Chinnaswamy stadium, Bengaluru

Back in 2008, in the first edition of the league, a Jayasuriya-bolstered Mumbai Indians team and a Kallis+Dravid+Kumble drugged RCB squad was labeled as no-hopers. They faced eachother at Brabourne Mumbai in their first game. Vijay Mallya had formed a RCB test team with Jaffer opening the batting and Kohli an under-19 greenhorn, and Mumbai Indians were without the services of Sachin Tendulkar for their first 4 games, with Pollock leading the team. RCB had won a fairly low-quality battle back then, and finished the season almost bottom of the table. MI finished a spot above them.

Things have changed. Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli have remained constants in their teams. Kohli now leads RCB, and Tendulkar has stepped down once again to give new import Ricky Ponting the captaincy. Mumbai have gone on to win the Champions League once and reached the final in 2010. RCB have reached the final twice, in 2009 and 2011. They are strong teams, with contrasting strengths and weaknesses.

-Mumbai Indians have had a stumbling top-order for two seasons now- with Tendulkar not being able to provide quick starts. Either Dwayne Smith or Ricky Ponting will have to open the innings to nullify the Indian veteran- and improve their record of the lowest run-rate in the first 5 overs. RCB, in contrast, have Gayle, Dilshan and Kohli taking them off to fliers almost every game. They possess the highest run-rate in the first 6 overs. They err only in the usage of their best batsman- AB De Villiers. De Villiers must bat at 4, and no lower, and they must have enough confidence in their top 4 to know that they do not need a middle order.

-Anil Kumble has switched camps as team mentor, and that could have an effect on this game. John Wright is now coaching the MI side, with Rhodes as fielding coach. The young players in MI are going to benefit the maximum from their mentors.

Mumbai Indians have had the best bowling attack for 4 seasons now- with Malinga leading the wicket taking tables forever. The team depends mostly on its bowling attack- further strengthened by Ojha and Munaf Patel, along with Pollard and Smith. They have a resourceful keeper in Dinesh Karthik, who forms the middle order before Pollard comes in. Rohit Sharma needs to outperform the likes of Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina this season, or he might become a fading star in the limited overs world too.

RCB have struggled with their bowling for a while, with Zaheer ageing quickly and the likes of Vettori and Muralitharan struggling to make the 11 for most days. However, this year, they will need their local bowlers to come good- with Vinay Kumar, RP Singh and Abhimanyu Mithun all having enough success with different teams in the past few years. Murali Kartik could be the key.

-Rayadu, Mumbai Indians’ ever-faithful middle order specialist, will be clinging onto his place with the arrival of big-hitting Glen Maxwell (who could very well be the daftest buy in the history of the league, or a stroke of genius). However, it will be difficult to include Ponting, Pollard, Malinga, Smith, Maxwell as well as Oram, Johnson or Hughes in their 11 at all times. Tough decisions will have to be made, and a problem of plenty may not always be a good thing.

-Dan Christian and Moses Henriques form the new imports in the RCB team, and they will struggle to get a game together as well, with a top-heavy RCB side unable to drop Gayle, Dilshan or AB.

Prediction: RCB could edge this one, with Mumbai Indians usually having a tough time getting their act together within the first few games and a new captain to boot. However, in the long run, it will be Ponting’s leadership that could make or break the team.

That could also mean dropping Sachin Tendulkar at one point of time.

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