It's back. The Indian Premier League will set fire to its seventh season and there is the feeling that this could be the best one yet.
The tournament will be held in the UAE from the 16th to the 30th of April, but this has not stopped huge amounts of cricket lovers from taking the plane over to get a taste of arguably the most exciting and enthralling month and a half in the cricket calendar.
The IPL has been controversial to say the least since its inaugural tournament in 2008. Disputes with the ECB and West Indies cricket board, as well as security concerns have perhaps, at times, overshadowed what is an incredibly popular competition, not only in India and Pakistan, but for cricket lovers all around the world.
Many expected that the atmosphere and the crowds would be limited if the competition would be taken abroad once more. However, similar to the second season in 2009 in South Africa, it looks like this won't be the case.
So why has the competition become such a huge hit?
Ever since the start, the IPL has never failed to disappoint in attracting the best players in the world. From Chris Gayle, Shane Watson, Kevin Pietersen and AB de Villiers to Dale Steyn, Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan and Brett Lee, the biggest names from abroad have always relished playing with and against each other.
The IPL has seen some stunning battles, most notably Steyn vs De Villiers in 2012, in which fans get a rare chance to see the world's best at the peak of their powers.
Not only have great players appeared in the tournament, the have excelled during it. Hitting at the very highest level, such as Gayle's 175 vs Pune Warriors and Brendon McCullum's 158 vs Royal Chellengers Bangalore, has been viewed by millions around the world. Fans hardly get to see that quality of cricket with so many great players throughout the calendar year, the IPL is an exception.
Possibly the biggest benefit of the IPL, for Indian cricket especially, is the fact that so many brilliant talents emerge as a result of the tournament. It gives young players the opportunity to showcase their talents as a result of the four overseas players per match rule.
A perfect example of this is Virat Kohli, who by many is seen as the world's best batsman currently after his outstanding displays in the World T20 in Bangladesh last month. Not many had heard of him before Bangalore gave him a chance to make a name for himself. He gleefully took the opportunity, with consistency being key during the batsman's rise to prominence.
Not only Kohli, but many talents, such as Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ambati Rayadu have come through the IPL system and excelled, earning them call ups to the Indian squad.
It is not just Indian players that have benefited as a result of the IPL also. Player like Shaun Marsh, Sunil Narine, Keiron Pollard and James Faulkner have earned caps for their respective nations due to stellar performances in the competition against the very best around.
It is a wonderful advert for cricket and has also increased the game's popularity significantly around the world.
The IPL has been renowned for having rich investments. The IPL action, held two or three months before the tournament begins, is always entertaining with players being bought for eye-watering prices and others for absolute bargains.
Some of the biggest purchases from the auction in the past in include Gautam Gambhir ($2.4 million) (Kolkata Knight Riders), Yusuf Pathan ($2.1 million) (KKR), Rohit Sharma ($2 million) (Mumbai Indians) and Ravi Jadeja ($2 million) (Chennai Super Kings). This is yet another attraction for players.
Huge investments into the competition and the franchises are seen as a crucial part in making the IPL the showcase it is today. It is also an extra incentive for players to play at the very best of their ability as it is likely that their price and their salary will rise in the near future because of it.
So as the seventh season of the IPL gets ready to ignite once more, these are the five players to look out for during the tournament...
Axed by the ECB earlier this year as a result of the 5-0 Ashes thrashing down under, Pietersen will be able to play a full IPL for the first time. The decision to drop one of England's greatest ever batsmen has caused much room for discussion and debate over whether it was the right call or not.
However, there is no confusion about his undoubted talent and he will be looking to prove to the selectors that there is still plenty left in the KP tank.
Pietersen will captain and lead a much more balanced Delhi team than the one last year when they failed to win the first six matches and never recovered. The addition of the former England batsman will not only excite Delhi fans, but all IPL fans.
The 19 year-old has a superb tournament last year, with his composure and clean hitting making many cricket viewers taking notice. On occasions, he won matches on his own for the Rajasthan Royals and has an unbelievably cool head for someone of his age. He scored 206 runs in 10 innings with a highest of 63 and a strike rate of 115.73.
The youngster has been in good form for India U19s and will be hoping to take that into IPL 7. Whether he opens or bats in the middle order, Samson will be a key player for the Royals in helping them reach substantial totals as shown by the decision of the franchise to retain him for this season.
There have been many success stories in IPL so far and if Samson showcases his talent once again, he could be another evidence of this.
'Yuvi' has come under scrutiny recently as a result of his painstaking 21 ball 11 in the World T20 final. Ever since his comeback from injury, his form has dipped and many think he is just about clinging on to his place in India's one-day team.
If Yuvraj ever had a chance to impress the selectors once more, one would think this is the stage to do it. Bought by Royal Challengers Bangalore for $2.3 million, the fans will have high expectations for him to deliver in the middle order.
There is no question about Yuvraj's hitting ability, with his 6 sixes in one Stuart Broad over arguably being the highlight of a glittering career so far.
If 'Yuvi' can fire, along with RCB's star-studded batting line up, there could be many fireworks at the Chinnaswamy Stadium this season.
Already a huge IPL favourite for his stellar performances last season, Narine arrives with a big reputation. Hat-tricks and several four wicket hauls have sparked the opinion that the West Indian is the best one-day spinner out there.
Internationally, Narine has not been as prominent as he has been in the IPL with him being one of several West Indian bowlers being on the receiving end of the onslaught dished out by Corey Anderson during the one-day series in New Zealand. The West Indian has only played six tests, picking up 21 wickets and having an average of 40.52.
In a tournament with many quality spinners, Narine will look to again deliver on his reputation of being able to change a game in an instance. As we all know, he is more than capable of performing up to the task.
Arguably the best one-day bowler in the world, Malinga's latest success came in the World T20 final, in which his outstanding death bowling lead to India's total being restricted and Sri Lanka winning the tournament for the first time.
Malinga's form in the IPL has hardly ever faltered, with the Sri Lankan being the highest wicket-taker with 103 and a quality average of 17.95 to go with it. He has spearheaded the Mumbai Indians' attack for several years and was a crucial factor in them winning their first IPL title in 2013.
New captain Rohit Sharma will once again look to Malinga to terrorise batsmen as he so often has done over many years. He could well deliver once again in IPL 7.
With so many big names and young talents on show in this year's IPL, added with the many different venues, IPL 2014 could be the most fascinating and unpredictable tournament to date.
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