Virat Kohli (Royal Challengers Bangalore)
There’s little that can be said about the Team India skipper that everyone doesn’t know already. For the sake of this list, however, let’s just put it out there: Kohli is, by far, the best batsman in the history of the IPL. Last season, he scored 973 runs from 16 games at an average of 81.08 and a strike rate of 152.03. He also had four centuries and seven half-centuries. It’s quite likely that no one, him included, will be able to top those numbers, but it’s very possible that he’ll be the one to get closest to it. It’s almost like he has figured the science behind scoring big in the IPL. Here's more bad news for bowlers: He’s not the type to forget that formula. He’s all about low-risk, high-reward cricket, and he loves to win. That’s a combination that works for him as a batsman, but it hasn’t translated to his team. That will be his biggest challenge this time around.
IPL record: Matches: 139. Runs: 4110. Highest: 113. Average: 38.05. Strike rate: 130.43. 100s: 4. 50s: 26
Kagiso Rabada (Delhi Daredevils)
This is one 21 year old you don’t want to mess with. He may look quite timid but boy, can he crank it up with a ball in hand! What’s better is that he hits areas on the pitch on demand. That amount of control is certainly a plus in the shortest format of the game where batsmen premeditate strokes. And he has a wicked bouncer. At this young age, he has already played 15 Tests and 34 One-Day Internationals for South Africa and has a total of 121 wickets. More than his numbers, Rabada’s seamless transition from a boy from nowhere to being the leader of South Africa’s pace attack is among the more obvious reasons for Delhi to go all out and buy him for Rs 5 crore. He took over from Dale Steyn for South Africa and he hasn’t let his side down so far. That’s saying enough.
T20 International record: Matches: 16. Wickets: 22. Best: 6-16. Econ: 8.25.
Rohit Sharma (Mumbai Indians)
Only once in the nine years since the inaugural season in 2008 has Rohit’s average dipped under 30. How’s that for consistency? The man who makes batting look like a stroll on the beach on a lovely Sunday morning will once again be expected to fire for Mumbai, both as a batsman and as a skipper. He has been away from the game for over four months game since his thigh injury last November. His first game since came earlier this month and he didn’t set the stat sheets on fire, not remotely. But he’s the kind who relies on one big knock to get into the groove before turning into a dismissive slayer of anything and everything a bowler plots. That one knock could come before the IPL or when the tournament gets underway. Let’s just say that’s not a knock bowlers would want to be a part of. PS: He has TWO double-centuries in ODI cricket.
IPL record: Matches: 142. Runs: 3874. Highest: 109*. Average: 33.68. Strike rate: 131.72. 100s: 1. 50s: 29.
Jason Roy (Gujarat Lions)
The man with one of the cleanest straight drives on the circuit didn’t create a stir at the latest auction, at least the not the kind that was expected. He was bought by Gujarat for Rs 1 crore for his first IPL stint, a steal if you ask the English. He has played just 19 Twenty20 Internationals for England and has scored 369 runs with a highest of 78. Once again, numbers don’t do justice to this opener’s talent. He prefers playing in front of the wicket with an emphasis on offering the full face. He hits the ball with as much power and élan as the best in the business. He doesn’t experiment with his shot-making as much as most of the players in the league do, but we’ve come to learn from Kohli that it’s not necessary for you to try too hard when your basics are solid. And Roy’s fundamentals are rock solid.
T20 International record: Matches: 19. Runs: 369. Highest: 78. Average: 19.42. Strike rate: 129.92. 50s: 1.
Glenn Maxwell (Kings XI Punjab)
Maxwell has been horrendous the last two IPL seasons, scoring 145 in 2015 and 179 in 2016, both from 11 games. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s accept that he’s certainly better than what those numbers suggest. In fact, if you really want to gauge his ability you only have to look as far at his critic-defying century against India in the third Test in Ranchi against a quality bowling unit. You could argue that Test cricket means little to T20 cricket, but what an innings of that nature offers is confidence in abundance, and that will come in handy when Maxwell goes out to bat for Punjab. The fact that Punjab haven’t let go of him despite those numbers, and have elevated him to the captaincy, speaks volumes of just how highly they think of this flashy batsman, who was born for the limelight of the IPL.
IPL record: Matches: 43. Runs: 918. Highest: 95. Average: 23.53. Strike rate: 161.61. 50s: 6
Gautam Gambhir (Kolkata Knight Riders)
He may not be in the reckoning for the opening slot in the Indian side any longer, but Kolkata can’t ask for more than what this 35 year old has to offer as a batsman and as a captain. He has led them two IPL titles and has often led them from the front. He seems like the perfect candidate to test the theory of the Napoleon Complex on, but how does it matter if he is ultra aggressive or smiles as sparingly as a tortoise when he gets the runs and wins games for his side? He’s perpetually on a mission to win. It’s this kind of attitude that brings Kolkata together and it’s this kind of relentless drive that puts him on this list. To add to his credentials as a captain, Gambhir is one of the most consistent batsmen in IPL history with an average of 30.79 from 132 games.
IPL record: Matches: 132. Runs: 3634. Highest: 93. Average: 30.79. Strike rate: 124.15. 50s: 31
Ben Stokes (Rising Pune Supergiant)
If you were new to cricket and forced to gauge Stokes on his Twenty20 International stats, you’d probably say the Englishmen is only half-decent before going on to show incredulity at him being picked by Pune for Rs 14.5 crore – a record price for an overseas player – at the 2017 IPL auction. If, however, you were familiar with Stokes’s body of work, you’d by now know that he’s certainly more than what his relatively mediocre stats suggest. He is a power hitter who on his day can turn the tide. He breathes fire with his medium pace. And as a fielder, we’re yet to catch him off guard. This is his first IPL and it’s likely that he won’t be playing more than 13 games due to international commitments, but you can be assured that those games will come with a dash of pizzazz, the kind Stokes can produce at will.
T20I record: Matches: 21. Runs: 192. Highest: 38. Average: 14.76. Strike rate: 136.17. Wickets: 10. Best: 3/26. Econ: 9.03.
David Warner (Sunrisers Hyderabad)
The International Cricket Council may clamp down on bat sizes and that may or may not affect the barrel-chested, Popeye-armed Australian going forward, but these rule changes won’t come into effect until October, meaning this IPL you’re still going to see that massive Grey Nicolls Kaboom swat some balls seriously far. If it weren’t for Kohli’s unreal 2016 season, Warner would’ve been the one with the Orange Cap for his 848 runs (average of 60.57). But Warner outscored and outdid Kohli in the 2016 final to give Hyderabad the title. That’s something that will motivate the Hyderabad skipper this time around. To summarise: He’s a beast with the bat, on the field and as a skipper. His kind of primal intensity is truly addictive so watch out for his blonde-haired bolt to set your screens and the stands on fire.
IPL record: Matches: 100. Runs: 3373. Highest: 109*. Average: 38.32. Strike rate: 142.20. 100s: 2. 50s: 32
Virat Kohli (Royal Challengers Bangalore)