On-field action set to divert from off-field drama
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Start time 1830 (1430 GMT, 2000 IST)
Just over a month ago, the IPL was still looking for a venue, thanks to the Indian federal elections. Three weeks ago, there were question marks over whether the tournament will take place at all, thanks to the IPL corruption case being heard by the Supreme Court.
Wednesday will be a big day for the IPL, not just because the first match of the season gets underway in the evening in Abu Dhabi, but also because the next court hearing is in the morning in Delhi.
The vast majority of IPL fans are likely to be interested only in the on-field action, when defending champions Mumbai Indians take on Kolkata Knight Riders. Attendance numbers hardly took a hit even when three Rajasthan Royals players were arrested midway through the previous season. The news has been relentlessly bad since the previous season, but that doesn't seem to have affected ticket sales in the UAE. The tournament also provides fans in the region a rare chance to watch Indian stars in action, after an eight-year absence.
The Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi has not traditionally been a high-scoring venue - there have been nine Twenty20 internationals held so far, and only once has a team scored more than 168. That trend of low scores looks set to continue as Mumbai and Knight Riders have two of the better attacks in the tournament.
Mumbai retained five of their key players, and snapped up the reliable Michael Hussey - last season's highest run-getter - and flavour-of-the-season Corey Anderson, but their squad seems to lack the depth it had in 2013. Knight Riders have four core members of the squad from 2013 - Gautam Gambhir, Sunil Narine, Jacques Kallis and Yusuf Pathan. They have invested in Robin Uthappa and Australia's Chris Lynn, but the batting still looks a touch light.
Watch out for...
Both sides have a pair of spinners who have excelled at the IPL. Neither Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha may not find a regular place in the national team, but for Mumbai, they have been vital cogs for several years. Similarly, Sunil Narine and Piyush Chawla have flourished in the league, and should again prove difficult to contend with.
Both teams will look to 38-year-olds who have retired from Tests to provide the stability in the top order. Hussey was outstanding last season, but will age start to catch up with him? Jacques Kallis had a less than stellar season in 2013, but can he turn things around given his workload in international cricket has vastly reduced?
Stats and trivia
- Knight Riders have beaten Mumbai only twice in 12 IPL matches.
- Knight Riders are the franchise with the least number of centuries in the IPL - 1, the blockbuster 158 Brendon McCullum hit on the opening day of the inaugural season.
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo