Wednesday, April 4, Chennai
Start time 2000 (1430 GMT)
A year ago, the hangover of the World Cup had barely ended before another exhausting tournament started. Fans dehydrated by the emotions of India's World Cup victory were now expected to show up in those numbers for the IPL. The fans and players had one thing in common - both were knackered. The scenario this year is not entirely different. India's horrific season must have drained them mentally. Their followers are tired of defeat. The next two months will reveal the fans' true faith in their own players.
Indian cricket has come a full circle in a year, and the man at the epicentre is MS Dhoni, who's back to leading Chennai Super Kings tomorrow in the IPL opener against Mumbai Indians. Public memory is short, and all it could take is a few victories for his fans to restore their faith. The reshuffling of squads last year didn't affect the defending champions Super Kings. They thrived on a power-packed batting line-up, backed by a competent spin attack. They spent their auction purse in getting hold of a spinning-allrounder in Ravindra Jadeja. Dhoni, unfortunately, found himself shouldering too much burden as India captain, which affected his performances. If Super Kings are to succeed again, this squad, with varying degrees of experience, need to rally around him.
His Mumbai counterpart, Harbhajan Singh, was largely disconnected from India's plunge because he was dealing with a slump of his own. Poor form and injury kept him on the sidelines, but he regained pride by leading Mumbai to the Champions League title last year. He finds himself in the same role this year, after Sachin Tendulkar decided to step down as captain. Mumbai may be missing Andrew Symonds, but the squad's intimidating enough without him. It's fitting that the defending champions are taking on the team to beat in the opener.
Mumbai are lucky to have their entire international contingent available for the season. Super Kings have a couple of injury concerns, but the core of their squad - barring Michael Hussey who is to join at the end of the month - is available.
Players to watch
Since his 95 in the IPL final last year (and 434 for the tournament), M Vijay has had a quiet 11 months. He underperformed in the West Indies and found himself out of contention. He had his moments of success during the domestic season, but this IPL will again be crucial towards making a return to the national side, at least when it comes to auditioning for the World Twenty20. Another chance beckons for the opening batsman.
Harbhajan Singh is another player who could use this tournament as an opportunity to make a comeback. The criticism was that he had become a defensive bowler, bowling flatter lengths which weren't fetching him enough wickets. His domestic season wasn't good enough to force a return either. R Ashwin's mixed returns in Australia should improve Harbhajan's chances. But Harbhajan will know that he will be up against the likes of Pragyan Ojha and Rahul Sharma, at least in the limited-overs formats. He needs wickets, and plenty of them.
Mumbai and Super Kings played each other just once last year. Rohit Sharma's 87 off 48 balls took Mumbai to 164. Super Kings were well-placed at 98 for 2 in the 12th over, but Harbhajan inflicted a collapse, taking five wickets to give Mumbai an eight-run win. S Badrinath was the last-man standing with 71.
Stats and trivia
"If you notice we have done exceedingly well when the pitch has been responsive with good bounce. So for us one of the first things to check will be the bounce of the pitch."
Super Kings' R Ashwin on the relaid pitch at Chepauk
"My body is shaping up well; I am very much in the rhythm. I have been playing a lot of domestic T20 games, so yes I am very positive about it."
RP Singh, Mumbai's latest recruit
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo