It’s the month of the Indian Premier League (IPL). We are less than three weeks away from the start of the 13th edition of one of the biggest T20 leagues around the world. However, there are still a few concerns lingering around.
Safety and mental health are two of the biggest factors that will define this year’s IPL. There are a few COVID-19 cases in the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) camp and that adds to the uncertainty.
Suresh Raina has already pulled out due to personal reasons and he has flown back to India. Meanwhile, Kane Richardson has also been replaced as he is expecting the birth of his child. Another big star attraction looks likely to miss the entire season of the IPL and that is Ben Stokes.
The England all-rounder features in four Test matches (three against West Indies and one against Pakistan) before he missed the last two Tests against Pakistan due to personal reasons. Stokes flew down to New Zealand to be with his father who is suffering from brain cancer.
It is learnt that he is still in New Zealand and hence, is not available to be picked for the ODI and T20I series against Australia which starts on the 4th of September. Thus, there are a lot of speculations going around that he might give this year’s IPL a miss as well.
If that happens, it will be a huge blow for Rajasthan Royals (RR). Here are five possible replacements Royals can look at if Ben Stokes misses IPL 2020.
It was a slight surprise when Ben Cutting went unsold in the IPL auctions for the 2020 season. Yes, his IPL numbers don’t carry a lot of weight. He has scored 238 runs and has just 10 wickets from 21 IPL games. However, it’s the impact more than the numbers that Cutting brings to the table.
The pace-bowling all-rounder from Australia has the second-best strike-rate in the history of the IPL (batsmen with minimum 125 runs). Cutting is that sort of player where he might not be consistent but can produce match-winning performances.
Moreover, he has been in good form as well. He had a decent season in the 2019-20 Big Bash season where he scored 214 runs and took 11 wickets. In the Pakistan Super League (PSL), he picked up eight wickets and had a strike-rate of 189.61 while amassing 146 runs.
Thus, Cutting could be a really good replacement. He bats in the lower order and can be very effective with his cutters on the slow pitches in the UAE.
Colin de Grandhomme
Colin de Grandhomme may not be the best option to replace someone like Ben Stokes. However, the New Zealand all-rounder is a utility cricketer. He can tonk the ball hard and with the ball, he can nibble it around. With RR loaded with top-order players, de Grandhomme could be someone who bats in the middle or lower middle-order and don the finisher’s role.
He was in good form before the forced COVID-19 break. He was scoring runs consistently and picking up wickets here and there as well, keeping things pretty tight. The ball might nip around at under lights in UAE and de Grandhomme might be well suited to such conditions as well.
The Kiwi all-rounder also has IPL experience. He has been a part of the IPL over the last three years. He played for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in 2017 and was a part of the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) setup for the last couple of seasons.
One might argue, why Colin Ingram? RR already have David Miller in their ranks. Fair point. However, with Steve Smith and Jos Buttler expected to arrive late and with the quarantine protocols for them uncertain, RR might need another specialist batsman, especially for the first few games if the overseas stars are unavailable.
Moreover, Ingram has quite a bit of experience playing in the UAE and he even has a very good record in the UAE. In 31 innings that he played in the middle east, the Port Elizabeth-born left-hander has amassed 882 runs at an average of 36.75. He has a strike-rate of 148.48 which is more than his career T20 strike-rate which stands at 140.07. In fact, his highest T20 score of 127 not out also came in the UAE (in February 2019).
Hence, Ingram may not be as bad a pick and might come in pretty handy in the UAE.
Back in 2018, Zahir Khan was a part of the RR squad. However, he didn’t feature in any of the games. With the IPL moving to UAE this year, the pitches might be slow and conducive for spin. Thus, RR might well look at a spinner as a replacement for Stokes. And Zahir Khan might be on their radar.
The chinaman bowler from Afghanistan has been around for a few years now. He has a good T20 record and a fair bit of experience as well. He has played 51 T20 games and has picked up 61 wickets at an economy of 6.96. Moreover, Zahir has played in most T20 leagues around the world. Be it the Big Bash League (BBL), Caribbean Premier League (CPL), Pakistan Super League (PSL) or the T20 Blast, he has featured in all of these in the last couple of years and has done well too.
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With RR boasting of multiple leg-spinners, Zahir may add some variety being a chinaman bowler turning the ball into the right-handers and taking it away from the left-handers. Currently, he is in the West Indies, playing the CPL and he is also likely to play the Shpageeza Cricket League soon after that. Hence, fitness or match practice will also not be an issue for him.
Here is a surprising name and the only Indian in this list. Shams Mulani has been around the Indian domestic circuit only for a couple of years. However, he has climbed up the ranks and has become a vital cog of the Mumbai side across all three formats.
In case you didn’t know, Mulani is a slow left-arm orthodox bowler and a handy lower-order batsman who can chip in with vital runs. He had a stellar 2019-20 domestic season.
The 23-year-old Mumbai cricketer performed in all three premier competitions in the Indian domestic season. In the Vijay Hazare, he took 12 wickets at an economy of 5.06 and batted in just one innings. Mulani continued his form in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy where he scalped 11 wickets and had an economy of 6.64. He batted in just two innings, out of which in one game he was not out on zero and in the other game, he showed off his batting prowess as he smashed 73 helped Mumbai clinch a win. He extended his form into the Ranji season as well, scoring six fifties (and 514 runs) and picked up 26 wickets.
Thus, he could prove to be a decent replacement. Moreover, RR have their squad filled with leg-spinners and Mulani could bring some variety with his left-arm angle.