Mumbai: Pune Warriors face a difficult opening match as they kick off their Indian Premier League (IPL) season five campaign against title favourites Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede Stadium on Friday.
Pune – the costliest team in the IPL – had a disappointing first season, losing nine of their 14 games to finish second-from-bottom in 2011. Off-field controversies then dogged the team's preparations at the start of this year as owners Sahara Group were drawn into a lengthy dispute with the BCCI, which resulted in the team skipping the players' auction in February. They were also dealt a blow when their captain Yuvraj Singh was diagnosed with cancer. Seeking a replacement for Yuvraj, Pune have made brought in some big names for IPL 5, and the new-look side will be hoping the investment pays off on the field this time around.
Mumbai's new recruit Richard Levi certainly started on the right note, his 35-ball fifty helping the team to an easy eight-wicket win over defending champions Chennai Super Kings on Wednesday. The bowlers also did their job even as new skipper Harbhajan Singh went wicketless, with Lasith Malinga, Kieron Pollard and Pragyan Ojha each picking up two wickets, while three run-outs – including the crucial one of MS Dhoni – restricted Chennai to a modest total.
Will Ganguly's team be able to compete against a strong Mumbai outfit, led by Harbhajan Singh?
Mumbai should not need to make any changes to their playing XI, with their only worry being the injury to Sachin Tendulkar. The former MI skipper hurt his left-hand finger and retired hurt when trying to fend off a rising delivery from Doug Bollinger in Chennai. The team is hopeful of his recovery, but T Suman may get the nod if Tendulkar misses out, though Mumbai, with their strong squad, have plenty of other options as well.
Pune, on the other hand, will be unable to field their best XI, with many of their star players missing due to injury or international commitments. Graeme Smith will miss the entire season with an ankle injury, while Australia skipper Michael Clarke – signed on for his first IPL tournament – and Sri Lanka allrounder Angelo Mathews are playing Tests against West Indies and England respectively.
One player who is available though, is West Indies allrounder Marlon Samuels, who – like Yuvraj – can hit the ball hard and also contribute with his off spin. Though he has never played in the IPL previously and didn't do too well in the recent ODI and T20 series against Australia, Pune's new skipper Sourav Ganguly was quite keen on him, and Samuels may have to fill in for Yuvraj until further reinforcements arrive. Other batsmen who will be expected shoulder the responsibility will be domestic players Robin Uthappa and Manish Pandey.
The Pune bowling attack will also be refreshed this year with the presence of Indian stars Ashok Dinda and Rahul Sharma. While Dinda is coming off an impressive domestic season that saw him earn an India call-up for the Asia Cup, legspinner Rahul Sharma has long been on the fringes of the international set-up and will be keen to get back to regular action. Alfonso Thomas was one of Pune's better performers last year and should keep his place, while Wayne Parnell and Nathan McCullum may have to compete for the No. 7 spot.
It will also be interesting to see how much of an impact Ganguly can have on the side in his new role as skipper, though he will have to stay clear of injury, having managed to play only four games last season. Meanwhile, Harbhajan – who also captained Mumbai to their Champions League Twenty20 victory – has already shown that he can lead the side well. So, an in-form Mumbai, up against a depleted Pune, will definitely be confident of giving a solid performance in front of their home crowd.
Mumbai Indians: 1 Sachin Tendulkar/T Suman, 2 Richard Levi, 3 Ambati Rayudu, 4 Rohit Sharma, 5 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 6 Kieron Pollard, 7 James Franklin, 8 Harbhajan Singh (capt), 9 Lasith Malinga, 10 Abu Nechim, 11 Pragyan Ojha
Pune Warriors India: 1 Sourav Ganguly (capt), 2 Mohnish Mishra, 3 Robin Uthappa (wk), 4 Manish Pandey, 5 Callum Ferguson, 6 Marlon Samuels, 7 Wayne Parnell/Nathan McCullum, 8 Alfonso Thomas, 9 Murali Kartik, 10 Rahul Sharma, 11 Ashok Dinda