Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai
First match, 2016
Blinked yet? It has begun. The first match of the ninth edition is already upon us. As is the tradition, the defending champions will be playing at home to start us off. They will do battle against a team that resembled the team it played in last year’s finals. The Chennai Superkings beating heart lies in the new Rising Pune Supergiants squad, which itself is different from the disbanded Pune Warriors India team. That team, if you remember, finished at the bottom consistently, and endured a record losing streak with Yuvraj Singh at the helm. Later, Angelo Mathews took over, but the form didn’t change.
This is an all-new ball-game though. Everyone is these squads, except for Kieron Pollard, must be hurting. Actually, even Pollard will be hurting, for he didn’t actually get to play in the World Cup winning West Indian team. He was on the sidelines, recovering from his injury. Everyone else will be looking to make up for a failed World T20 campaign – especially the likes of Rohit Sharma and MS Dhoni, who didn’t enjoy the best tournament.
Unimaginative name aside, this team does look like a top contender. If you get over the mouth-watering prospect of Dhoni captaining the likes of Steve Smith, Faf du Plessis and Kevin Pietersen, there’s also the eternally reliable Ajinkya Rahane and Mitchell Marsh in the lineup. The management has made some smart T20 functional all-around picks in Albie Morkel, Marsh, Thisara Perera, Irfan Pathan, Adam Zampa, Rajat Bhatia and R. Ashwin. Their bowling is filled with Indian experience – Ishant Sharma, Ashok Dinda, RP Singh, Ishwar Pandey and Ankit Sharma, just as Dhoni likes it. Much like the CSK formula of going about things. Most of them will feel a little odd to suddenly find loyalty and passion for a new outfit, and here’s where Dhoni’s leadership comes to play. He is the single-most successful T20 captain in the league, and won’t be playing international cricket for another six months. So expect him to go hard.
Rahane, Faf du Plessis, Steve Smith, Kevin Pietersen, Saurabh Tiwary, MS Dhoni, Adam Zampa/Thisara Perera/Mitchell Marsh, R. Ashwin, Irfan Pathan, RP Singh, Ishwar Pandey/Ishant Sharma
All bases covered. The best new wicketkeeper-batsman in cricket. The league’s recent most successful captain. A giant West Indian veteran hitter. India’s new pace sensation. On paper at least, as with every year, the Mumbai Indians have it down to pat. But they haven’t been the strongest starters, and have almost always come from behind in the second half of the season to remind us why they’re profiting from the zillion legendary minds on the coaching staff. Rohit Sharma’s team defeated MS Dhoni’s CSK in last year’s final, and he won’t be looking to shake things up too much. With CSK out of the way, this team is perhaps the closest and most stable thing to the best in the league. Along with Kolkata Knight Riders, they have won two titles, and remain the most successful with two Champions League titles too. They will start off on a 200 pitch – a belter guaranteed to give sixes and fours by the dozen – with a crowd hell-bent on getting over the heartbreak caused by “local boy” Lendl Simmons only last week in the World Cup. Bad news for them: Lasith Malinga could be out for the season.
Unmukt Chand, Lendl Simmons, Rohit Sharma, Corey Anderson/Pollard, Ambati Rayadu, Joss Buttler, Hardik Pandya, Shreyas Gopal, Harbhajan Singh, Mitchell McClenaghan/Marchant de Lange, Jasprit Bumrah
If RPS don’t take too long to gel, they’re the favorites to win their first-ever league game on a flat pitch with their bowling experience.