The summer is here and it is time for the biggest carnival in Indian cricket — the Indian Premier League.
The extravaganza begins with two stalwarts and flag bearers of Indian cricket — Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli — leading their respective teams, Chennai Super Kings and Royal Challengers Bangalore, for what promises to be an exciting face-off on Saturday. It cannot get any bigger or better than this.
Dhoni has the bragging rights over Kohli in the IPL. CSK has defeated RCB 14 times in 22 meetings, including the last six. The visiting team hasn’t registered a win over the defending champion since 2014 and not in Chepauk since 2008. Come Saturday, the current Indian skipper would be itching to turn the tables on his predecessor.
Kohli has nothing to prove as a batsman but as a captain for RCB, the trophy-less cabinet is a blot on an otherwise bountiful landscape.
The teams got down to business on Thursday with an intense practice session.
CSK’s batting looks sorted with Shane Watson and Ambati Rayudu on the top with Faf du Plessis, Suresh Raina, Dhoni, Dwayne Bravo and Kedar Jadhav forming the middle order. In Dhoni, Bravo and Jadhav, CSK has accomplished finishers.
The Men in Yellow’s pace battery isn’t charged completely. While losing Lungi Ngidi to an injury days before the league was a dampener, the unavailability of David Willey has hurt the team further.
With Shardul Thakur, Mohit Sharma and Deepak Chahar, the pace unit looks a little wobbly, although Mohit and medium-pacer Bravo have earlier been proud owners of the Purple Cap.
Spin is CSK’s strength and this would be the skipper’s trump card for the home games in Chennai. Led by the experienced Harbhajan Singh and Imran Tahir, the unit also boasts of Ravindra Jadeja, Mitchell Santner and Karn Sharma in its ranks — a good selection headache for any skipper.
Tahir, Santner and du Plessis will join the CSK squad on Friday.
- For the cricket crazy fans in the city, it also marks an emotional connect. CSK, which was suspended for two years, made a comeback last year only to find its home matches moved to Pune as the city was amidst a political tussle over Cauvery river water. Thousands of people made a beeline for tickets, from as early as the previous night, and fans in excess of 10,000 flocked to the stadium for a practice session. A bonanza awaits the fans in Chennai this year with seven CSK home matches, a possibility of two knockout games and the final being played at the Chepauk.
Finding the balance
RCB is a batting powerhouse.
Led by the admirable Kohli and an able contemporary in AB de Villiers, the duo can take any attack to the cleaners and turn matches in a matter of a few overs.
Wicket-keeper Parthiv Patel is likely to partner Kohli at the top of the order. Bought for 4.20 Cr, West Indies' Shimron Hetmyer will add muscle to the RCB middle order, which has lacked the poise in recent seasons to complement Kohli and de Villiers in the top order. With Marcus Stoinis, who is with the Australian ODI team in UAE playing Pakistan, unavailable until the beginning of April, Moeen Ali will be the like-for-like replacement with his offspin and clean ball-striking.
Yuzvendra Chahal is the lead spinner who could be complemented by Tamil Nadu all-rounder Washington Sundar, while Umesh Yadav and Mohd. Siraj will man the fast-bowling department in the absence of Nathan Coulter-Nile, who is also with Australia in the UAE.
It also presents an opportunity for domestic warhorse Shivam Dube to don the role of a finisher and justify his price tag of Rs. 5 crore.
By replacing Daniel Vettori with Gary Kirsten as the coach-cum-mentor and roping in Ashish Nehra as the bowling coach, RCB has overhauled the men behind the scenes.
Often, the side has been found wanting in terms of balance in the playing XI. Can the wise men restore the equilibrium? The answer will unfold in the coming couple of months.
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