Chennai v Punjab, Abu Dhabi
Friday, April 18, 2014
Start time 1430 (1030 GMT, 1600 IST)
The clouds of controversy are swirling around Chennai, even as they are about to begin another season of the IPL. Time for them then, to embrace that "cocoon" of a familiar team environment around themselves. It is something their coach Stephen Fleming has spoken about, that despite all the uncertainties surrounding the franchise in the run-up to this season, getting together again has been soothing for him and his players. The environment is made still more familiar with the continuity Chennai have managed in their squad over the years, retaining more or less the same core group of players. And a leader who, in his seventh year as international captain and entering his seventh season as franchise captain, is still able to squeeze performances from himself and his players amid almost ever-present off-field drama.
Chennai have been able to purchase batting replacements for the loss of Michael Hussey and spin reinforcements in the form of Samuel Badree. They appear relatively light on quick bowlers, but if the pitch for their opening game against Punjab behaves anything like the one for the tournament opener did on Wednesday, the likes of Ben Hilfenhaus and young New Zealander Matt Henry will be difficult to tackle.
The tournament opener between Kolkata and Mumbai was played on a green pitch which had plenty of carry for the fast bowlers. It seemed a bit like the surface Punjab have often dished out at home in Mohali, and their new acquisition Mitchell Johnson would have loved to bowl on it.
Kolkata began slowly and were able to accelerate late with two set batsmen in the middle. It is an approach Chennai have used for years. It is to be seen what kind of approach Punjab will employ, with the utterly contrasting styles of Virender Sehwag and Cheteshwar Pujara.
This will be the first of five afternoon matches scheduled in the UAE, and though both of these sides will not be involved in the next four, other teams would like to keep an eye on the conditions, especially the heat, given the 230pm start.
Watch out for ...
With a List A average of 55.03, Cheteshwar Pujara has every right to feel aggrieved at being denied a run in the Indian ODI unit. However, a T20 strike-rate of 103 and an average of 19.80 suggest he lags behind when it comes to the shortest format. A similarly orthodox batsman such as Ajinkya Rahane has shown the type can succeed at T20. Can Pujara add another dimension to his batting this season?
R Ashwin had an outstanding World T20, one of the highlights being his dismissal of Hashim Amla with a carrom ball that turned like a legbreak. Ashwin took the delivery to another level in the tournament, using it liberally with tremendous control. He also experimented with a Sunil Narine-like action in the Asia Cup. What does he have in store this season?
Stats and trivia
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo