Published on: Mar 30, 2024

Graeme Smith was one of the most successful captains of his era and the only one in history to lead his team in more than 100 Tests! He was not only a great opener in red-ball cricket but also a mighty fine batter in limited-overs and franchise cricket.

Smith, now the Commissioner of the successful Betway SA20, played a pivotal role with the bat in the victorious campaign of the Rajasthan Royals in the inaugural season of the IPL in 2008 and shared his thoughts on the coveted league with Betway Insider recently, while also analysing the 10 teams and picking his favourites to make the playoffs.

Smith was the second-highest run-getter for the victorious Rajasthan Royals during the inaugural season of the IPL in 2008 with an aggregate of 441 runs in 11 innings including three fifties and fondly remembered the tournament.

“I’ll never forget the experience of 2008. India winning the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 in 2007 really created the platform for IPL, but I don’t think any of us could have scripted the experience that we had during that first season in 2008. At a point where we weren’t sure what the future looked like, T20 cricket suddenly became a very important format. It was the first time that players had really crossed barriers,” stated Smith.

Smith spoke about the learnings from the season, the fanfare and the exchanges in the dressing room where, for the very first time, players from different nations, background and cultures, all came together to play for one franchise.

“Guys you often played against from other parts of the world were suddenly in your team and being behind the scenes with a lot of Indian players meant that, culturally, you got a whole different experience as well. I’ll never forget the bus trip to the final where you could hardly move during the entire route because of the amount of people that were enthralled by the competition.”

Smith also commented on how the IPL created the perfect breeding ground for youngsters to showcase their prowess on a world stage and achieve stardom. He spoke highly of the abundance of talent available in India and the role the IPL has played to harness it.

Smith then shared his thoughts on the recent introductions in the rules in the IPL. The biggest talking point at the start of the 2024 season was the change which allowed for two bouncers per over for a more level-playing field for the bowlers. Smith welcomed the move and suggested that it would add the ‘unpredictability’ factor for the bowlers. The former South African skipper also supported the Impact Player Rule which was introduced in the IPL last season. It allows the batting/fielding team to replace a player from the playing XI with an Impact Player at any point during a match from the five substitute players named after the toss.

Smith then got on his analyst cap and gave his predictions on how the 10 teams would fare in this season of the IPL. He picked five-time champions Mumbai Indians (MI) and Rajasthan Royals (RR) to finish at the top of the table. He further stuck his neck out and predicted that MI would lift the trophy for a record sixth time!

Both MI and RR have balanced squads and a very strong Indian contingent supported by world-class overseas players. While MI boast of the likes of Rohit Sharma, Hardik Pandya, Ishan Kishan, Tilak Varma, Suryakumar Yadav, Dewald Brewis, Jasprit Bumrah and Gerald Coetzee, RR have Jos Buttler, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Sanju Samson, Shimron Hetmyer, Trent Boult and Yuzvendra Chahal in their ranks.

MI last won the league in 2020 but then had a couple of tough seasons failing to make the playoffs in 2021 and 2022 as the team went through a transformation. They finished fourth in 2023 but lost out in Qualifier 2 to Gujarat Titans.

One of the biggest reasons for MI’s struggle with the ball was the absence of Jasprit Bumrah who missed the tournament due to a back Injury. MI found it difficult to make early inroads and were placed at number 7 in terms of number of wickets picked in the powerplay. Not surprisingly, Smith has predicted Bumrah to be at the top of the wicket charts this season.

MI has lost their first couple of matches but that has been a pattern with them over the years. Only a brave man would bet against Smith’s prediction based on these initial results! However, the bigger concern for MI could be with the leadership with Hardik’s tactics coming under criticism at the start of the tournament.

Smith was showered high praise on Yashasvi Jaiswal who hammered 625 runs at a strike rate of 164 last season. He predicted the opening duo of Jaiswal and Jos Buttler to come good again in 2024 after they smashed 550 runs with six fifty-plus scores last year. Trent Boult is amongst the best new ball bowlers in T20 cricket and R Ashwin and Chahal complete their bowling line-up. The leg spinner, with 190 wickets, is the leading wicket-taker in IPL history! He won the Purple Cap in 2022.

CSK, the most successful team in IPL history, has begun their 2024 campaign in style winning their first couple of matches. The five-time champions have made it to 10 finals and finished in the top 4 in 12 editions they have participated in and according to Smith it is this big-match temperament that gives them the edge in the tournament.

Smith also lauded MS Dhoni who gave the reigns of the franchise to Ruturaj Gaikwad this season. MSD led CSK to five titles and has the highest win percentage in IPL history (min. 50 matches as captain).

LSG made it to the playoffs in their first two seasons of the IPL and Smith predicted them to finish at number 4. However, they would heavily rely on their openers KL Rahul-Quinton de Kock and have a weak middle-order. LSG also need to learn from last season and push one of Nicholas Pooran/ Marcus Stoinis up the order in the top 4.

RCB have a great batting unit but may again struggle with the ball especially in the death overs. A lack of a world class spinner may also adversely impact their results. Smith also indicated that the smaller dimensions at their home venue – The Chinnaswamy Stadium – which make defending any target almost impossible - would hamper RCB’s chances in the tournament.

Sunrisers Hyderabad have a strong overseas batting unit this season with the trio of Aiden Markram, Heinrich Klaasen and Travis Head adding tremendous firepower to the line-up. They gave a glimpse of their collective potential when they blasted the highest score in IPL history against MI in Hyderabad. However, Smith feels that SRH would choke in crunch situations in crucial matches and thus has placed them at number 6.

The Titans have a new captain this season and the loss of the charismatic Hardik would hurt their fortunes. Mohammed Shami’s unavailability due to injury will only make matters worse for the 2022 champions. Shami was the leading wicket-taker in the IPL last year.

According to Smith, a lack of firepower in their fast-bowling resources would be the biggest handicap for the Delhi Capitals in this edition who he picks to finish at number 8.

Smith’s most controversial prediction, however, is of the Knight Riders (KKR). KKR have began the tournament with a bang with two thumping wins. Some of their old big guns – the likes of Andre Russell and Sunil Narine – have had a great start to their campaign and KKR look threating this season. However, Smith has placed them in the bottom two just above Punjab Kings!

Graeme Smith’s IPL 2024 prediction:

1. Mumbai Indians (Winner)

2. Rajasthan Royals

3. Chennai Super Kings

4. Lucknow Super Giants

5. Royal Challengers Bangalore

6. Sunrisers Hyderabad

7. Gujarat Titans

8. Delhi Capitals

9. Kolkata Knight Riders

10. Punjab Kings