It's only been five months since the Mumbai Indians won their fifth title in Dubai, and the IPL is back already. It's back, and it's back home, but the eerie, not-of-this-world feeling that accompanied the 2020 edition of the tournament will persist, simply because the world hasn't changed all that much in the interim. You might even ask if India, which has recorded over 100,000 new Covid-19 cases each day since April 4, should be hosting the IPL at all right now.
Time, and the rigorous protocols that cricket has honed over these months of the pandemic, will answer that question. For now, turn your attention to Chennai's MA Chidambaram Stadium, the first stop in a tournament that will be played entirely on neutral grounds. If the pitch plays true to its recent nature, it will present Mumbai and Royal Challengers Bangalore a rigorous test of their adaptability.
To different extents, both teams are built for their high-scoring home grounds. Chennai is different. Chennai is all about spin. Of the 11 Indian grounds that have hosted IPL matches since the start of 2018, spinners have both the best average (19.52) and economy rate (6.16) at the MA Chidambaram Stadium. Unless the pitch has drastically changed in character since India's Test series against England, expect to see both teams pick a third spinner, and expect a somewhat attritional contest to kick the tournament off.
But it's still only matchday 1, so no prediction - conditions, selections, form, match-ups - can be made with any confidence. Sit back instead, switch on your televisions, and forget - for a few hours - the world outside your windows.
In the news
Quinton de Kock
will not be available for selection for Friday's game since he is undergoing a "mandatory seven-day quarantine" after arriving from South Africa, according to the Mumbai Indians website. It is likely Adam Milne
will also be unavailable for the same reason.
has rejoined the Royal Challengers squad after recovering from Covid-19. The opener trained with his team-mates on Wednesday and should be fit to play. They will also be without Finn Allen and Adam Zampa, who are yet to complete their quarantine upon arriving in India.
Mumbai Indians 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 Ishan Kishan (wk), 3 Suryakumar Yadav, 4 Hardik Pandya, 5 Kieron Pollard, 6 James Neesham, 7 Krunal Pandya, 8 Nathan Coulter-Nile/Jayant Yadav, 9 Rahul Chahar, 10 Trent Boult, 11 Jasprit Bumrah.
Royal Challengers Bangalore: 1 Virat Kohli (capt), 2 Devdutt Padikkal, 3 AB de Villiers, 4 Glenn Maxwell, 5 Mohammed Azharuddeen (wk), 6 Daniel Christian, 7 Washington Sundar, 8 Kyle Jamieson, 9 Navdeep Saini, 10 Mohammed Siraj, 11 Yuzvendra Chahal.
Where will Glenn Maxwell
bat? He struggled as a death-overs hitter for Kings XI Punjab last season, and has lately been at his best for Australia at No. 4, a position that generally gives him a little more time to get settled at the crease. Given this, there's a case to be made for Maxwell to bat ahead of AB de Villiers
, who struck at an incredible 224.70 in the death overs last season but only went at 133.72 in the middle overs.
In recent years, Virat Kohli
's strike rate against spin has declined significantly. From an imposing 147.90 in the three years from 2015 to 2017, it has fallen to 117.97 since the start of 2018. Kohli has indicated that he will open the batting
during this IPL. If he does do that, Mumbai could start with the left-arm swing of Trent Boult
from one end and either Krunal Pandya or Rahul Chahar - both turn the ball away from the right-hander - from the other, giving themselves the option of keeping one or two of Jasprit Bumrah's overs for later.
Stats that matter Mumbai have won eight of their last 10 meetings with Royal Challengers Bangalore, and of the two games they lost, one was via the Super Over last season. Mumbai, however, have lost each of their last eight season-openers in the IPL. Of the six venues that will host this year's tournament, the MA Chidambaram Stadium has been Virat Kohli's slowest scoring (strike rate 111.49).
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo