Rajasthan Royals captain Shane Warne has said the IPL's decision to add two new franchises for the fourth season will add more sheen to the "best-selling brand of cricket".
"Every cricketer now dreams of playing for his country and also in the IPL," Warne said. "The decision will give more opportunity to them. The IPL has attracted more people towards the sport. Those who retired recently were attracted too. I feel it has become the best competition of cricket."
Rajasthan entered the fray as underdogs in 2008, but were easily the best team in the competition and deserving victors. Deccan Chargers, who finished last in 2008 did likewise in the second edition, going from no-hopers to winners. Warne believed that starting as dark horses and working their way up was a successful Rajasthan strategy.
"The other teams copied it, which proves that our brand was successful. This year too, we have a number of options and that might be used as secret weapons," Warne said.
He was however quick to admit to his side's inconsistency in the second edition. "Yes, we were not consistent last year," Warne said. "We will address that problem and would do better since we are back on the home turf. We have a strong group of players and a few of them are capable of surprising everyone in IPL 3. At top of the order there is South Africa captain Graeme Smith, who is like a rock.
"The experience of Damien Martyn and Shane Watson, youngsters like Michael Lumb and Adam Voges have made us a formidable side. We have some very good talented Indian players too."
Warne believed that Jaipur was a lucky venue for his side and looked forward to playing at the home base again. "It [Jaipur] has been lucky for us. We won all the seven outings here in IPL 1 and we would be playing here against the tough teams like Mumbai Indians, who have Sachin Tendulkar and many other great players. It would give us confidence to take them on here which has lovely outfield and nice pitch," Warne said.
Warne said he was also banking on the allrounder Yusuf Pathan's home form for the third edition. "He was not that consistent in South Africa but he is a matchwinner. Not many of the batsmen can hit the first ball they face for a six. He had grabbed few Man-of-the-Match awards in the first edition of the IPL. He has the capability to change the course of any match.
"I'm going to entrust the responsibility to my team-mates. I am sure they will be ready to grab the opportunity willingly. In our team, all players are equal and that is our strength. I make them believe that we can win from any situation. That is why we won most of our last-ball finishes."
One of the concerns for Rajasthan ahead of the tournament is their captain and lead bowler's lack of match-practice, but Warne brushed off those concerns in typical style. "I have been hit for many sixes. In Test matches too I was hit for the maximum sixes but had maximum number of wickets too. I don't mind being hit for sixes as long as I keep on taking the crucial wickets," Warne said. "I have turned few balls during the practice matches. I hope I would soon be in perfect rhythm."
Warne also said it was his love for both India and Australia that inspired him to contribute to easing off tensions between the two countries in the wake of attacks on Indians in Australia. In fact, the Shiv Sena, a right-wing Indian political party, had earlier claimed it would not allow Australian cricketers to participate in the competition as a protest against the attacks.
"I hail from Victoria in Australia and have had the cricketing relations with India for more than 20 years," Warne said. "I love all the three - Victoria, Australia and India. That is why I have tried to visit the Indian community in Victoria and had assured them."
Rajasthan kick off their IPL campaign with an away game against Mumbai Indians on March 13.