Dhoni's Super Kings all fired up to face Gambhir's Knights
It will be a classic case of 'friends turning into foes' when Mahendra Singh Dhoni's Chennai Super Kings (CSK) clash with Gautam Gambhir led Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in the opening match of the IPL on Friday, less than a week after the duo guided India to their historic World Cup triumph in Mumbai.
As the cash-rich Twenty20 cricketing extravaganza gets underway at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, it will be the beginning of new era sans Lalit Modi, who was the face of the event during the first three editions.
Also this will be the first time that the league will feature 10 teams with the inclusion of Pune Warriors and Kochi Tuskers Kerala.
It will be there for all to see how the BCCI organises an event where Modi used to have a final say in every aspect.
The former IPL commissioner and vice-president of BCCI has since then been suspended and now has taken refuge in London after the cricket board pressed numerous charges of corruption against him.
Image: MS Dhoni
Photographs: Getty Images
Chennai start as the favourites
After a hugely successful Players' Auction which saw some of the young Indian players commanding astronomical prices, the Chirayu Amin-led IPL governing council will now look to capitalise on India's World Cup triumph which has definitely upped the stakes by manifold.
Coming back to tournament, defending champions CSK will certainly start as the overwhelming favourites against a team that hasn't been able to cash in on its enormous fan following across India, thanks to its principal owner Shah Rukh Khan.
After having failed to make it to the semi-finals during the last three editions, the KKR management led by SRK and co-owner Jay Mehta have gone for a revamped side with Gautam Gambhir at the helm and T20 specialist Yusuf Pathan as one of the marquee players.
With Kolkata's favourite son Sourav Ganguly no longer a part of the team, it will be a big challenge for Gambhir and his boys to start winning and get the cricket crazy Kolkatans rooting for them.
Image: MS Dhoni
Raina has been retained
The bigger challenge will be to get past CSK who have inarguably been the most consistent team during the last three editions with one championship, one runners-up and a last four finish. The biggest strength for CSK has been their ability to retain the most of their core players save Muttiah Muralitharan who will don the Kochi jersey.
Having retained Dhoni, Suresh Raina, local hero Murali Vijay and South African all-rounder Albie Morkel, the home team bid successfully to retain spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, prolific run-machine Subramanium Badrinath, Australian Michael Hussey which gives their batting a formidable look.
The Indian captain is, however, the one who believes that its more about the on-field exploits than the reputation on-paper.
"Our team is quite good. Like I always say, it is about what we don-field is more important than how the team looks on paper. Fitness is the key during a long tournament like IPL. If all the players are fit and available for selection, it is a very good side," Dhoni said. The skipper was all praise for his team's batting line-up.
"The batting line-up is as good as last year. Badri, Raina is there and South African Faf du Plessis has come in. We have all-rounders and Hussey will also join in. Overall it's a very good batting line-up," he said. Dhoni however played down the pressure factor although there is a lot at stake.
"IPL is not about less pressure. Batting slots are decided according to situation. When all are shuffled up and down the order, it's according to the situation. Batting slots from 1-3 is fixed. Then it's me or Badri. Anuruddh is batting very well for us. If we have to change the batting order, everyone has to be comfortable about doing it."
Image: Suresh Raina
For KKR, it will be a make-or-break year
For KKR, it will be a make-or-break year. Gambhir, who hadn't exactly fired with the bat after the first edition of IPL will like to carry the confidence of his World Cup success into IPL.
Also, he would like to showcase leadership skills and justify his USD 2.4 million price which was the highest during the auctions.
With the likes Brett Lee, Shakib al Hasan set to join after the Australia vs Bangladesh, KKR will depend on a lot on veteran all-rounder Jacques Kallis, explosive English batsman Eoin Morgan to put up a solid show.
Apart from Gambhir and Yusuf, some of the domestic players to watch out for in the KKR squad will be Bengal captain Manoj Tiwary, former captain Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Delhi all-rounder Rajat Bhatia, left-arm spinner Iqbal Abdullah, seamers L Balaji and Pradeep Sangwan.
Image: Shah Rukh Khan