Can Warne inspire Rajasthan again?
Saturday, April 9
Start time 1600 (1030 GMT)
The controversial build-up to this year's IPL has, for a large part, involved Rajasthan Royals, whose participation in the tournament had been in question. Their reinstatement came at a price - a significantly reduced auction purse - and much like in their first year, a lot depends, prescient tweets apart, on the leadership of Shane Warne. His presence in the inaugural edition was inspiring, spurring on a team of lesser-knowns to a title triumph, and his tactics drew admiration.
His Deccan Chargers counterpart is an accomplished leader himself. Kumar Sangakkara stepped down from the helm of Sri Lanka's one-day side, following their defeat in the World Cup final - one of many resignations in Sri Lanka's setup - but takes charge of a revamped team after the franchise released all its players into the auction pool.
Not unlike the other franchises, the captains will draw much of the focus in the initial stages of the tournament, as the teams settle on their combinations. In the case of Rajasthan and Deccan, one captain is leading a comfortable life in international retirement but returning to the IPL to revive his team's fortunes after two disappointing seasons, while the embattled other seeks to mould an unfamiliar team into a successful one. Both are widely respected, strategically shrewd and expert sledgers, offering great potential for mind games in a format that is often an exhibition of machismo.
Rajasthan lost Paul Collingwood in the lead-up to the tournament and Jacob Oram was brought in. They will be without the all-round services of Shane Watson, who is in Bangladesh as Michael Clarke's deputy for a three-match one-day series. The pace of Shaun Tait might be preferred over Oram, while Ross Taylor will be a key player in the middle order. Ajinkya Rahane was a prolific scorer in the domestic season, and is among the Indian players to watch out for. Not to forget the four players who were a vital part of Rajasthan's maiden Ranji title - Aakash Chopra, Ashok Menaria, and seamers Pankaj Singh and Deepak Chahar, who grabbed 12 wickets on his first-class debut back in October 2010.
There's no Kevin Pietersen or Cameron White for Deccan, one due to injury, the other due to international commitments. Rusty Theron impressed last season for Kings XI Punjab, Dale Steyn heads the pace attack, Michael Lumb is an attacking opening option while JP Duminy will lead the middle order. The bumper signing for Deccan was South Australia allrounder Daniel Christian, and he also remains an attractive draw in the top order. They also have left-arm spinner Chris Lynn, though it'll be surprising if he makes the XI on Saturday.
In the spotlight
Ishant Sharma: Being left out of India's World Cup XV would have been a setback for Ishant, with Munaf Patel being preferred over him, but now's the time to bounce back. He was the pace spearhead for Kolkata Knight Riders last year, but will have to play a slightly subordinate role to Steyn in the Deccan attack. While Steyn can bank on some swing, Ishant will hit the deck hard and be determined to get back in to the reckoning for national selection.
Rahul Dravid: For assistance in leadership and mentoring the younger players in the team, Warne need not look too far. Apart from his quality batting, Dravid's richness in experience and his attitude makes him an example for the younger players, and his association with his once nemesis Warne will be among the key features of Rajasthan's game.
- Pragyan Ojha and Amit Mishra, both part of Deccan, were the two highest wicket-takers in last year's IPL. Ojha picked up 21 wickets in 16 games, Mishra finished with 17 in 14.
- Harmeet Singh, Shane Warne, Michael Lumb and Dale Steyn have one thing in common - they had two ducks against their name in last year's IPL, the second-highest for any batsman.
"As a franchise and as a team, I hope the Hyderabadi fans will embrace us and we will do our best for you on the field and continue to do so right throughout the IPL season as we try and win IPL 4."
Kumar Sangakkara, ever the diplomat, as Hyderabad hosts its first IPL game in two seasons.
Siddhartha Talya is a sub editor at ESPNcricinfo