them as well. A small ground and a flat pitch means they normally don’t have any advantage like a team like CSK of playing in the home ground. Probably the change of scenery is what they need. The first couple of games in Dubai has shown that long boundaries mean hitting sixes isn’t that easy and scores are not that high. A fit team like RCB might take advantage of that and they pace/spin attack can actually put pressure on the batters with the pitch having some assistance to good bowling. Virat Kohli will be hoping that this year finally breaks their jinx and they would be able to claim their first IPL title.

My RCB XI for the first game:

Parthiv Patel (Wkt), Aaron Finch (O), Virat Kohli (Capt), AB De Villiers, Devudutt Padikkal, Washington Sundar, Chris Morris (O), Navdeep Saini, Dale Steyn (O), Yuzvendra Chahal, Mohammad Siraj

They can play Gukeerat Mann Singh if they want another batter to replace Siraj and they can include Adam Zampa or Moeen Ali by replacing Chris Morris by Shivam Dube. So RCB does have a very balanced squad and obviously they don’t have to have the perfect XI in the first game. The Above XI looks very balanced with good mix of batters/all rounders but again I will be tempted to get Zampa in due to his brilliant form recently.

When England won the toss and batted again they wouldn’t have envisioned what would transpire over the next 99.4 overs. England themselves started poorly. They had lost both Jason Roy and Joe Root before even getting off the mark. Jonny Bairstow who has been in supreme form this series once again was the saviour. He along with captain Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler got England to 96/4 but again the visitors were still firmly on top.

Sam Billings who has already scored a hundred in this series first stitched a significant partnership of 114 to get England out of the woods. Billings once again was brilliant and scored 57 before he was dismissed by Adam Zampa. Bairstow though kicked on and completed a brilliant hundred (112). Chris Woakes scored a quickfire fifty to guide England to a competitive 302/7. For Australia though Adam Zampa was among wickets again with 3/51. He has been brilliant with the ball all through the series and has also been able to keep the runs in check.

Australia’s innings did not get to a great start either. The found themselves 73/5 in just 17 overs and with half of their side gone the game was firmly in the grasp of the hosts. Glenn Maxwell and Alex Carey then counterattacked with a stunning assault on the English bowlers. Both of them completed brilliant hundreds. Maxwell who has been in great nick through this series once again was fantastic. He scored his runs at a high strike rate and kept the bowlers under pressure throughout. Carey was brilliant as well and when the pair was separated after an enormous partnership of 213, the game was all but over for England.

Even though there was a bit of drama at the end, Australia completed the win with 2 balls to spare. Australia will be thrilled to have won the series and they have been brilliant in this format over the last year or so. They would particularly be happy with the performances of the middle order. Almost the entire series was won by the middle and lower order as the top order did not contribute much in this series.

For England though this series has been a difficult one. They are probably the only team to have played a lot of international cricket over the last few months and frankly were not at their best in this series. The other good thing about the series were the pitches. These weren’t the roads we normally see in the ODIs in England. The bowlers had a fair chance in all the games and we can see that in the scores across the 3 games.

The Australian bowling was excellent and Zampa in particular. The consistency shown by Glenn Maxwell is another positive for Australia in this series. This series was brilliant and Australia surely were the better team and should have won the series 3-0, if not for their horrendous collapse in the second ODI.

Chennai Super Kings (CSK) are one of the best teams in the history of IPL. They are the only team who have reached the play-offs in every IPL they have been part of. They have won the title 3 times and are always one of the favourites going into an IPL season. The biggest constant for the franchise has been their two legends in batting, Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni. Suresh Raina at number 3 has been a regular for CSK and him pulling out leaves a huge hole in the top order.

Raina also is an IPL legend with 5368 runs in the tournament in 193 games. In the absence of the southpaw, CSK will be forced to reshuffle their batting order. While Shane Watson is a fix at the top, the opening role might go to Murali Vijay who has been struggling in this format over the past few seasons. Ruturaj Gaikwad is another option CSK might mull over considering his T20 record at the domestic level. In the absence of Raina, Ambati Rayudu is most likely to take over the number 3 spot.

The number 4 spot will most likely go to the Faf Du Plessis to spruce up the top order in the absence of Suresh Raina. This would mean that there will be space for only two more foreign players in the X1. Kedar Jadhav at 5 and MS Dhoni at 6 will complete the top 6 of CSK.

Dwayne Bravo will mostly grab the pace bowling all-rounder spot followed by Ravindra Jadeja as the lead spinner. Here is where things get exciting for CSK. For the first time they have a good group of fast bowlers especially the international group with Josh Hazlewood, Lungi Ngidi and Sam Curran. Hazlewood and Curran are coming in match fit. Both of them have been in good form for their respective sides in limited overs games. CSK though would be in dilemma as all three fast bowlers are fantastic. If the CSK camp are to be believed, Lungi Ngidi has been bowling with serious pace in the practice games. Sam Curran on the other hand gives CSK with lower order batting along with his left arm swing. Josh Hazlewood gives them with control with the new ball.

This for sure will be a hard choice as there is space for only one foreign pace bowler in the X1. Shardul Thakur and Deepak Chahar will also be in the mix as one of them has to play in the X1. The other selection trouble for CSK is the spin bowling department. They have Imran Tahir in the squad as well but again Piyush Chawla who was snapped up for a fortune in the auction last year will take the second spinner spot in the X1. Only one of Deepak Chahar and Shardul Thakur will find space in the X1.

The pace bowling combination is something which CSK will have a lot to think about. To decide between 3 world class bowlers will not be easy at all considering they might be able to play only one of them at most times.

CSK have a great squad this time with the right amount of experience and talent. The biggest challenge for them this season would be to get the right combination on the field. The team management will have lots of thinking to do ahead of their clash against last years champions Mumbai Indians in the first game of the season. It will be interesting to see what Stephen Fleming and MS Dhoni have in mind regarding the team combination.

My CSK XI for the first game:

Murali Vijay, Shane Watson, Ambati Rayudu, Faf Du Plessis, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni (WK & Capt), Dwayne Bravo, Ravindra Jadeja, Piyush Chawla, Lungi Ngidi, Deepak Chahar

When England won the toss and batted first no one could have predicted the roller coaster of a game they would witness over the next 98.4 overs. England’s start was anything from smooth as Mitchell Starc and Hazlewood tied the English openers into a knot. Both Bairstow and Roy struggled to get away. England found themselves in trouble when Roy was run-out for 21. Joe Root and Eoin Morgan battled hard against some brilliant bowling and great fielding of the visitors. The scoring was tough but they hung around.

When the partnership was broken though, England batting collapsed. They found themselves at 149/8 from a healthy 90/2. Adam Zampa was at it again with a fantastic 3/36. Josh Hazlewood was miserly once again with a spell of 1/27 in 10 overs. A late order partnership between Adil Rashid and Tom Curran got England to a fighting 231/9.

While England lower order fought well, 232 wasn’t a target Australia would have been worried about. Even though Australia started poorly themselves losing 2 wickets early, the partnership between captain Aaron Finch and Marnus Labuschagne meant that Australia were cruising at 144/2 in 30 overs. At that stage of the game, there wouldn’t have been too many people who would have given the hosts any chance. England though kept plugging and as soon as they broke the partnership, Australia collapsed losing 8 wickets for 63 runs.

For England Chris Woakes and Jofra Archer were the heroes with 3 wickets each. Sam Curran picked up 3 as well and Tom Curran was miserly giving away just 28 in his 10 overs. This win should give the hosts huge confidence as there were down and out at one stage.

For Australia though this would be yet another heartbreaking loss as their batting once again collapsed from a winning position. It is not often a team restricts England under 250 after the latter bats first after winning the toss. Australia would know that they have blown a great opportunity to go 2-0 up. With this win though England would have gotten a lots of confidence and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they don’t go on to win the series from here.

A brilliant partnership between Mitchell Marsh and Glenn Maxwell rescued Australia from a precarious 123/5 and got them to a competitive 294/9. Marsh who has been brilliant with the bat since his return scored a brilliant 73 with the bat again. Maxwell who hasn’t been in the best of form scored a whirlwind 77 of just 59 balls to give Australia the impetus to get close to 300.

England themselves did not have a great start to the chase losing their first 4 wickets with just 57 on the board. Josh Hazlewood was brilliant giving away just 26 in his 10 overs for 3 wickets. Johnny Bairstow (84) along with the brilliant Sam Billings (118) kept the hosts in the hunt but Adam Zampa with 4/55 made sure that Australia got a comfortable 19 run win.

Sam Billings who has been brilliant all summer in the LO games once again played an amazing innings giving England hopes of overhauling Australia’s target. But his innings wasn’t enough for England as the rest of the batting except for Bairstow faltered as Billings was the last man out of the final ball of the innings.

It was a brilliant all round performance from Australia as it is not easy to defeat England in ODIs at home. This has been a good start for the visitors but they would know that England will bounce back. The series has started off brilliantly and it sets up the rest of the games brilliantly.

Australia has looked brilliant after their rusty start at the start of the tour. England will have their task cut out to pull this one back.


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