Off-field anxieties for strong CSK
Likely first XI
1 & 2 Dwayne Smith/Brendon McCullum/Faf du Plessis, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 B Aparajith, 5 Dwayne Bravo, 6 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Ben Hilfenhaus/Samuel Badree, 10 Ishwar Pandey, 11 Mohit Sharma
Runners-up, having lost the final to Mumbai Indians. That was their fifth IPL final in six editions. They have won the title twice - in 2010 and 2011.
Chennai Super Kings have been the most consistent of the IPL teams, both in terms of performance and team selection. So, to their fans, it will be strange to see a Super Kings outfit take the field this season minus Michael Hussey (with the team since 2008), Albie Morkel (ditto), S Badrinath (ditto) and M Vijay (with them since 2009). That they would lose some of their regulars was inevitable, given the big reshuffle this year, but that also means the team is without its established opening pair. As usual, though, they have solid options to fill those slots in new-comers Dwayne Smith and Brendon McCullum, and Faf du Plessis (on whom they used their one right-to-match card at the auction).
The five players who were retained - MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Dwayne Bravo - will continue to form the backbone of the eleven. Among the domestic batsmen, they have the promising talent of B Aparajith and the experience of Mithun Manhas. They have strengthened - and varied - their spin options by bringing in Samuel Badree.
Fast bowling has traditionally been their weakness, and will continue to be their most fragile front. They have bought back Ben Hilfenhaus and brought in his countryman John Hastings. They might have a surprise package in young tearaway Matt Henry, who claimed the third-best debut figures for a New Zealand bowler in ODIs, against India in January. Their Indian options include seamers Mohit Sharma (whose performances last season catapulted him to the national team), the experienced Ashish Nehra and Ishwar Pandey, who has been on the fringes of the Indian team ever since topping the Ranji wickets charts in 2012-13.
Off the field, things have been less smooth for Super Kings. Conflict of interest was a sword hanging over the franchise from its inception, it being owned by India Cements - the company of which BCCI president N Srinivasan is vice-chairman and managing director. That sword threatened to fatally slice through the franchise when team official and Srinivasan's son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan was arrested on charges of cheating, forgery and fraud a couple of days before the 2013 final, amid the spot-fixing crisis. The threat did not abate as the Supreme Court of India mulled suspending the franchise. The court decided against it. Given a lifeline, the team will be eager to replace the nightmare of the past year with some better memories.
Super Kings are a team never lacking in high-profile performers, but read through the list of them and it hard go past the pair of MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina. Raina is one short of 100 IPL matches - we are beginning season seven and he is yet to miss a single game - and is the tournament's leading run-getter with 2802 runs. Despite often batting lower down the order, Dhoni is also one of only 11 players past the 2000-run mark, with 2243 from 96 games. Among those with 2000+ runs, Raina and Dhoni's averages (35 and 38 respectively) are only bettered by Chris Gayle, and their strike rates (141) are behind only Gayle and Virender Sehwag. Longevity, reliability and explosiveness, all rolled into one.
If the IPL auction was held after the World T20, West Indies legspinner Samuel Badree would have been one of the most sought after players. Instead, Super Kings picked him up for a mere Rs 30 lakh (US$50,000). Their think-tank must have been patting themselves on the back then, as Badree repeatedly opened the bowling and had the better of oppositions' top orders in his team's run to the World T20 semi-final. With 11 wickets at 10.27, he finished the joint-third highest wicket-taker (with Ashwin) and, having conceded 5.65 to the over, had the third-best economy rate (Ashwin being one of the two more miserly than him, with a 20-over cutoff).
Super Kings have no availability issues.
"We are professionals and will not allow any pressure to affect our performance. The first five games can be extremely important in the IPL, to build up a winning momentum, and that's what we will focus on."
Suresh Raina says Super Kings will not allow off-field issues to get to them
4/1 - joint favourites with Royal Challengers Bangalore
Odds provided by Bet365
Nikita Bastian is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo