Rajasthan Royals would be looking to their in-form Australian World Cup winners to lead the way when they clash against last season's runner-up Kings XI Punjab in their campaign opener in the Indian Premier League in Pune, on Friday.
Rajasthan boast of a formidable line-up, including Australia's three recent World Cup winners in Shane Watson, Steven Smith and Jame Faulkner, all of whom are expected to play a major role for the 2008 champions in the forthcoming edition of the T20 league.
South African all-rounder Chris Morris, their costliest buy at Rs 1.4 crore, would be another man to watch out for. With the ball, Morris produced a record performance for Lions in the South African Ram Slam T20 last year as he registered amazing figures of two for two in fours including 23 dot balls -- the world record for the most economical bowling in T20 cricket.
With captain Watson and Stuart Binny playing all-round roles as well, chief coach Paddy Upton feels Morris' inclusion gives Royals a lot more options.
They have also brought in two leg-spinners in Dinesh Salunkhe and Pradeep Sahu to partner veteran left-arm spinner Pravin Tambe and they could be expected to play decisive roles for the Royals.
Meanwhile, Smith comes in to the IPL on the back of an awe-inspiring performance with the bat in the last few months. He has scored 2096 runs in 31 international matches across all formats at a brilliant average of 69.86, which includes eight hundreds.
During this period, he captained Australia's Test side and was their leading run-scorer (402 at an average of 67, including an unbeaten fifty in the final) in their victorious World Cup campaign.
Punjab also have a couple of big name Aussies, who were part of the World Cup. George Bailey led Australia in their opening World Cup match before he made to make way for regular captain Michael Clarke and was benched for the rest of the tournament.
In last year's IPL too, Kings XI Punjab captain Bailey did not get to spend much time in the middle last season, aggregating 257 runs at a strike rate of 135.26.
But it was Glenn Maxwell -- 552 runs at a strike rate of 187.75 -- who was the team's trump card in the seventh edition of IPL last year. In the company of South African dasher David Miller and the Indian trio of Virender Sehwag, Manan Vohra and Wriddhiman Saha, Maxwell could well be the key to the team's fortunes this season as well.
That intimidating batting order has been further beefed up by the addition of India Test opener Murali Vijay.
The bowling department also looks solid with Australian tearaway Mitchell Johnson leading the pace attack, while left-arm spinner Axar Patel would be hoping to repeat his good showing from last year, which also paved the way for his selection to the Indian ODI team.
"Last year was a good season for us and we would want to carry on the winning spree this season as well," coach Sanjay Bangar said on the sidelines of Punjab's pre-season camp in Pune.
"We have a well balanced team and the entire coaching staff is positive about the team’s performance. As a part of this camp, we will focus towards working on the strengths and improvement areas of the players and look forward to a great tournament."
Kings XI Punjab: George Bailey (captain), Axar Patel, Anureet Singh, Beuran Hendricks, David Miller, Glenn Maxwell, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Karanveer Singh, Manan Vora, Mitchell Johnson, Parvinder Awana, Rishi Dhawan, Sandeep Sharma, Shardul Thakur, Shaun Marsh, Shivam Sharma, Thisara Perera, Virender Sehwag, Wriddhiman Saha, Murali Vijay, Nikhil Naik, Yogesh Golwalkar.
Rajasthan Royals: Shane Watson (captain), Abhishek Nayar, Ajinkya Rahane, Ankit Nagendra Sharma, Ben Cutting, Deepak Hooda, Dhawal Kulkarni, Dishant Yagnik, James Faulkner, Kane Richardson, Karun Nair, Pravin Tambe, Rahul Tewatia, Rajat Bhatia, Sanju Samson, Steven Smith, Stuart Binny, Tim Southee, Vikramjeet Malik, Chris Morris, Juan Theron, Barinder Singh Saran, Dinesh Salunkhe, Sagar Trivedi, Pradeep Sahu.