Kochi debuts against new-look Bangalore
Saturday, April 9
Start time 2000 (1430 GMT)
Surprise, surprise! After being in the news for all the wrong reasons for the best part of a year, Kochi is finally going to play a game of cricket. It all started off with a seemingly harmless tweet from Lalit Modi. From there, the Kochi controversy morphed into an unstoppable avalanche that knocked Shashi Tharoor out of the Indian cabinet of ministers, and Modi off his pedestal as the IPL commissioner. If the franchise's off-field giant-slaying abilities are anything to go by, their on-field opponents better watch out.
The Kochi consortium might be tangled in an unintelligible ownership mess, much like a batsman who can't read Muttiah Muralitharan's doosra, but the team is filled with players known to take ownership of the sides they play for. Captain Mahela Jayawardene and Murali will still be smarting from Sri Lanka's loss in the World Cup final. Brad Hodge will have a point to prove to the selectors of the Australian team. VVS Laxman will have a point to prove to himself, that he can flourish in Twenty20 with the finesse he brings to the purest form of the game. And then, there is Sreesanth who, when he sets his mind to it, can produce deliveries that force batsmen of Jacques Kallis' calibre into performing back flips at the crease.
Kochi's IPL debut will be against a Bangalore outfit that is virtually unrecognisable from last year, barring Virat Kohli. Among the new names is Tillakaratne Dilshan, who gave Kohli the most vociferous of send-offs after dismissing him in the World Cup final. The team also brings Daniel Vettori and AB de Villiers together, just over a week after they confronted each other in a charged-up World Cup quarter-final. Dale Steyn has been lost in the auction, but Zaheer Khan and Dirk Nannes have come in. Bangalore have picked a strong bunch of foreign players, but seem a trifle short on quality local batsmen. After two very good seasons that ended in heartbreak, will Bangalore finally find a path to IPL glory?
Barring fitness concerns, Bangalore's overseas picks are automatic selections. Captain Vettori will surely play the in-form Dilshan and de Villiers, while Nannes should relish sharing the new ball with Zaheer. There is a question mark over who Dilshan's opening partner will be, and the toss-up could be between Mayank Agarwal and Jonathan Vandiar, though the latter's inclusion would mean having to leave one of the other foreign players on the bench. Abhimanyu Mithun and Mohammad Kaif are likely to get a game.
Brendon McCullum and Jayawardene should form an interesting contrast at the top for Kochi. Murali, if fit, should walk into the XI, while Thisara Perera could get a game in the lower-middle order, giving the side a distinct Sri Lankan flavour. RP Singh and Ramesh Powar are expected to complete the bowling line-up.
In the spotlight
Saurabh Tiwary and Cheteshwar Pujara represent two sides of the same coin. Tiwary stands back in the crease and thumps the ball with fierce arms, looking for midwicket with the assiduity of a left-handed MS Dhoni. Pujara, on the other hand, invokes Rahul Dravid in his temperament and technique, keeping his drives down, and finishing with his leading elbow high and showing the full face of the bat. Both met with success in the previous IPL, for different teams, and earned call-ups to the senior team, in different formats. This year, they could form crucial additions to the middle order of the top-heavy Bangalore line-up.
Ravindra Jadeja has it all to do, once again. He was branded a 'superstar' by Shane Warne at the end of IPL 2008, and went on to earn a permanent spot in the Indian one-day line-up. Things have fallen apart for him since, starting with being banned for the 2010 IPL season after trying to negotiate a contract by himself. He has fallen out of the radar of the India selectors now, and a solid performance here will go a long way in re-establishing his oft-questioned credentials as an allrounder.
"I can compare the Bangalore team to the South African international team. I've played a lot of cricket and I know that the teams that do well are always the teams that have a good team spirit. The previous team couldn't win the trophy, so hopefully we can change something in that line"
AB de Villiers indicates there is a good vibe in the Bangalore side.
Nitin Sundar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo