Defending champions, Mumbai Indians, will kick-off IPL 2014 by taking on Kolkata Knight Riders at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi tonight. With the first half of the tournament to be played in the UAE, the first game looks to be vital for the other six teams in the fray. With new venues and new conditions to tackle, teams will be eagerly looking at this game in order to analyse the respective combinations put out by both sides. Wickets in the UAE have been said to traditionally aid spin and both teams will be looking at getting their spin combos right on Wednesday.
Mumbai Indians, who prevailed over the Chennai Super Kings in the final of the last edition, will be looking to get their campaign off to a good start while Knight Riders will focus on exorcising last season’s ghosts, which saw them finish in seventh position, a sure downer after having clinched the title the previous year.
The last international tournament held in the UAE, the youth World Cup, saw spinners being used copiously on the slow and low tracks. Both sides are well-stocked with tweakers. Knight Riders perhaps hold the edge over Mumbai, with the services of Windies’ mystery man, Sunil Narine.
Narine has 46 wickets in 31 outings for KKR and is a potent option for skipper Gautam Gambhir. Narine will also be complemented by new-pick Piyush Chawla, the dependable Shakib Al Hasan and the India’s young chinaman bowler, Kuldeep Yadav.
Mumbai, on the other hand, will depend on old-warhorse and former captain, Harbhajan Singh, along with left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha. Madhya Pradesh all-rounder Jalaj Saxena is a handy off-spinner and Mumbai also have young Karnataka leggie Shreyas Gopal as an able back-up.
Watch out for
Kolkata Knight Riders have done well to retain and buy-back most of their core group of players. Captain Gambhir has been in solid form in the domestic T20 competition, having helped his side, Delhi, top their qualification group. The 32-year-old left-hander accumulated 162 runs in four outings, giving out a strong signal of returning to his peak during a punishing unbeaten 75 against Haryana, just before he left for the UAE. Along with Jacques Kallis, KKR’s most consistent batsman over two seasons, some of the youngsters in the side — including Suryakumar Yadav, Manish Pandey and Manvinder Bisla — will have to step up to the plate.
For Mumbai, Rohit Sharma’s good form in the recently concluded World T20 will give his franchise heart. The captain of the Mumbai Indians, Rohit was easily his side’s best batsman in their run to the title last year, amassing 538 runs at 38.42 and at a very healthy strike-rate of 131.54. Coupled with new acquisition Michael Hussey, the over all leading run-getter last season (733 runs at 52.35), Mumbai have a formidable top-order line-up.
Knight Riders used one of their right-to-match card to buy-back the big hitting Yusuf Pathan in the auction. Having dropped off the national team’s radar, Pathan did not have a great domestic season but struck form during the limited overs competition.
Baroda mainly had Pathan’s ability to bludgeon them out of trouble and to formidable totals during the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament. The 31-year-old Pathan is normally tasked with giving impetus to the Knight Riders’ innings during the later stages. Last season, Pathan did not have a single half-century to his credit, managing just 332 runs in 16 outings. However, this time around, the signs are good. He has hit two half-centuries in his last two T20 games leading up to the IPL.
Teammates to rivals
Middle-order strokemaker, Suryakumar Yadav, who earlier plied his trade for Mumbai Indians, will now don the purple of the Knight Riders. Marchant de Lange, the South African pacer, also spent a season with the Knight Riders but will steam in for Mumbai this season.
The most likely foreign combination for KKR could just be Kallis, Narine, Shakib and Cummins. Of these four, three have been part of KKR’s winning run in the 2012 season. Cummins offers the side searing pace while KKR can experiment with Aussie Chris Lynn, who smashed the fastest hundred in the Big Bash League.
KKR also have Morne Morkel on their roster along with Dutch all-rounder Ryan ten Doeschate, another member of the 2012 title-winning team. WI’s Andre Russell, is another addition to KKR’s selection conundrum.
Similarly, Mumbai retained Kieron Pollard and Lasith Malinga before this year’s auction. The giant West Indian and the World T20 champ, Malinga, are almost certainties in the side. Hussey will provide Mumbai with a calming influence at the top of the order. Mumbai did well to rope in New Zealand all-rounder Corey Anderson for a rather decent price and he is expected to fill up the fourth slot.
In all probability, only one slot is up for grabs and Mumbai have Josh Hazlewood, Ben Dunk, Krishmar Santokie and Marchant de Lange simultaneously competing for it.
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