The group stage of the 2013 Champions League Twenty20 (CLT20) is all set to start in some style when two of the biggest Indian Premier League (IPL) sides - Rajasthan Royals and Mumbai Indians - and Indian cricket's two biggest players - Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid - face off on Saturday at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur.
The involvement of Tendulkar and Dravid - the former in his last appearance for MI and the latter playing his last competitive cricket - makes the match special in its own way because it might be the last time the world gets to see the two batting icons together on a cricket field, albeit in different teams.
Led by Dravid, Rajasthan come into the tournament with a summer of controversies, revolving around spot-fixing and betting during IPL6. But putting all that behind, RR will be focused on winning their maiden CLT20 title to give Dravid a befitting farewell. Same will be on the mind of Mumbai Indians, who will want to put another trophy into Tendulkar's lap.
Rajasthan have a decent batting unit with Shane Watson, Ajinkya Rahane, Brad Hodge and Dravid up their sleeves. Not to forget the young Sanju Samson, who had an impressive IPL, and Ashok Menaria, who performed exceptionally well both with bat and ball in India A's one-day series win over New Zealand A earlier this month.
The bowling department will be spearheaded by James Faulkner, who had a superb debut IPL, where he picked up 28 wickets and was the second highest wicket-taker in the tournament. He will be well supported by Watson's all-round skills and the intelligent variation of Kevon Cooper and Stuart Binny, both of whom can bat as well. The weak link in RR bowling will be the lack of a quality spin option and Dravid will hope Pravin Tambe steps up to the plate.
RR are certainly going to miss Sidharth Trivedi, who along with RR team-mates S Sreesanth and Ankeet Chavan, has been banned by the BCCI. While Sreesanth and Chavan have been banned for life, Trivedi has been slapped with a one-year ban for his involvement in spot-fixing. The verdict on offspinner Ajit Chandila is yet to be announced. Trivedi's place will in all likelihood go to right arm medium-pacer Vikramjeet Malik.
On the other hand, Mumbai will hope to complete a double by winning the CLT20 after their maiden IPL title earlier this year, but before thinking that far, they would like to get off to a winning start on Saturday.
Ricky Ponting isn't part of Mumbai squad in this tournament, which means Rohit Sharma will continue as captain. A good mix of youth and experience makes Mumbai one of the strongest teams in this edition of CLT20, but their biggest strength lies in batting.
At the top of the order, openers Tendulkar and Dwayne Smith make a perfect combo, with Smith going berserk from ball one and Tendulkar mixing caution with aggression on the other end. Mumbai's batting prowess has names like Dinesh Karthik, Kieron Pollard, Glen Maxwell and Ambati Rayudu other than captain Rohit. Pollard and Maxwell bring a lot of value to the team with their all-round skills. Both are primarily explosive batsmen but can roll their arm to good effect in this form of the game.
In the bowling department, Mumbai will surely miss Lasith Malinga, who opted out of the tournament. In his absence, Mumbai's bowling workload will depend heavily on the Australian left-arm pacer Mitchell Johnson. Johnson had a terrific IPL and looked back to his best in Australia's ODI series win in England.
With the tournament happening in India, the spin duo of Pragyan Ojha and Harbhajan Singh could be lethal on their day. Having grown up on the turning tracks and proving themselves in the Test arena, Harbhajan and Ojha will be the leader of the team's attack in the absence of Malinga. Rohit will also heavily depend on Pollard as he can play a big role in supporting Johnson.
The deciding factor in Saturday's tournament opener, though, could be the home advantage. Rajasthan had won all their matches at home in IPL6 and Mumbai will have to breach a fortress that has been well guarded.
Rajasthan Royals: 1 Rahul Dravid (capt), 2 Shane Watson, 3 Ajinkya Rahane, 4 Sanju Samson, 5 Ashok Menaria, 6 Brad Hodge, 7 Stuart Binny, 8 Kevon Cooper, 9 James Faulkner, 10 Pravin Tambe, 11 Vikramjeet Malik
Mumbai Indians: 1 Sachin Tendulkar, 2 Dwayne Smith, 3 Dinesh Karthik, 4 Rohit Sharma (capt), 5 Ambati Rayudu, 6 Kieron Pollard, 7 Glenn Maxwell, 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Pragyan Ojha, 10 Mitchell Johnson, 11 Abu Nechim Ahmad