Gujarat Titans vs Chennai Super Kings, Ahmedabad: 7.30pm IST (2pm GMT)
Chennai Super Kings and Gujarat Titans, two teams that have specialised in proving haters - and experts - wrong, kick off the new IPL season in front of what is expected to be a capacity crowd in Ahmedabad. MS Dhoni in the bright yellow corner; Hardik Pandya, who has seemingly taken the Dhoni route to captaincy and his batting, in the navy blue one.
You never know with Dhoni, but this could well be his farewell IPL season, while for Hardik, a successful title defence could potentially lead to his coronation as India's future full-time white-ball captain. An intra-squad practice session that was thrown open to the public just an hour before the start at Chepauk is a portent of things to come at home, but Super Kings will have to deal with playing five of their first eight games away from home. They had the second-worst economy rate at the death last season with 11.29, but they didn't quite remedy that at the auction.
As for Titans, their major issue last season was the absence of a reliable anchor - they had trialled Vijay Shankar and B Sai Sudharsan in that role - but now they have brought in Kane Williamson, whose elbow is in much better shape than it was last year. Williamson's presence could allow Hardik to float down the order as opposed to float up, something he did often last IPL. Titans' bowling attack too ticks most boxes, with the arrivals of Shivam Mavi and Josh Little - the first Ireland player to be picked in the IPL - strengthening them even further.
The Sri Lanka pair of Maheesh Theekshana and Matheesha Pathirana will not be available for Super Kings' first three games since they are currently participating in a six-match white-ball series in New Zealand. NZC, though, has released both Devon Conway and Mitchell Santner, who is likely to start for Super Kings not only in the absence of Theekshana, but also for the rest of the IPL. Left-arm seamer Mukesh Choudhary has been sidelined from the entire season with a back injury and replaced by Akash Singh.
There were reports on Thursday that Dhoni could miss the IPL opener with an injury, but their CEO told ESPNcricinfo that Dhoni was fit.
Fast bowler Sisanda Magala will also be unavailable for the early exchanges as he will be in action for South Africa against Netherlands. Similarly, Titans will miss their finisher David Miller, who will only link up with the franchise after the Netherlands ODIs end on April 2.
Toss and Impact Player strategy
Gujarat Titans Possible bat-first XI: 1 Shubman Gill, 2 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Matthew Wade, 5 Hardik Pandya, (capt) 6 Rahul Tewatia, 7 Rashid Khan, 8 Shivam Mavi, 9 Jayant Yadav/R Sai Kishore 10 Alzarri Joseph, 11 Mohammed Shami
A resoruce-maximising option for Titans is to bring in another batter, Abhinav Manohar, for instance, in place of one of the dismissed batters who is not athletic in the field. In this scenario, they can have seven bowling options, including Hardik and Tewatia, for their defence.
Possible bowl-first XI: 1 Shubman Gill, 2 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Matthew Wade, 5 Hardik Pandya (capt), 6 Rahul Tewatia, 7 Rashid Khan, 8 Shivam Mavi, 9 Jayant Yadav/R Sai Kishore 10 Alzarri Joseph, 11 Mohammed Shami
This XI is no different to the bat-first XI, but in this case, Titans could use the Impact Player rule to bring in either Sai Sudharsan, if they need to stabilise the innings, or Manohar for a finishing kick, in place of Mohammed Shami.
Chennai Super Kings Possible bat-first XI: 1 Ruturaj Gaikwad, 2 Devon Conway, 3 Ben Stokes, 4 Moeen Ali, 5 Ambati Rayudu, 6 Ravindra Jadeja, 7 Shivam Dube, 8 MS Dhoni (capt, wk), 9 Mitchell Santner, 10 Deepak Chahar, 11 Simarjeet Singh/Tushar Deshpande
If Santner starts for Super Kings, they will have batting depth all the way down to No. 10, as well as six bowling options, discounting Ben Stokes. Ajinkya Rahane could be a failsafe at Chepauk, but it's hard to see him slot in as an impact player away from Chennai. Plus, the other reserve batters Shaik Rasheed and Subhranshu Senapati are yet to make their IPL debuts. Don't be surprised if Dhoni uses no Impact Player.
Super Kings opted against rushing seam-bowling allrounder Rajvardhan Hangargekar into action last season. But following a good domestic season for Maharashtra, he could break into the starting XI if they need some hit-the-deck hustle. The 20-year-old can dig the ball into the pitch and offer something different to Super Kings' seam attack, as both Deepak Chahar and Simarjeet Singh are both swing bowlers. When they bat, Super Kings could yank Ambati Rayudu out of the bench and use him in the middle order to counter Rashid Khan. He could potentially come in for Simarjeet as an Impact Player.
Stats that matter
Rayudu has had the wood over Rashid, scoring 79 runs off 65 balls off him without being dismissed in the IPL.
Despite having missed the entire IPL 2022, Chahar remains the top wicket-taker in the powerplay in the past five seasons, with 42 strikes in 58 innings at an economy rate of 7.61.
In the past year, Alzarri Joseph has conceded only 7.51 runs an over at the death in T20s. It is the second-best economy rate among right-arm seamers who have bowled at least 100 balls in that phase. Only Anrich Nortje has fared better than Joseph on this front with an economy rate of 7.39, but Nortje's 16 wickets are two fewer than Joseph's.
Pitch and conditions
The Motera has six red-soil pitches and five black-soil pitches. The ones used for the last IPL final and the recent T20I against New Zealand aided seamers, with dew not being much of a factor later in the evening. It rained on the eve of the IPL opener, disrupting the practice sessions of both teams, but the weather is expected to be clear for the duration of the game.