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IPL 2024: Kohli, Pant in spotlight

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VIRAT KOHLI and Rishabh Pant will be under scrutiny on their return to action as the Indian Premier League begins on Friday (22), with the T20 World Cup hot on its heels.

The 17th edition of the world’s richest cricket league is expected to end close to the June 1 start of the World Cup in the West Indies and United States.

Organisers have released only the first two weeks of the IPL schedule so far because it clashes with India’s six-week-long general election.

Last season the 10-team IPL lasted eight weeks.

“This is a world stage for cricket,” IPL chairman Arun Dhumal said on Wednesday (20), boasting the “quality is above any T20 league in the world”.

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“Not only the Indian players but also the overseas players will be looking to give their best performance in the run-up to the World Cup,” Dhumal said.

Master batsman Kohli, who missed India’s 4-1 Test series victory over England because of the birth of his second child, is back with Royal Challengers Bengaluru, previously the Royal Challengers Bangalore.

They take on defending champions Chennai Super Kings, led by M S Dhoni, in the opening match in Chennai on Friday.

“Kohli is crucial for India in the T20 World Cup,” former chief selector M S K Prasad told the IPL’s official broadcaster.

“He has been in form for a long time. He will make runs in this IPL as well.”

Kohli has still never won the IPL but Bengaluru broke their title jinx when the women’s team lifted the WPL under Smriti Mandhana on Sunday (17).

Pant is back as captain of the Delhi Capitals, returning to cricket for the first time since being seriously hurt in a car crash in 2022. They face the Punjab Kings on Saturday (23).

The wicketkeeper-batsman has been on an intensive rehabilitation programme since surviving the crash with a damaged ligament in his right knee, a hurt wrist and ankle, and abrasions to his back.

If he proves his form and fitness, Pant is another in line to play for India at the World Cup.

Another with something to prove is Hardik Pandya, the new captain of five-time IPL winners the Mumbai Indians.

Pandya has been out of action since October after an ankle injury and replaces Rohit Sharma as skipper.

Rohit, who led Mumbai to their five title wins, remains with the team.

The move to replace Rohit, who captains India in all formats, has not gone down well with pundits and fans, but Pandya brushed off any problems with the national skipper.

“I don’t think it will be awkward,” Pandya, who led Gujarat Titans to the 2022 IPL title in their debut season, told reporters.

“I’ve played my whole career under him and I know he’s going to have a hand on my shoulder always.”

The season could be Chennai veteran Dhoni’s swansong, after the warhorse led the team to its fifth title in 2023.

He said then that another year was a “gift” to his fans.

The 42-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman, who led India to two World Cup triumphs, in 2007 and 2011, remains a huge star in cricket-crazy India.

He underwent knee surgery last year and has hit the training nets in Chennai.

“He’s preparing really well,” CSK batting coach Mike Hussey said.

“His knee seems good at this stage and he’s batting extremely well at the moment.”

Australia’s Pat Cummins will be one of two overseas captains in the IPL this year, after being named skipper of Sunrisers Hyderabad.

The fast bowler briefly broke an IPL auction record when Hyderabad paid $2.5 million at auction last year.

Fellow Australian quick Mitchell Starc soon smashed the record. Starc, 34, returns to the IPL after a nine-year absence, having previously played for Bengaluru.

(AFP)

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