Who benefits most from the IPL's long injury list?

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There is opportunity abound in this year's IPL.

Virat Kohli. KL Rahul. R Ashwin. Murali Vijay. Mitchell Marsh. Mitchell Starc. Quinton de Kock. JP Duminy. Angelo Mathews. AB de Villiers. Mustafizur Rahman. Ravindra Jadeja. Umesh Yadav.

It reads like the team sheet of a rich franchise. Instead, these are the injuries ahead of the 2017 Indian Premier League. A few of them – Kohli, De Villiers, Rahman, Jadeja and Yadav – are expected to miss the first couple weeks and return to action gradually thereafter.

But one man’s misfortune is another’s opportunity.

Here, we look at the players most likely to benefit from this long list of absentees?

SHIKHAR DHAWAN

The past year has seen a sharp downturn in fortune for the left-handed batsman. He was the primary opener when the team embarked on the West Indies tour, but nine months later he wouldn’t be in India’s top-three of available openers. Instead, Dhawan has been away playing domestic cricket (223 runs in three matches in Deodhar Trophy in March), bidding for a comeback.

Injuries have made the openers’ slots a merry go-round in the Indian team in 2016-17. Dhawan too missed out against New Zealand in September last year, and has since struggled to get his spot back. Now, with Rahul out for the entire two-month tournament, there is doubt whether he will recover in time for the Champions Trophy in June. A good outing for Sunrisers Hyderabad could put Dhawan back in contention.

MANDEEP SINGH

Named the ‘Rising Star’ of IPL 2012, Mandeep’s moment in the sun came three years later when he struck Andre Russell for successive sixes and scored 45 off 18 balls to help Royal Challengers Bangalore beat Kolkata Knight Riders in a rain-curtailed match. It raised his stock in the dressing room, and last season when Chris Gayle was dropped due to poor form, the youngster was slated to take his spot up the order. A freak injury put paid to that, Rahul instead grabbing the chance, scoring 397 runs and four half-centuries.

It helped him break into the ODI side and over the course of this international season, Rahul has cemented his place in India’s plans across all formats. With Kohli missing, RCB will once again turn to Mandeep to occupy one of the openers’ slots and, like Dhawan, he will look to make the most of this opportunity.

INDIAN SPINNERS

There aren’t many spots up for grabs in the Indian squad for the Champions Trophy, but the choice of third spinner behind Ashwin and Jadeja is up for debate. Amit Mishra has quickly fallen off the radar after his no-show against England in the Rajkot Test. So much so that Yuzvendra Chahal was picked ahead of him in the first T20I against England at Kanpur in January, and went on to make an instant impact with 6-25 in a series-winning performance at Bengaluru. Mishra has a proven T20 record, though, and if the selectors are looking at a leg-spinner as third choice for June, it will be a straight fight between Chahal and Mishra.

Does Harbhajan Singh come into consideration, though? Of late there has been a lot of speculation about his impending return to international cricket, much like that of Punjab team-mate Yuvraj Singh. Harbhajan will find the task harder than Yuvraj if he is to dislodge Jayant Yadav as the next man in line behind Ashwin. Then again, nobody knows the approximate timeline for Ashwin’s recovery from injury. If he misses the Champions Trophy, then Harbhajan’s experience will come in handy, and he needs to be top form for Mumbai Indians this season to make a case either way.

ADAM ZAMPA

While the Indian spinners will be looking to make a gain in Ashwin’s prolonged absence, this complicated situation helps overseas players too. Never mind the intrinsic competition in the India squad, Rising Pune Supergiant will be worried about who their lead spinner will be. This is where leg-spinner Adam Zampa comes in. Last season he only featured in five games, but he is a certainty in the Australian limited-overs eleven. With Steve Smith leading the side in place of MS Dhoni, Zampa can expect more game time this season, albeit the team management will need to balance out their four overseas picks.

ISHANT SHARMA

At the start of this week, the Indian spearhead was preparing for a summer in England playing county cricket. That is until Kings XI Punjab coach/mentor and ex-team-mate Virender Sehwag roped Sharma in to assume Murali Vijay’s spot in their squad. It is in keeping with their strategy this season, as they have picked up quite a few pacers in the auction, including Varun Aaron and New Zealand’s Matt Henry. It will help Punjab’s rotation policy, because Indian bowlers mean sides can invest in overseas batsmen and all-rounders.

For Ishant, this is nothing short of a limited-overs’ lifeline. He last played ODIs in January 2016, and since then the Indian selectors have moved in a different direction. Could he stage a comeback for the Champions Trophy and make the same impact as in the 2013 final which India won?

TRENT BOULT

The Black Caps’ spearhead featured in only a single game of the last IPL as Sunrisers Hyderabad strode to victory. It was in keeping with the 2016 World T20 where he hadn’t figured in skipper Kane Williamson’s plans either, as the Kiwis made it to the semi-finals. Both teams, in both tournaments, looked to play the conditions and that seemed to omit Boult from their plans. In the shortest format, it is all about horses-for-courses. This puts the spotlight on Eden Gardens, where the re-laid square has produced one of the liveliest pitches in India at present. We got a taste of it during the second Test between India and New Zealand last autumn, and then again during the third India-England ODI in January. This is why Kolkata Knight Riders’ acquisition of Boult fits their narrative, and the swing bowler can expect to feature in a lot of home games, especially since Andre Russell is out serving a doping ban.

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