It wouldnt have taken too many by surprise that all the talk in the build-up to the opening game of the Champions League T20 (CLT20) main draw this season has centred around one man. This will after all be Sachin Tendulkars final essay for the Mumbai Indians,not to forget his farewell limited-overs tournament. Never again will the master batsman be seen in coloured clothing in a competitive cricket setting.
The defending IPL champions,in fact,have turned the 40-year-old Tendulkars swansong into a catalyst as they begun their CLT20 campaign against Rajasthan Royals at the Rahul Dravid-led outfits fortress,the Sawai Man Singh Stadium in Jaipur,on Saturday. To the extent that skipper Rohit Sharma wants his team to win the title as an ode to Tendulkar.
We know perhaps this is Sachins last Twenty20 tournament and we want to play good cricket for him, Sharma had said earlier this week.
A Royal mess
Dravid and his team have had other issues to deal with. Not very pleasant ones either. With two of their players having been handed life bans by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) only last week,and another key player now serving a one-year ban,the Royals for starters have a few gaping holes to fill. Apart from getting their players to focus on the task at hand and put all other distractions to the backburner of course. And Dravid,for whom the CLT20 could easily be a last hurrah as well,was adamant that his team wasnt going to get overawed by the Tendulkar factor.
Yes,Sachin is a great player and we have played against each other and also as team mates but I feel that there is nothing important in this match. It should be seen as a match between Rajasthan Royals and Mumbai Indians only, said Dravid.
Despite the loss of Sreesanth,Siddharth Trivedi and Ankeet Chavan,Rajasthans bowling department still carries a decent look with the likes of James Faulkner,Shane Watson and Kevon Cooper leading the way. But their spin department is almost bare with 41-year-old leg-spinner Pravin Tambe the only one to talk of. Their batting depth,meanwhile,looks stronger with the likes of Dravid,Watson,Ajinkya Rahane,Brad Hodge and the exciting Sanju Samson in the mix.
Mumbai will have the arduous task of making do without their most influential player after Lasith Malinga opted out citing personal commitments. That means more pressure on Harbhajan Singh,who had an impressive IPL,and an under-strength pace attack which apart from Mitchell Johnson wears an inexperienced look.
But like always,Mumbais strength likes in their power-packed batting line-up led by skipper Sharma and dotted with explosive names like Dinesh Karthik,Kieron Pollard,Ambati Rayudu and Glenn Maxwell if he gets a go. Perth Scorchers,Highveld Lions and Otago Volts make up the rest of the group,and a win in the all-IPL clash could well prove to be decisive in the end.
Tendulkar,who missed the business end of Mumbais title-winning run,too will be looking to leave his own indelible mark with the bat. And he will be a key figure at the top of the order alongside the aggressive Dwayne Smith. And like always,especially now,all eyes will be on him.
MI vs RR: Live on Star cricket,2000 hrs onwards