Doug Bollinger v Sachin Tendulkar
Sachin Tendulkar's decision to relieve himself of the Mumbai captaincy could be bad news for other teams. Having recently got the monkey of 100 international centuries off his back, Tendulkar will not have the pressure of captaincy on his shoulders in IPL 5, and there is enough reason to believe that this will allow him to bat in a more dominating manner.
Doug Bollinger, Chennai's left-arm quick, has proven an accurate and hostile prospect with the new ball and has often provided strikes at the top. How he bowls to Tendulkar could be captivating, considering neither bowler nor batsman is prone to going onto the defensive. Bollinger has found lift from the MA Chidambaram Stadium pitch before, and is likely to test out a 38-year-old Tendulkar.
Versus Bollinger, Tendulkar has scored 14 runs in 20 deliveries across three matches in two seasons of the IPL, with the Australian bowler claiming his wicket once during IPL 4 in a match Mumbai won by eight runs. In that match, the 37th of the tournament, Tendulkar faced only eight deliveries and all were bowled by Bollinger. Tendulkar was dismissed by Bollinger too, undone by a sharp bouncer that gained on him and drew the edge to the slips. A repeat would send the Chennai crowd, known to support Tendulkar at full tilt when he plays for India, into raptures. Equally, should Tendulkar come out aggressively against Bollinger, you can expect the fans to have plenty to clap about.
Lasith Malinga v Suresh Raina
Suresh Raina's stock as an international player has fallen – he has scored just three half-centuries in 18 ODI innings going back to October 2011 – and his troubles against quality short-pitched bowling has been a feature throughout. Malinga is one of the toughest bowlers to get away in Twenty20 cricket, and remains Mumbai's best chance at taking wickets. Raina remains a pivotal player for Chennai, if not their biggest match-winner, and Mumbai will need Malinga to rattle him early. How Malinga varies his devilish yorkers and speedy bouncers against Raina is another battle to watch out for. The Sri Lankan speedster could be itching to dismiss Raina, having failing to do so in the IPL's history (he has conceded 32 runs off 30 balls bowled to Raina in five matches across two seasons).
Rohit Sharma v Ravindra Jadeja
On the one side is Rohit Sharma, an outrageously talented batsman yet to cash his cheque at the international level. On the other is Ravindra Jadeja, an spin-bowling allrounder who many feel – and with good reason – is overrated as an international player. Rohit joined the Mumbai set-up ahead of IPL 3, while Jadeja is now with Chennai having been purchased for a jaw-dropping $20 million in this year's auction. How one player, widely believed to be more talented than the batsmen who have leapfrogged him in the Indian team, pits himself against the other, who will have to justify his exorbitant price tag, could be exciting to watch too. They are undoubtedly major players for their respective teams, and considering the quagmire that Indian cricket finds itself in, the two could seriously benefit from a strong IPL season.
R Ashwin v Kieron Pollard
Aggressive batsman? Check. Aggressive spinner? Check. Kieron Pollard against R Ashwin is another appetizing prospect. Pollard has often treated spinners with disdain in the IPL, but up against a master of the Twenty20 format he could be in for a duel. Ashwin has proven himself with the new ball in the IPL, and has dismissed some big names; perhaps most famously he snared Chris Gayle for 0 in the final of the 2011 IPL, having got Gayle's wicket cheaply in the first Qualifier a few days earlier.
Incredibly, Pollard has only faced Ashwin once in the IPL, during a league match in 2010 in Chennai. In that match, he scored just two runs off four balls faced from the Chennai offspinner before skying a catch to the deep. If Ashwin has overs left by the time Pollard walks out – MS Dhoni does not normally keep him for the latter half of an innings – it will be fascinating to watch how the West Indian treats him.
Harbhajan Singh v MS Dhoni
Bitter from being dropped from the national team last year, Harbhajan Singh – now in the role of Mumbai captain – has plenty to prove in the IPL. He has tasted success as leader of the franchise in last year's Champions League Twenty20 which Mumbai won, but his bowling of late on the domestic circuit for Punjab has been disappointing. For Harbhajan, IPL 5 is a big platform to launch a comeback. He needs wickets, and lots of them, and perhaps the captaincy will further inspire him to excel. Leading arguably the second best team on paper, with the title of Champions League winner on his chest – Mumbai beat Chennai in the tournament last year – Harbhajan has some serious pressure riding on him.
His opposite number, Dhoni, is coming off a poor tour of Australia and the Asia Cup, in which India failed to reach the final. With an excellent track record with Chennai and a well-knit unit that he can rely on, Dhoni can take plenty of confidence. He has admitted previously that captaining Chennai – whose owner is also the BCCI president – is often tougher than leading India and those words could ring loudly in Dhoni's head this season. Chennai are defending champions, and getting off to a strong start is crucial.