Defending champ faces Dhoni’s Supergiants

It could well be tagged as the return of the Maharashtra Derby between two franchises based on either side of the picturesque Sahyadri mountain ranges.

Rising Pune Supergiants' captain M.S. Dhoni bats in the nets during the practice session in Mumbai on Friday.   -  PTI

It could well be tagged as the return of the Maharashtra Derby between two franchises based on either side of the picturesque Sahyadri mountain ranges. Instead, it would be fair to label Saturday’s Indian Premier League opener between Mumbai Indians and Rising Pune Supergiants as a battle between the defending champions and a newbie of the IPL family.

Dhoni and Fleming factor

Despite the Pune outfit set to mark its debut on Saturday night, the team by no means would be an unknown quantity. A majority of the squad is carved from the two suspended franchises, with those from the yellow brigade, including captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and coach Stephen Fleming, dominating the group. It remains to be seen if the highly successful combination can replicate its success in the new team’s attires.

Team preview: >Pune: A Super King, can Dhoni become a Supergiant?

Malinga-less Mumbai Indians

Mumbai Indians, on other hand, would be hoping to reverse the recent trend of starting the season on a disastrous note. Rohit Sharma’s troupe had lost first five games in the 2014 season and three in 2015 before making a late surge in the league stage. This time around, however, they would be hoping for a winning start at the Wankhede Stadium.

Team Preview: >Mumbai Indians: A formidable force

The task won’t be easy, especially in the absence of Lasith Malinga. The highest wicket-taker in the history of IPL has been ruled out of at least the first half of the IPL. It will result in Mumbai Indians dealing with a headache of whether to pick an overseas pacer — Tim Southee or Marchant de Lange — to assist in-form Jasprit Bumrah and Mitchell McClenaghan or to include three overseas batsmen in the team.

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Bowling coach Shane Bond tried his best to downplay the Malinga factor on the eve of the match.

“The owners and Ricky (coach Ricky Ponting) have done a good job in recruiting couple of fast bowlers in the side, so we have cover for him,” Bond said. “If he arrives fit, he will surely fit into our squad. If he doesn’t, we have good cover for him.”

Just like Mumbai Indians, the Pune team would be unsure about its bowling line-up going into the opener. It will be interesting to see which bowlers will be selected to aid Ishant Sharma and R. Ashwin.

Contrary to it, Pune’s batting unit appears to be well and truly established. The likes of Kevin Pietersen, Ajinkya Rahane, Faf du Plessis, Steve Smith and Dhoni hurled the ball into the Wankhede stands at will during Friday’s nets. If they can repeat it on Saturday evening, the Supergiants will start its IPL innings on a giant-killing note.