As a spectacle, it is hard to miss - think March Madness, spread over two months, with professional players, gaudier outfits, even greater commercialism and at least 25% of the games being played out to the lunatic commentary of former New Zealand international Danny Morrison, a man whose broadcasting style makes a hyperactive toddler seem like Tilda Swinton in a glass box.
We’ll be looking at the games in more depth from next week onwards, but here’s a guide to who’s who - and, of course, a few free tips along the way.
Chennai Super Kings
Current odds: 9/2 (Bet365) to win
Last season’s runners-up boast Indian captain MS Dhoni as their leader, South Africa’s T20 captain Faf du Plessis among the ranks and last year’s most expensive IPL purchase, Ravindra Jadeja for good measure. The latter will be hoping to improve upon a rather disappointing IPL in 2012 and has been in fine form for India with the ball recents. He’ll benefit from being on the same side as his Indian spin partner Ravichandaran Ashwin. They’ve also got the experience of veteran Aussies Mike Hussey, Dirk Nannes and Ben Hilfenhaus to fall back upon. Even in a tournament of stars, they are going to be a hard side to beat. Back Ashwin to be the top bowler this year, at betting odds of 14/1 with Paddy Power.
Current odds: 11/2 (Sportingbet) to win
Few teams have been hit as hard by the events of the past month than Delhi. Knee surgery will deprive them of Kevin Pietersen for the whole tournament, whilst David Warner’s loss of form in Indian conditions could render their other big hitting batsman ineffective. That’s before you factor in Virender Sehwag’s own poor run of form, which saw him dropped from an Indian Test side that was winning comprehensively despite him. A huge burden now rests upon the shoulders of Mahela Jayawardene, the only other truly world class player in their squad, and the latest India wunderkind Umukt Chand to be heavy scorers.
Kings XI Punjab
Current odds: 14/1 (William Hill)
Kings XI finished 6th of the nine teams last season and it is hard to see them doing any better this time around. Iconic Aussie Adam Gilchrist returns, but he is well into his forties now and spent much of last season’s competition injured. In fact, this is an aging squad with no fewer than five players over the age of 35 in genuine contention for starting spots. David Hussey will be his usual reliable self and Shaun Marsh will again use the IPL to try to pitch for a return to the Australian fold. Look out for Paul Valthaty, one of the stars of past tournaments who should be due to peak again after a comparatively quiet 2012.
Kolkata Knight Riders
Current odds: 9/2 (Ladbrokes) to win
KKR took the title last year in a dramatic last over finish against Chennai. A lot of that success was on the back of the extraordinary bowling of West Indian Sunil Narine. Narine, however, has largely been worked out by the world’s batsmen now and Kolkata will need to find another trick if they are to retain their crown. They’ll miss Bangladesh’s Shakib al Hasan, too, and possibly skipper Gautham Gambhir, who is recovering from jaundice. A bright spark will be the recent dominating form of New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum, who spent the past two months putting England’s bowlers to the sword in all three formats of the game. Expect KKR to come close this year, but unless they find something a bit special they’ll fall short this time around. Keep that in mind when making your sports picks on cricket.
Current odds: 11/2 (Stan James) to win
The big question on everyone’s lips is whether this will be the last time we see Sachin Tendulkar in the IPL. The Little Master will turn 40 before the competition is over and that fact alone makes their current odds both attractive and unattractive - they are shorter than they should be, but if the Indians get off to a good start they are longer than they are likely to be at any other time.
Ricky Ponting takes the reins of the Indians this season and there are a lot of big names, including the big-hitting West Indians Dwayne Smith and Kieron Pollard and Sri Lanka’s unorthodox quick bowler Lasith Malinga. One to watch, though, is Australian Nathan Coulter-Nile, who was one of the stars of the Big Bash League at the turn of the year and who could be the best player you’ve never heard of in this IPL
Current odds: 12/1 (Bet365) to win
Pune finished rock bottom last year, even behind the now-defunct Deccan Chargers, and this year’s campaign has got off to the worst possible start with the loss of Australian captain Michael Clarke to a long-standing back problem, whilst Bangladeshi opener Tamim Iqbal will miss the start of the competition with a finger injury. It isn’t all doom and gloom for the Warriors, though. Marlon Samuels has had a great 2013, both in the Big Bash and for the West Indies, whilst Kiwi’s Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson join the team after personally successful performances against England. There will be yet another emotional return for cancer survivor Yuvraj Singh and you can expect him to make an impact as big as his hitting.
Current odds: 16/1 (Paddy Power) to win
A new start for the Royals as the enter their first IPL without Shane Warne at the controls. Another legend, Rahul Dravid, takes over as both captain and coach, but all the signs point to this being a long hard campaign for them. Ajinkya Rahane recently made his Test debut for India and unless someone such as Shane Watson finds the form that has recently deserted him a lot will depend upon him (Rahane) and Dravid to score runs in this team. Look out for Kevon Cooper, who was one of the quiet successes of 2012’s competition and who could surprise a few people again.
Royal Challengers Banglalore
Current odds: 11/2 (BetVictor) to win
After a disappointing mid-table finish in 2012, this could be the year that RCB surprise people. Captain Virat Kohli is a rapidly rising star of the world game, majestic to watch in all formats and worth a bet to be the top batsman in this year’s IPL at 16/1 with Paddy Power. Chris Gayle remains the most destructive batsman in world cricket (he’s the runaway favourite in that top batsman market at 3/1) and whilst Tillekaratne Dilshan’s star has waned of late, if he and Gayle can get going there might be precious few chances for the likes of AB de Villiers to even get to the crease. With the ball, Murali Karthik remains one of the most guileful spinners in this format, Zaheer Khan is always a threat and then there is some chap called Muralitharan...
Current odds: 16/1 (Paddy Power) to win
The IPL’s newest team has a talented squad, but this could be a tough baptism for them. They will be disappointed if they lose Shikar Dhawan for too many games after his explosive Test debut earlier this month, when he scored the fastest hundred by a debutant in Test history. Until he returns they’ll rely upon Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara to lead their batting effort, and he in turn will be hoping to improve upon a 2012 campaign that was disappointing. With the ball, South Africa’s Dale Steyn leads the attack, but he has often been erratic in this format and he’ll need good support from the likes of Ishant Sharma and the evergreen Amit Mishra if Hyderabad are to finish anywhere but the bottom third of the table.