The countdown for IPL 2019 has begun; there are less than 50 days left for the league to begin.
One of the reasons for the league's success is the entertaining brand of cricket it has produced. Each match has one major clash between bat and ball, as well as one between two individual players.
Though cricket is a team game, player battles do play an important part in a match. The IPL has played host to various engaging duels between players, which have even turned ugly on occasions. But most of the time, they're well spirited, enjoyed by both the players, and make for splendid viewing.
Let's take a look at the top five player battles to look out for in IPL 2019.
#5 MS Dhoni (Chennai Super Kings) vs Andrew Tye (Kings XI Punjab)
MS Dhoni has been India's best finisher for a long time, and was probably the best in the world until recent times. Dhoni has certainly lost some of the brute force and swashbuckling striking ability from his prime years, but he's still a more than capable batsman.
Though he hasn't had the opportunity to showcase the same in international cricket of late, Dhoni had a great strike in the IPL last season, and even had his best ever batting average. He might not be able to start from where he left off, but Dhoni, who's a key part of India's WC plans, will look to regain his form in the IPL this year.
Andrew Tye was the leading wicket-taker last season and was exceptional when he bowled in the death overs. He picked up 24 wickets, including those of many top batsmen and big hitters. But one wicket he couldn't take was that of Dhoni.
In the first fixture between CSK and KXIP, Dhoni scored an unbeaten 79 off 44 balls and smashed Tye for four boundaries which included two sixes in the death overs. In the return fixture, MS didn't get to bat as Deepak Chahar who was promoted up the order and he scored some quick runs.
Tye, who's rated as the best specialist death bowler, hasn't had success against MSD. It will be interesting to see who will come up trumps if this contest does take place this season.
#4 AB De Villiers (Royal Challengers Bangalore) vs Kuldeep Yadav (Kolkata Knight Riders)
It was a numbing sensation when AB de Villiers announced his shock retirement decision from international cricket. The fact that we wouldn't be seeing this batting magician in national colors anymore was hard to register.
De Villiers has done everything right in his career and deserves both the IPL and the World Cup titles, but luck hasn't been on his side. Though he can't achieve the former, ABD could still win the IPL with RCB this season.
De Villiers has no pressure of international cricket any more, and can play with freedom and express himself fully on the pitch. It will be a delight to see him light up the evening sky with his wide range of shots and elegant manner of executing them.
It's hard to find someone who's as magical as ABD and yet makes it look so easy and right now, there's a bowler who comes close to that - Kuldeep Yadav. Kuldeep has been in great form recently, and his bowling is beautiful to watch.
He has bamboozled the best in the business; his stats illustrate how clinical he has been for India in the recent past.
RCB vs KKR has always been a high-octane fixture, with many entertaining matches being played in the past. It will be great to watch who can outsmart whom this season, and whether Mr. 360 or Kuldeep will emerge the winner.
#3 Rishabh Pant (Delhi Capitals) vs Mujeeb Ur Rahman (Kings XI Punjab)
Both Delhi Capitals and Kings XI Punjab had a bad run last season. But they have worked well in the off-season to draft a good squad.
People might think these are the only things common between the Delhi Capitals and the Kings XI Punjab. But there is a minute detail that often goes unnoticed: both sides believe in young players and promote them.
Mujeeb Ur Rahman is an example of the right combination of talent and opportunity. The Afghan was on course to win the Emerging Player award last season but lost it to another youngster's heroics.
Rishabh Pant, who won the Emerging Player award last season, also won the ICC Emerging Player of the Year award. Both Mujeeb and Pant have created ripples with their unorthodox style of going about their business.
While Mujeeb weaves magic with the ball in hand, Pant specializes in hitting any bowler out of the park.
Mujeeb currently holds the upper hand in the contest between the two. He picked up Pant's wicket on both the occasions the two players met in the IPL last year, and clearly had the better of the Delhi batsman.
But again, a lot has changed since then. Pant has turned into a charismatic batsman with a little toned-down aggression, while Mujeeb has turned even more miserly and is now incredibly hard to get runs off.
It'll be a treat to watch these two young players battle it out.
#2 Jos Buttler (Rajasthan Royals) vs Jasprit Bumrah (Mumbai Indians)
Three wins in seven games. Rajasthan Royals were facing defeat against the Delhi Daredevils (now Delhi Capitals). They required 151 to chase off 12 overs and it was clear that their usual approach to the game wouldn't work.
They needed someone to step up, and that man was Jos Buttler. He was promoted to open the batting and smashed 67 off just 26 balls.
Though Rajasthan lost the match by 4 runs, they had found their savior. Before this match their qualification seemed unlikely, but they eventually made it thanks to Jos Buttler.
Buttler hasn't got enough credit for what he's done, and he doesn't seem to be affected by it. Those effortless classical strokes, that ruthless bludgeoning of the ball and those delicate scoops and chips all seem to be under complete control when he's batting.
The cold, calculating look in his eyes surprises you when he unleashes the shot, for all that comes out is heat - and the heat oppresses the bowler and torments him.
Buttler scored five consecutive half-centuries last season. The utter ease which with he plays his shots reminds me of another player who didn't care about what people said and went about his style of playing the game, however unorthodox it may have been.
Jasprit Bumrah at first didn't catch the eye of viewers with his energetic pace and bounce, yorkers or deceptive slower ones. Instead, he grabbed their attention with his unique, 'weird' and confusing bowling action.
The angle it created made things difficult for the batsmen and once Bumrah learnt to control it, he became a menace to face.
What will happen when these two players go up against each other? Bumrah got the better of Buttler the first time they met, but Buttler owned the show in their second meeting.
What happens when deceptive slower ones meet out-of-the-box shots, deadly yorkers meet an ever-ready bat, and sheer brilliance meets pure class?
I'm waiting to find out just like you.
#1 Virat Kohli (Royal Challengers Bangalore) vs Rashid Khan (Sunrisers Hyderabad)
When Rashid Khan first burst on to the scene, no one would have imagined him bowling well against the batting greats. But now, the very fans of those batsmen shiver in fear when the young leggie has the ball in hand.
Rashid genuinely turns the ball both ways. Even after hours of poring into TV screens, analysts can't say with certainty that they can read him off the hand.
This isn't just unpredictability, but spin bowling of a higher level. You certainly can't confine him to one kind of ball, so with Rashid, you have to take it one ball at a time. He has bamboozled the best in the business and has scalped many worth a million pounds.
If there is one batsman who is an able match to face Rashid, it is Virat Kohli. Kohli represents an unceasing, classical and consistent style of batting which no one has been able to reproduce. His ability to brush bowlers aside and dictate terms is remarkable, and the way he sets himself up to play the big shots by getting into the bowlers' mind is incredible.
When Kohli and Rashid go head to head, it's a personal challenge for both of them. While the two modern greats are real gentlemen, on the field there's no room for mercy.
Rashid got the better of Kohli once last season. When this battle comes up in 2019, the entire cricketing fraternity will sit up and watch.