Supergiants target a winning first impression
Saturday, April 9, 2016
Start time 20:00 local (14:30 GMT)
There were 1, 676, 013 page views of an article on ESPNcricinfo titled "List of players sold and unsold in IPL 2016." Even last year, with the World Cup in full swing and with no shortage of content on the site, it was this simple collection of player names and the IPL teams they would suit up for that got top billing. Based on sheer public interest - a vital measure - the Indian Premier League is a thing of incredulity.
And the ninth season kicks off by pitting the defending champions Mumbai Indians against newcomers Rising Pune Supergiants. MS Dhoni has been put front and centre, and so has the best batting track in the country. Amid all the criticism that the tournament endures, the organisers certainly do know how to sell it and the audience are quite happy to buy into it.
The following in Rajasthan and Chennai might just have diminished, though. So how can that be countered? By feeding off a rivalry that has defined the IPL, of course. Mumbai are the only team that has a favourable win-loss record against the suspended Chennai Super Kings, whose key figures - captain Dhoni, lead spinner R Ashwin and head coach Stephen Fleming - have broken away to form the core of the Supergiants.
The world's best will be in action again, a mere six days after a World T20 where new heroes emerged, low-scoring matches were still competitive and, despite the host nation being knocked out, the final was played at Eden Gardens in front of a near-capacity crowd. The finish - how did it go down again? Ah yes - with a flurry of sixes, a commentator screaming, and a team emerging from damn near unwinnable situations to become champions was very IPL. It's immensely hard to imagine that being matched, but never say never with this tournament.
In the spotlight...
Mumbai made only seven purchases at the auction, and Jos Buttler was their most expensive buy. His price soared to INR 3.8 crore, despite his limited experience in India, purely because of his ability as a 360-degree player. Now he has had the experience of playing in these conditions - for a world championship no less - and his presence in the middle order may just free up Rohit Sharma to play in his preferred opening slot.
The English presence this IPL season is reasonably strong. And even at the age of 35 and with only franchise cricket to sustain himself, Kevin Pietersen was among the best batsmen in the Big Bash League 2015-16. Only two men scored more than his 323 runs and none matched his four fifties in nine matches.
Lasith Malinga's injury might mean Mitchell McClenaghan would be tasked with leading the Mumbai attack, especially considering Tim Southee has not played international cricket in over a month. The other choice Mumbai may need to make is between Kieron Pollard, who has just recovered from injury, and Corey Anderson, who has been out of form, in the XI. Harbhajan Singh will likely be their lead spinner, but which of J Suchith, Krunal Pandya (both left-arm spinners) and Kishore Kamath (the legspinner who was bought for INR 1.4 crores) will partner him?
Mumbai Indians (probable) 1 Lendl Simmons, 2 Rohit Sharma (capt), 3 Unmukt Chand, 4 Ambati Rayudu, 5 Jos Buttler, (wk), 6 Kieron Pollard, 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 J Suchith/ Krunal Pandya/ Kishore Kamath, 10 Jasprit Bumrah, 11 Mitchell McClenaghan
Supergiants might be relying on their overseas roster for batting strength and their Indian recruits to shore up the bowling. They appear rather light on spinners and might have to rope in rookie M Ashwin to partner his namesake.
Rising Pune Supergiants (probable) 1 Ajinkya Rahane, 2 Kevin Pietersen, 3 Faf du Plessis, 4 Steven Smith, 5 MS Dhoni (capt and wk), 6 Mitchell Marsh, 7 R Ashwin, 8 Irfan Pathan/ Ashok Dinda, 9 Ishant Sharma, 10 Ishwar Pandey, 11 M Ashwin
Pitch and conditions
Wankhede Stadium has been a fortress for Rohit and his men and - for the moment, and after much trouble - they can exploit all the advantages it brings. The weather should be fair and the surface should be batting friendly.
Stats and trivia
- Rohit has 995 runs as opener in 34 T20s, including a century and seven fifties. However, he has opened for Mumbai only four times.
- R Ashwin has 188 wickets in 179 matches, the most by an Indian in T20s.
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo