The Indian Premier League (IPL) is a strange beast, writes Alex Braae. Some consider it to be the ultimate showcase of cricketing talent, others see it as a glorified exercise in marketing and hype.

Favourites | Chennai Super Kings comprehensively defeated Kings XI Punjab in the last round. (Image | Sports Keeda)

Favourites | Chennai Super Kings comprehensively defeated Kings XI Punjab in a recent match, and are heavily fancied. (Image | Sports Keeda)

Bearing in mind that both points of view may be right, who and what should you watch out for at IPL 6?

The competition, while billed as a level playing field, has a few favourites expected to contest the finals, the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) being one such team.

CSK are led by M.S. Dhoni, and have other top Indian T20 stars in Ravi Ashwin, Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja.

Their international talent is also fairly handy, with the likes of Michael Hussey, Dwayne Bravo and Dirk Nannes in the squad. Never have CSK failed to reach the semi-finals, and they have won the whole competition twice.

Also in their favour this year is a decision by the Tamil Nadu government not to allow Sri Lankans to play in Chennai due to ethnic tensions in the wake of the Sri Lankan civil war. Other teams, especially those with Sri Lankan captains, will be hit hard by this.

Another outfit expected to be highly competitive are the current title-holders Kolkota Knight Riders (KKR).

Not only do they have the silliest name in international sport, they are also owned by Shahrukh Khan, an Indian movie star with an estimated net worth in the hundreds of millions.

This lends an aura of glamour to KKR, and helps them attract more attention than many of the other teams.

The Mumbai Indians, who have both Ricky Ponting and Sachin Tendulkar on their roster, and the Delhi Daredevils, Virender Sehwag’s team, are also expected to feature in the playoffs.

A new side has been added for IPL 6. The Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) have largely picked up the players of the Deccan Chargers, which gives them some chance of being competitive in their debut season.

They have few major stars: only Dale Steyn and Kumar Sangakkara really fit that description. However, SRH have managed to pick up a number of players that are capable of winning ugly.

Nathan McCullum can bowl negatively all night, and Cameron White is a master of using horrible-looking shots to bring a chase home. They could be the surprise package of the tournament.

Being the IPL, many of the cricketers involved will be Indian journeymen. All of the teams are topped up with the sort of players that would not look out of place in club cricket. Most teams use international players in key positions, or Indian national team regulars.

However, getting good performances out of the lesser-known Indian players can be the difference between winning and losing, as in the T20 format anyone could be called upon to participate at a crucial moment in a match.

The other type of player the IPL specialises in is the aged warhorse. Those no longer involved in international cricket often use the IPL as something of a pension plan.

Michael Hussey is one such individual who still has his full set of skills, while 41-year-old Adam Gilchrist probably does not. Rahul Dravid has found himself an interesting role, as the captain/coach of the Rajasthan Royals.

Foreign players

IPL teams certainly know how to make use of experience, but whether it is as useful a tournament for developing young cricketers is debatable.

English players have historically been under-utilised in the IPL, and this year is no exception. One reason is the limited number of places available to international players on game day, and another the perceived English emphasis on Test cricket.

As such, the English players in the IPL tend to be T20 specialists. Eoin Morgan, Luke Wright and the flamboyant Dimitri Mascarenhas have contracts, and should get plenty of game time.

All are completely capable of winning matches on their own, and Morgan in particular is one of the best short form batsmen in the world.

Kevin Pietersen would have been the only other English player in the IPL, he is however injured for the duration of the competition.

Aussie rule | Ricky Ponting is one of many Australian cricketers in the IPL. (Image | Daily Telegraph Australia)

Aussie rule | Ricky Ponting is one of many Australian cricketers in the Indian Premier League. (Image | Daily Telegraph Australia)

In contrast, Australians feature heavily. The Big Bash is the only comparable T20 league in the world, and Australians have an ideal reputation for brashness, swaggering and big hitting. Every franchise has at least one Australian and many have more.

Interestingly, the one Aussie that stands head and shoulders above the rest is not taking part. Michael Clarke has spent the last few years scoring thousands of runs for his country, but withdrew from the IPL in order to give his bad back a break from cricket.

His choice speaks volumes about the perceived value of IPL cricket, a stage that can be highly lucrative but offers little in terms of a cricketing legacy.

So there you have it. IPL 6 will be talked about in hysterical terms by the commentators and cheerleaders for the tournament, and disparaged by the so-called purists. The reality of the event is somewhere in the middle.

If you are interested in cricket as a spectacle, there really is no better show on earth. Some truly incredible players will be taking part, and every year there are remarkable innings and displays of bowling wizardry.

If, however, you prefer your cricket with a bit of context on the side, the IPL is probably not for you. There is always the County Championship to keep you going for the rest of April.

Alex Braae is New Zealand-based writer for Lines on Grass.

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