Three of the eight current IPL franchises have never won the trophy, and two of them face off at the Dubai International Stadium on Sunday. To get an idea of how desperately Delhi Capitals and Kings XI Punjab have tried to assemble a combination that could one day lift the trophy, run your eye through these names: Glenn Maxwell, R Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Axar Patel, Marcus Stoinis, James Neesham. They have all been part of both franchises at various points, so give yourself a pat on the back if you can say, off the top of your head, which one they currently represent.
Recent results and the make-up of the two squads suggest Capitals have done a better job, so far, of forging an identity for themselves, but both teams remain incomplete in some sense, with clearly identifiable areas of strengths and weaknesses. Sunday might give us our first clues as to how smartly these two teams can manage their resources over this brave new season in a foreign land in strange times for the world at large.
Delhi Capitals: 1 Prithvi Shaw, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Shimron Hetmyer, 4 Shreyas Iyer (capt), 5 Rishabh Pant (wk), 6 Alex Carey/Marcus Stoinis/Keemo Paul, 7 Axar Patel, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Kagiso Rabada, 10 Sandeep Lamichhane, 11 Ishant Sharma.
Kings XI Punjab: 1 KL Rahul (capt & wk), 2 Mayank Agarwal, 3 Nicholas Pooran, 4 Glenn Maxwell, 5 Sarfaraz Khan, 6 Mandeep Singh/Deepak Hooda, 7 K Gowtham, 8 James Neesham/Chris Jordan/Sheldon Cottrell, 9 Ravi Bishnoi/J Suchith, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Mujeeb Ur Rahman.
He's only faced 69 balls in a 43-match IPL career to date, but the Capitals have a reason to view Harshal Patel as more than just a specialist fast bowler. During the 2019 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, Patel played the Sunil Narine role for Haryana, opening the batting and ending the tournament as its fourth-highest run-getter, with 374 at a strike rate of 165.48. Whether the Capitals are open to such a move remains to be seen, given that the bowling at IPL level is of a higher standard than some of the domestic attacks Patel tore into last year, but don't be surprised if he's used as a pinch-hitter at some point.
Glenn Maxwell is available for selection thanks to the relaxed quarantine norms for the Australian and English players who have only just arrived in the UAE, and he's fresh off playing one of the great counterattacking knocks in ODI cricket. Nicholas Pooran is in form and among the most dangerous T20 batsmen going around. Mujeeb Ur Rahman's ability to tie batsmen up in the powerplay seems indispensable. Who, then, will Kings XI's fourth overseas player be? There's Chris Gayle to consider at the top of the order, but that would leave the bowling vulnerable, which leaves three likely candidates: Sheldon Cottrell brings his left-arm angle but not a lot of batting and not a lot of form from the CPL, Chris Jordan brings death-overs skills and late-overs hitting, and James Neesham strengthens the middle order considerably while not quite being a match for the other two with the ball. Kings XI could grapple with this debate right through the tournament.
The Capitals have a similar issue in a similar position, where Marcus Stoinis (whose recent T20 successes have come at the top of the order) and Keemo Paul (a lower-order batsman rather than a genuine allrounder) are vying for the No. 6 slot alongside a wicketkeeper-batsman in Alex Carey. If Carey plays, the Capitals will be left with no sixth bowling option, with no part-time bowlers in their expected top five.
Mujeeb usually bowls with the new ball, but Kings XI might want to hold him back considering his record against two of the Capitals' middle-order batsmen. He has bowled 12 balls to Shimron Hetmyer in T20s, conceding just four runs while dismissing him twice. Mujeeb has dismissed Rishabh Pant twice too, in 11 balls, while conceding 17 runs to him. Who takes the new ball in that case? Well, assuming Shikhar Dhawan opens, it could well be Maxwell. This is their head-to-head: 25 balls, 35 runs, two wickets.
The Capitals have one of the best spin contingents in the competition, but among batsmen with at least 300 runs against that form of bowling in the IPL, Maxwell has the highest strike rate: 171. He has a superb head-to-head record against R Ashwin (107 runs off 49 balls, two dismissals), but has mixed returns against Amit Mishra, who has conceded 55 runs in 29 balls but has dismissed him four times in five meetings. If Mishra plays, expect the Capitals to bring him on as soon as Maxwell gets to the crease.
Stats that matter
Kings XI have tended to get off to great starts in recent IPL seasons. They won four of their first five matches in 2018, and three of their first five in 2019. The Capitals, in contrast, won only one of their first five games in 2018, and only two (one via a Super Over) in 2019. Kings XI, though, fell away rapidly in both seasons and failed to make the playoffs.
Bat first or second? It's a tricky question in Dubai, where, in 51 T20 games since the start of 2018, teams batting first have won 25 times and chasing teams 26 times.
The average first-innings score at the venue across those 51 matches is 152 for 7, and the average winning first-innings score is 167 for 6.
Fast bowlers (average 22.9, SR 18.0) and spinners (23.0, 20.7) have similar wicket-taking numbers in this period, but spinners (economy rate of 6.7) have been significantly more frugal than the quicks (7.6).