IPL 2021 – Red -hot Evin Lewis, Liam Livingstone 2.0, productive Wanindu Hasaranga in focus

It’s IPL time again – for the second time this year. Although the tournament continues from where it ended, it has a very #NewSeason feel to it. The troops are somewhat different, several star players have retired, new high-profile names have been signed, and the venues are no longer the same. With new players, there is always the opportunity for new opportunities to make an impact. ESPNcricinfo takes a look at a few that could make the other leg of the IPL remember. If they are not all necessarily new to IPL, they will definitely arrive in new avatars.

Liam Livingstone

During the first half of the IPL, he was a promising, hard-hitting batter who could not get into the Rajasthan Royals’ first XI. So much so that he even retired before the tournament was called off and the bubble life on the bench was tough. Now Livingstone steps in as a destroyer of bowlers’ hopes, dreams and all sorts of lengths. It’s a transformation – in perception, if not in his innate talent – that is barely two months old, but what two months it is since Livingstone hit 103 out of 43 balls against Pakistan. He has played 13 T20 matches since (including nine in a hundred) and averages 52.00 while hitting 190.47. Not a single one of those 13 innings has been slower than running a ball, even on the two occasions he fell before hitting double digits. If the royals had asked for some sort of relief to lose all of Jofra Archer, Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes, they seem to have gotten it in the form of Livingstone.

Starter XI chances: Livingstone will be a sure start for the Royals in every game he has available. Their other overseas choices are also competent (and some will appear in this article) – but none of them can deliver Livingstone’s firepower. Don’t forget his ability to bowl either playspin or offspin as well.

Wanindu Hasaranga

It was a bit of a surprise as Hasaranga did not receive a bid at the auctions earlier this year, but with Adam Zampa’s withdrawal he has found a place on the Royal Challengers Bangalore. The franchise is in the rare situation of having signed a potentially better replacement than the player they lost. Hasaranga has been an effective player for the last few years, and since 2019 – which is also the year he first played T20Is for Sri Lanka – he has picked up 71 wickets in 45 innings in T20 cricket. The average is an excellent 14.09, and the economy of 6.08 pushes his performance into the ‘big’ area. Half of these games have been in domestic cricket, but Hasaranga has not suffered when he made the grade for international cricket, as his numbers show.

A control over flight and length, a well-disguised googly and bowling-smart have made him one of the game’s leading limited-overs legg spinners. In addition, he swings a decent bat lower down the order, good enough for an average of 17.90 with a strike rate of 131.62 in T20 cricket. Batting has not quite translated into similar form internationally, but Sri Lanka has also played on courses where batting has not always been a breeze.

Starter XI chances: Hasaranga should be in the Royal Challengers’ first XI plans most of the time with AB de Villiers, Glenn Maxwell and Kyle Jamieson. During the India part of the IPL, they had chosen to go with Daniel Christian, but Hasaranga offers a far more potent threat with the ball, and the courts in the UAE should offer him something to work with.

Adam Milne

The most surprising thing about Adam Milne this season is not that he is among those to be looked after, but that he should only be part of a team playing in the UAE until the end of the IPL. He is only a reserve reserve for New Zealand for the T20 World Cup, but given his recent form in the shortest format, he could reasonably have been expected to be part of the team’s first choice XI. Milne has bowled more balls in T20 cricket in 2021 than he has in any other year, an encouraging sign for a pacer who has had to contend with multiple injuries. In The Hundred, he was devastating. He was not only one of the best top-four wicket-takers, but also had the best economy of all bowlers, a really big double hammy that became more enticing to those who saw him regularly screw it up over 90mph.

Starter XI chances: His form in The Hundred should give Milne a very good chance to make the Mumbai Indians’ first XI. He is not an IPL newcomer, having played five games for RCB in 2016-17, and he played a game for Mumbai Indians in the first stage, but he has rarely had the kind of sustained rhythm he found while bowling in Hundred. The pace has always been high, but now that it is better instructed, Milne automatically becomes a threat on any surface. He will target the fourth overseas place for Indians in Mumbai with three occupied by Quinton de Kock, Kieron Pollard and Trent Boult. The times he might miss are if the Indians of Mumbai decide they need more punch and turn to people like Jimmy Neesham, Nathan Coulter-Nile or Marco Jansen.

Evin Lewis

Of all the names on the list, Lewis is the one whose glimpse has been the most recent. He has just completed a triumphant race with the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots in the CPL 2021, which somehow emerges as the best batsman in the tournament. It included a tournament-high 38 sixes that broke a record held by none other than Chris Gayle. Lewis is also not an IPL newcomer, having played 16 games for the Indians in Mumbai, mainly in 2018 with three in 2019. He did not make it too fun back in 2018, but was not unique at the level he is at now . In 2019, he hardly marked. What the Rajasthan Royals want to knock on, however, is neither the 2018 nor the 2019 versions of Lewis, but the one that has lit 2021. He has scored with a strike rate of over 160 for both the Caribbean and the Patriots, and if the Royals needed an opener to match the aggression they have lost in Buttler’s absence, Lewis is one of the leading candidates.

Starter XI chances: The first two names among the overseas slots in Royals’ XI are probably Chris Morris and Livingstone. Among hits, Lewis will compete for a spot with David Miller and Glenn Phillips. That Phillips can keep is not irrelevant in this case, as Captain Sanju Samson can take the gloves so it comes down to battle positions and roles. As an opener who beats left-handed and is in good shape entering the tournament, Lewis crosses three boxes, giving him a head start over the others.

Team David

Another Royal Challengers Bangalore replacement that might just fit better than the original in Finn Allen. While David may not be selected ahead of de Villiers or Maxwell, he is a practical back-up should the need arise, being a middle-order batsman unlike Allen who opens. David has already had success this year in the BBL and PSL, making 15 out of six in the only match he got to beat in the Hundred final. He took it a step further in the CPL, came in to hit in the bottom middle order and ran regular fast fire runs without falling early. That he ended up as the third-highest runner in CPL 2021 despite mainly hitting No. 6 talked about how well he had fit into a difficult role: a mid-sized player who can not only hit big, but also stay long.

Starter XI chances: He is at best a dark horse, as two overseas middle-order batteries have already been pressed in, in de Villiers and Maxwell. The Royal Challengers will likely have Jamieson and Hasaranga in the other two slots to give them a good balance, but should they like to strengthen batting, David could get into one of the two bowling allrounders.

Tabraiz Shamsi

The world’s No. 1 ranked T20 bowler had an IPL stint way back in 2016. Shamsi was not the bowler he is now, having acquired a far greater mastery of his craft since. The ICC ranking does not always reflect a player’s status – especially in T20Is – but even if you ignore the ranking, you can not ignore Shamsi’s results. He has done a lot of T20 jumping this year, played for South Africa and franchises in the Caribbean, Ireland, Hundred and then Sri Lanka. Throughout it all, he has been hard to read or score. Accurate wrist spin is always an asset in the T20’s middle overs, and this year Shamsi has taken 41 wickets in 28 games, while going to just 6.60 per. The 607 balls he has bowled are also the most for him in a year, so he enters the tournament with form persistently over a good workload and a number of conditions and contradictions.

Starter XI chances: While Shamsi undoubtedly offers something more than any of the domestic spinners the Royals have, it will largely depend on the balance the site needs. The Royals’ punch is thin, so even though they probably want Livingstone and one of Lewis or Miller in there, they may be tempted to go for three overseas punchers. With Morris a lock-in to one of the overseas slots that leaves no room for Shamsi or any other overseas player.

Saurabh Somani is Assistant Editor at ESPNcricinfo

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