The new season of Indian Premier League comes close on the heels of 2016 ICC T-20 World Cup with its euphoria having yet to subside. While cricket lovers are still talking about their world cup engagements, IPL action is about to invade their senses with the first match in 24 hours from now. Over the next 45 days, cricket will occupy spectators, TV viewers, analysts, commentators, writers, and of course the organizers. Planeloads of cricketers, coaches, trainers, physios and other staff will be ferried from place to place on a daily basis. It will be a heavy dose of club cricket across Indian cities but who minds? For the first time since IPL began, Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals are absent and those two places have been taken by Brand new formations named as Rising Pune Super-giants and Gujarat Lions. Most ex-cricketers from CSK and RR have found their names on this squad or that. Some have left altogether and one such man is Shane Watson, who has been acquired by Royal Challengers Bangalore for 95 million rupees. Saturday night will see the first game of 2016 IPL, when defending champions Mumbai Indians take on a star-studded Rising Pune Super-Giants or RPS.
The vagaries of player auction can send cricketers from one team to another but Mumbai Indians is more or less the same team we saw last year. They have loosened their purse strings in acquiring England’s wicketkeeper batsman Jos Buttler for 36 million Indian rupees and Buttler is expected to provide the fillip at top order. However, RPS have been constituted mostly from CSK and RR players with MS Dhoni leading the new team. Of the influential players in Dhoni’s team, ex-England cricketer Kevin Pietersen is the most important. Others are; Mitchell Marsh, Faf du Plessis Albie Morkel Steven Smith, Thisara Perera, Adam Zampa, Scott Boland, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ajinkya Rahane, Ishant Sharma and some other domestic cricketers. CSK regular Suresh Raina has gone to the other new team Gujarat Lions as captain and for company, Raina will have Aaron Finch, Dwayne Bravo, James Faulkner, Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Smith and Dale Steyn. Of domestic players, GL will have Dinesh Karthik, Ravindra Jadeja, Pravin Tambe, Dhawal Kulkarni, Pradeep Sangwan, Praveen Kumar, Amit Mishra and a few others.
Mumbai Indian could be in for a surprise tomorrow because RPS batting line-up looks formidable with Kevin Pietersen, Mitchell Marsh, Steve Smith, Faf du Plesssis and Ajinkya Rahane providing the cream at the top. In the middle order, Dhoni himself is a force to reckon with and he will have support from Thisara Perera, Irfan Pathan, Rajat Bhatia and others. In the bowling department, Dhoni can choose from Albie Morkel, Scot Boland, Ishwar Pandey, R Ashwin, Rajat Bhatia and leg-spinner Murugan Ashwin. Mumbai Indians will have a setback as Sri Lankan speedster Lasith Malinga is ruled out for at least the first five matches due to a knee injury. But the good news is Kieron Pollard has recovered from his knee injury suffered at the Ram Slam T20 in November 2015 and he will be playing against RPS on Saturday. In the absence of Malinga, Mumbai Head Coach Ricky Ponting may turn to Tim Southee, Mitchell McClenaghan or Vinay Kumar while Jasprith Bumrah and Hardik Pandya are expected to play key roles this season. Kieron Pollard usually fills in the middle overs but the Mumbai squad is generally branded as the batsmen’s team. They had a poor start last year but bounced back to capture the trophy in the end.
But Saturday’s match will be keenly watched for the performance of rising Pune Super-Giants because this combination has never played competitive games earlier. Dhoni has acquired world fame on his cool approach to the game and though he has two international T-20 captains in Faf du Plessis and Steve Smith playing under him, the man is known to carry his players along in his now famous leadership style. Some analysts have written about how Dhoni would deal with the strong-willed Kevin Pietersen but Dhoni is nonchalant. He knows his job. Anyway, an intriguing contest is clearly on cards at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium tomorrow.