Chennai: The inaugural match of the fifth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) will have the defending champions Chennai Super Kings taking on the Harbhajan Singh-led Mumbai Indians at the MA Chidambaram Stadium on Wednesday. Sachin Tendulkar has decided to step down as skipper of the Mumbai franchise, handing over the reins to Harbhajan, who helped Mumbai lift their maiden title, the Champions League Twenty20, last year in the absence of an injured Tendulkar.
Owned by Mukesh Ambani, Mumbai have further strengthened their squad by snapping up Mitchell Johnson, Herschelle Gibbs, Pragyan Ojha and wicketkeeper Dinesh Karthik in this year's players' auction to continue their fight for their first IPL trophy after missing it by a whisker last season. In contrast, the management of MS Dhoni's champion outfit chose to invest their money in allrounder Ravindra Jadeja.
Both CSK and MI have a good line-up of foreigners in their ranks, but most of Chennai's foreign talent will not be available for the opening match as the stars from West Indies, Australia, Sri Lanka and England are currently engaged in Test battles. Compared to CSK, Mumbai don't seem to be affected by such absentism as Lasith Malinga and Mitchell Johnson are not part of their respective Test squads and Kieron Pollard is not expected to be part of West Indies' Test squad against Australia. Chennai, however, will be without the dependable Michael Hussey, who is on national duty.
But despite missing the likes of Hussey and Bravo, Chennai have a strong batting line-up in their arsenal, with the likes of Murali Vijay, Suresh Raina, Subramaniam Badrinath, Dhoni and Wriddhiman Saha all raring to unleash themselves on batting-friendly home tracks and win an unprecedented third straight IPL. The bowling department of Chennai looks in neat order. Fast-bowling allrounder Albie Morkel and fellow pacer Doug Bollinger will resume their duties for the franchise. The spin department will be led by R Ashwin, ably supported by the new recruit Jadeja and an economical Shadab Jakati.
Mumbai's batting also looks strong despite Andrew Symonds announcing his retirement. Tendulkar, who is free from the burden of captaincy, is expected to play with abandon, which is an ominous sign for Mumbai's opponents. Now relieved after getting the monkey of the 100th international ton off his back, Tendulkar may roll back the years to light up the league with his willow. Apart from Tendulkar, there are some serious hitters in the Mumbai dug-out, such as Pollard, Richard Levi, who recently scored the fastest T20 international century, Rohit Sharma and Ambati Rayudu.
Pollard will once again be the key for Mumbai with his power-hitting and wily medium pace. On the bowling front, in Lasith Malinga, Mumbai have a specialist perfect for the limited-overs format with his toe-crushing yorkers. Johnson would be charged up to feature in his maiden IPL season and the duo can send tremors in the opposition camp – both at the start and at the death. Munaf Patel brings in the variation and has the ability and skill to bowl intelligently in the death overs. And in spin, Harbhajan will be out to prove a point to the Indian selectors, who have overlooked him since the tour of England.
Chennai Super Kings: 1. Murali Vijay, 2. Anirudha Srikkanth, 3. Suresh Raina, 4. Subramaniam Badrinath, 5. Ravindra Jadeja, 6. MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 7. Albie Morkel, 8. Doug Bollinger, 9. Ravichandran Ashwin, 10. Shadab Jakati, 11. Sudeep Tyagi.
Mumbai Indians: 1. Sachin Tendulkar, 2. Richard Levi, 3. Ambati Rayudu, 4. Rohit Shama, 5. Kieron Pollard, 6. Dinesh Karthik (wk), 7. James Franklin, 8. Harbhajan Singh (capt), 9. Munaf Patel, 10. Lasith Malinga, 11. Mitchell Johnson.