Five stars could be key to preventing reigning champions Mumbai Indians from winning for third consecutive year

Top players from around the world have gathered for the 14th Indian Premier League (IPL), which begins Friday for a 52-day Twenty20 extravaganza that will be played in empty stadiums due to the coronavirus pandemic

Five stars could be key to preventing defending champions Mumbai Indians from winning for third consecutive year

Kohli reacts after losing wicket in 2019 IPL match between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Sunrisers Hyderabad in Bangalore IPL Title

He led his team to a better performance last year with 466 points in 15 appearances as Bangalore advanced to the playoffs in the UAE He said he would open the baton in the T20 internationals and in the IPL

But with critics, including former Indian opener Gautam Gambhir, suggesting there must be a guard change in Bangalore, ‘King’ Kohli will be determined to shine ahead of the T20 World Cup later this year.

Stokes reacts to bowling against Sunrisers in IPL match in Hyderabad [File: Mahesh Kumar A / AP] The English all-rounder has a proven track record in all formats and his bat-and-ball form will be crucial as the inconsistent Rajasthan strive to follow through on their first IPL triumph in 2008

The Royals, who will be coached by India Sanju Samson this season, finished bottom of the eight-team table last year, with Stokes joining the team late due to his late father’s illness

He scored 285 points, including 107 undefeated, in eight games for a team that ran hot and cold

New Royals cricket manager Kumar Sangakkara believes Stokes is “exactly the type of player any side would want”

Smith plays a shot during a 2019 IPL match between the Delhi Capitals and the Rajasthan Royals at Jaipur’s Sawai Mansingh Stadium [File: Sajjad Hussain / AFP] A new start awaits Australia’s Steve Smith after being bought by the Delhi Capitals for $ 300,000 in this year’s auction, following his release from the Royals of Rajasthan

Smith, who led the Royals last year, could struggle to make the starting XI in a powerful lineup from Delhi that includes skipper Rishabh Pant, Shikhar Dhawan, Prithvi Shaw and Shimron Hetmyer

But coach Ricky Ponting insists Smith, a prolific top-notch drummer who has amassed 2,333 points in 95 IPL games, will be hungry to play in a T20 World Cup year

“I think the fact that he’s been released from the franchise he’s been in for a long time will also make him a little hungry this year,” Ponting said on the Cricket Australia website

He added that Smith’s playing chance would be in the top three in the batting order

Morris unsuccessfully appeals for the wicket of India’s MS Dhoni in the Cricket World Cup match between South Africa and India at the Hampshire Bowl in Southampton, England [File: Aijaz Rahi / AP] The Royals broke the bank for all South Africans -rounder in the IPL auction as the 33-year-old became the most expensive player in IPL history at $ 2 25m

Morris, who has claimed 80 wickets and scored 551 points in 70 IPL games, admitted the prize “blew me away”

“There is a little extra pressure, but the pressure you get from a price tag doesn’t affect you on a cricket pitch at the end of the day,” Morris said

Gayle lifts his bat after completing 50 innings in the 2019 IPL match between Delhi Capitals and Kings XI Punjab at the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium in New Delhi [File: Sajjad Hussain / AFP] Another force in Twenty20 cricket at the aged 41, the veteran remains a staple in the Punjab Kings batting arsenal

The so-called “Universe Boss” exploded last season after making the team halfway through the tournament to strike three half centuries in seven games

The Punjab missed out on a play-off spot, but the destructive southpaw, who is aiming for his third T20 World Cup title with the West Indies later this year, said he believed the Kings XI Punjab team would also bring them a change of luck

Last year’s tournament moved to the United Arab Emirates, but the 14th edition returns to India, where the COVID-19 situation has worsened

The signing by the Rajasthan Royals of the South African all-rounder beats $ 2 million paid for Yuvraj Singh by Delhi Daredevils in 2015

Matches will be played behind closed doors and call for spectator clearance will be taken later, IPL officials said

Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel win five wickets apiece, beating England three days before the fourth test

IPL, IPL 2021

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