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IPL's biggest rivalry kickstarts new season

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Vinay Kumar to [Mohit] Sharma, FOUR, top edge over the keeper's head, but Mumbai Indians don't care where the ball has gone. This is a legal delivery, and that means they have won the IPL again

May 24, 2015, Eden Gardens. We didn't know it then, but this would be the last bit of on-field action for Chennai Super Kings for close to three years. An inconsequential top-edged four in a big defeat, in their sixth IPL final.

On Friday, Super Kings will be back, with a team full of familiar names and sentimental favourites, and while they would have liked to play their comeback match in front of their home fans at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, this is probably the next-best thing: Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede. The IPL's two most successful franchises, head-to-head, in the opening match of a new season.

Despite all the upheaval between that 2015 final and now, there's a remarkable number of old storylines still at play when these two sides meet: half of the 22 players who lined up for that match are still part of the two squads, with two - Harbhajan Singh and Ambati Rayudu - crossing over from blue to yellow.

Taken too far, however, continuity can turn into stagnation, and that's a danger Super Kings, in particular, will have to guard against, with their squad containing 11 players in their 30s. It's also a squad that looks a touch unbalanced, loaded with spinners and light on pace options and power-hitters. It might be just the right squad for the slow turners that they typically play on in Chennai, but perhaps not for flatter, bouncier pitches - like the Wankhede, for instance.

Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede, then, will be a massive litmus test for Super Kings' adaptability, right at the start of the season. Any early cracks they show will be ruthlessly pounced upon by every other team.

In the news

Stephen Fleming, the Super Kings coach, has confirmed that Faf du Plessis is unavailable for selection. Du Plessis is recovering from a finger injury that troubled him all through South Africa's recently concluded home summer, an injury that was aggravated by a painful blow from (Mumbai's) Pat Cummins during the Johannesburg Test.

The likely XIs

Mumbai Indians: 1 Evin Lewis, 2 Ishan Kishan (wk), 3 Rohit Sharma (capt), 4 Suryakumar Yadav, 5 Kieron Pollard, 6 Hardik Pandya, 7 Krunal Pandya, 8 Mitchell McClenaghan, 9 Mustafizur Rahman, 10 Jasprit Bumrah, 11 Rahul Chahar.

Chennai Super Kings: 1 M Vijay, 2 Sam Billings, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 Shane Watson, 5 Kedar Jadhav, 6 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 7 Dwayne Bravo, 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Shardul Thakur, 11 Mark Wood.

Strategy punt

Shane Watson has struggled against left-arm spin in the IPL since the start of the 2015 season, scoring 100 runs off 105 balls while being dismissed ten times. M Vijay (5.84 per over) and Sam Billings (6.41), meanwhile, have poor scoring rates against spin in the Powerplay overs of T20 games. Given that these three are Super Kings' main options to open the batting, Mumbai should seriously consider giving Krunal Pandya the new ball.

Stats that matter

  • Super Kings have a positive head-to-head against every team in the IPL apart from Mumbai, against whom they have won 10 games and lost 12.

  • Since the start of the 2015 season, Rohit Sharma has had difficulties against legspin, having been dismissed nine times in 27 innings against that type of bowling while striking at 113.7. His IPL record against Imran Tahir is middling: 50 off 42 balls while being dismissed once.

  • MS Dhoni has become a distinctly slower starter in recent seasons of the IPL. Until the end of the 2014 season, he made his runs at a strike rate of 122.35 across the first ten balls of his innings. Since the start of the 2015 season, that number has dropped to 98.97.

  • If JP Duminy starts for Mumbai, Super Kings should look to bowl their offspinners against him at every opportunity. He has career T20 strike rates of 84.3 against Harbhajan Singh and 92.00 against Suresh Raina.

  • Kieron Pollard doesn't bowl that much these days, and he probably shouldn't bowl anyway on Saturday. Almost all of Super Kings' batsmen have towering strike rates against him in T20 cricket, with Suresh Raina (180.4), Shane Watson (179.6), MS Dhoni (177.1) and Dwayne Bravo (145.2) leading the way.

Fantasy picks

Evin Lewis comes to the IPL with a massive reputation and a stunning T20 record. The one question mark all highly-rated overseas players have before they start their IPL careers is whether they can handle top-quality spin. As things currently stand, that isn't an issue with him - against pace, he averages 31.37 and scores at 8.93 per over; against spin, the corresponding numbers are 38.41 and 8.84. Plus, as a less-known quantity to IPL attacks, the start of the tournament is perhaps the time when oppositions won't have formulated highly specific plans against him. With all this in mind, the hard-hitting Trinidadian should be an excellent fantasy pick.

Quotes

"It's hard to read it right now. It's very dry underneath. It's tough one to read. Usually it plays pretty well. This time of the year the average score is 165. We're expecting there will be good pace and carry. Dew factor there's a lot of aspects of it to consider but think it'll be pretty good."
Super Kings coach Stephen Fleming on what to expect from the Wankhede

"I would like to keep that as a surprise. Our middle order is very good and we have got good openers in Evin Lewis and Ishan Kishan. We will see on the 7th where I bat. I would like to keep that as a surprise."
Mumbai Indians captain Rohit Sharma on whether he will open the batting