Mumbai, April 6 (IANS) Defending champions Mumbai Indians and and two-time winners Chennai Super Kings, the most successful teams of the Indian Premier League (IPL), will begin the 11th edition of the Twenty20 cricket tournament with a mouthwatering clash at the Wankhede Stadium here on Saturday.
Hosts Mumbai, who have laid their hands on the coveted crown thrice (2013, 2015, 2017) will be led by India opener Rohit Sharma who is the most successful captain in the cash-rich T20 league having led Mumbai to a treble of titles.
But on Saturday, his wards will be up against a team who will be eager to re-establish their dominance after returning to the tournament following a two-year ban.
CSK have a formidable track record in the IPL and have notched up the most number of appearances in the final. Apart from winning the title twice, they have finished runners-up on four occasions.
Chennai are led by India’s 50-over and T20 World Cup winning captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who will himself have a point to prove in his twilight days. The southern outfit has a formidable batting and bowling line up with the likes of Suresh Raina, back in the Chennai Super Kings yellow jersey, South Africa captain Faf du Plessis adding teeth to their batting.
In the bowling department, England pacer Mark Wood and South Africa fast bowler Lungi Ngidi will lead the pace battery with veteran offie Harbhajan Singh and celebrated South African leg-spinner Imran Tahir taking care of the spin unit.
For Mumbai, apart from Rohit, all-rounder Hardik Pandya, fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah, West Indies star Kieron Pollard and Krunal Pandya have been retained from last year and are all a force to reckon with.
The Mumbai pace bowling department is also promising this year with the likes of Bumrah, Pat Cummins and Mustafizur Rahman.
This edition will miss the presence of star Australian players Steve Smith and David Warner who are serving a one-year ban due to the ball tampering incident in South Africa.
While Smith has been replaced by Ajinkya Rahane at Rajasthan Royals, New Zealand captain Kane Williamson will lead Sunrisers Hyderabad in place of Warner.
This edition of the IPL will see seven Indians captaining their franchises, barring Hyderabad. Virat Kohli, Rohit, Dinesh Karthik, Rahane, Gautam Gambhir and Ravichandran Ashwin will fight against each other to grab the top prize.
Coming to other teams, Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), led by India skipper Kohli, will again hold the aces owing to their team strength.
Aiming to break their final jinx, RCB have what it takes to lift the trophy once again. Besides the run machine that is Kohli, the Bengaluru team boasts of players of the ilk of swashbuckling batsman AB de Villiers and promising player Sarfaraz Khan who were retained.
The franchise bought as many as 21 players in the auction, among them Chris Woakes (Rs 7.4 crore), the most expensive purchase of the franchise. The others includes New Zealand wicketkeeper-batsman Brendon McCullum and South Africa’s stumper Quinton De Kock, as also keeper Parthiv Patel, Mandeep Singh and Manan Vohra.
Besides Woakes, their bowling has wrist-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal, Washington Sundar in the spin front and Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Siraj leading the pace attack. England’s Moeen Ali and Kiwi Colin De Grandhomme are seasoned all-rounders too.
Their first match is against two-time winners Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) who will be led by Dinesh Karthik this time. KKR do not boast of a very strong side on paper with star Aussie pacer Mitchell Starc being ruled out with injury.
But the likes of big-hitter Chris Lynn, all-rounder Andre Russell and Mitchell Johnson should provide some teeth in the batting department besides Karthik who is in good form.
Gautam Gambhir, who led KKR to two titles (2012, 2014) will be leading Delhi Daredevils this time and the for perennial underachievers will be looking to shine under him.
In the last five seasons, Delhi finished at the bottom of the points table. In 2013, they finished ninth, in 2014 eighth, in 2015 seventh, in 2016 sixth and in 2017 sixth.
Rajastan Royals, back after a two-year hiatus, have also not performed that well since winning the inaugural IPL in 2008. Royals, led by Rahane, will miss the batting prowess of Smith but the likes of Ben Stokes and most expensive Indian buy pacer Jaydev Unadkat will look to help the Jaipur-based team fare well.
Hyderabad too will miss Warner, the highest run-getter in the 2017, but in Williamson they will not only get a quality batsman but also a stable leader. Star India opener Shikhar Dhawan and in-form pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar are the key players for the former champions.
Last but not the least, Kings XI Punjab under Ashwin have a good-looking team on paper. Out of white-ball cricket, Ashwin will have a point to prove while his team will hope to ride on veterans Yuvraj Singh, Chris Gayle, David Miller, Aaron Finch, Marcus Stoinis, and Mayank Agarwal to guide them to an elusive title.
The Punjab-based franchise managed to reach the top four only on a couple of occasions. They finished third in the inaugural edition and then came agonisingly close to winning the title in 2014 but were denied by Kolkata Knight Riders.