For the Rohit Sharma led Mumbai Indians, it will be a case of getting their IPL campaign off to the perfect start in front of a packed home crowd. On the other hand, the MS Dhoni led Chennai Super Kings are making an emotional return to the IPL after serving a two-year suspension.
As two of the most successful sides in IPL history get ready to lock horns, we look at the key battles that could decide the outcome on Saturday.
SURESH RAINA V JASPRIT BUMRAH
One man has been synonymous with CSK’s success over the years and that is Suresh Raina. He has been the batting lynchpin for the franchise for some time and is the highest run-scorer in the history of the competition with 4,540 runs.
He will face up against his India T20 side team-mate Jasprit Bumrah, one of the best T20 bowlers in international cricket at the moment, let alone the IPL. With Bumrah’s ability to pick up early wickets and his excellent bowling at the death, his battle with IPL maestro Raina will be a rather intriguing one. With Lasith Malinga now taking up the role of a mentor, the onus of powering Mumbai’s bowling attack will lie on the young shoulders of Bumrah.
HARDIK PANDYA V HARBHAJAN SINGH
Ever since the IPL started, Harbhajan Singh has been a key figure for the Mumbai Indians. The off-spinner is the third most successful bowler in the tournament’s history with 127 wickets and has played a vital role in all three of the side’s title wins.
He will now line up for a different franchise and as fate has it, he will square up against his former employers in his very first outing in CSK colours.
His battle against Hardik Pandya will be a very important one given how destructive the India all-rounder is against the spinners. There is nothing Pandya likes more than using the long handle against the slower bowlers and Harbhajan will have to use all his experience to get the better of the 24-year-old Mumbai Indians star.
SHANE WATSON V PAT CUMMINS
If Australia’s Pat Cummins does lead Mumbai’s pace attack in the match, CSK opener Shane Watson will be up against his compatriot.
Cummins has been excellent in the past one year in the Test arena and gave a great account of himself in the subcontinent during Australia’s tours of India and Bangladesh. A fast-bowler willing to bend his back and bowl his heart out in every spell is what makes Cummins such a formidable foe for any batsman.
IPL veteran Watson, who will be making his debut for CSK, will burden the responsibility of getting the side off to a great start. The all-rounder was the player of the tournament in the inaugural edition in 2008 and will want to show that he is still a force to be reckoned with in T20 cricket.
Test cricket is the highest level of the game. World Cup is the pinnacle of white-ball cricket. Both have a rich and deep history cultivated over decades of incredible results and painful defeats. It has a special place in the pantheon of cricket and will continue to do so for a long time.
And at the other side of the cricketing world there is an entity that has grabbed its corner of the landscape through brute strength – the Indian Premier League.
Absolutely nothing about the league is subtle. From the player outfits, cheerleaders and Bollywood patrons to million-dollar contracts, six-hitting sessions masquerading as T20 matches and sky-high TV ratings, the IPL is a force of nature.
It has been ten years since the idea that was first brought to life by the now-banned Indian Cricket League got turbo-charged by Lalit Modi. What started as an attempt to popularise and monetise a format invented in England exploded onto the scene with the force not even its most ardent proponents had expected.
The IPL is singularly responsible for the rise of T20 leagues across the globe that run parallel to the international calendar, opening up a whole new revenue stream for cricket boards, players and advertisers.
It is the IPL that has brought different cricketing cultures together, putting the best players on the planet in one dressing room and facilitating an incredible exchange of views and perspective, resulting in the elimination of at least a few misconceptions about rival players, mindset and cultures.
And most importantly, players who deliver in the IPL, Indian or otherwise, find themselves fast-tracked into the senior national team more often than not.
But IPL’s unprecedented rise has brought about its own set of problems.
Journeymen players are now a thing and cricketers around the globe are opting for white-ball only domestic contracts to make themselves available for IPL and other such T20 leagues.
Test cricket, or even international cricket, is not a priority for a number of young players in India as a handful of years in the IPL is more than enough from a financial point of view.
And then we have the controversies. IPL’s then chairman and commissioner Modi was unceremoniously shown the door in 2010 over allegations of administrative misconduct by the Indian board.
Then BCCI chief N Srinivasan got embroiled in a conflict of interest saga as he was also the head of the company that owned the Chennai Super Kings franchise.
Two separate spot fixing scandals – in 2012 and 2013 – not only resulted in bans for eight cricketers but also tainted the image of the league and raised questions about its efforts to keep corruption out of the game.
The biggest scandal – the 2013 spot fixing saga – saw Chennai and Rajasthan team owners and officials implicated in corruption and the franchises were suspended for two years in 2015.
In between, franchises were formed and disbanded. The city of Pune had two franchises – Pune Warriors India and Rising Pune Supergiant – while we also had Gujarat Lions and Kochi Tuskers Kerala for brief periods.
FASTER, HIGHER, STRONGER
Which brings us to 2018, where we are back to the same eight cities from where the IPL was first launched in 2008.
The 11th edition of the tournament has all the ingredients for a keenly contested affair between eight teams, not only because all teams have the best players on the planet – among those who are fit and available for selection – but also because franchises have become smart with regards to player selections and team matrix.
No doubt the absence of superstars like Steve Smith and David Warner through suspensions and injuries to star bowlers Mitchell Starc and Kagiso Rabada, among others, have taken some sheen off the IPL 2018.
But for Indian fans, the return of two beloved franchises – Rajasthan Royals and especially Chennai Super Kings – plus the availability of all Indian superstars and Under-19 World Cup winners provide adequate razzmatazz to stay glued to the TV screens for nearly two months.
And that is what it all boils down to. The IPL has survived numerous controversies, which might have crippled other tournaments, and even defied market logic by pulling in $2.55 billion by way of broadcast rights for the next five years.
As the rest of the cricketing world hits the pause button for the start of the T20 jamboree in India, let’s tip our hat to the league that can truly claim to be ‘everything-proof’.
Over the years, a host of international and Indian stars have taken the IPL by storm in their debut seasons. This season too, there will be no shortage of the most exciting of talents in the cricketing world undertaking their IPL baptism.
Here, we look at 10 such players worth keeping an eye on.
SANDEEP LAMICHHANE (DELHI DAREDEVILS)
The teenager is the first Nepalese cricketer to win an IPL contract and will be raring to make an impact for the Delhi Daredevils. The 17-year-old leg-spin prodigy has played a big hand in Nepal’s meteoric rise in the past two years, culminating with the attainment of a maiden ODI status for the landlocked nation.
MUJEEB ZADRAN (KINGS XI PUNJAB)
There is a reason Kings XI Punjab have splashed the big bucks on the Afghanistan spinner who has only recently turned 17. Having impressed in the ICC World Cup 2019 qualifiers, Zardan can bowl it all, be it off-spin, leg-spin or the googlies. Played a big part in Afghanistan’s march to the semi-final of the ICC U19 World Cup, too.
EVIN LEWIS (MUMBAI INDIANS)
The West Indies batsman has developed quite a reputation in T20 cricket already since making his international debut in 2016. The left-hander has cracked two T20I tons in only 14 matches and will line up for the Mumbai Indians for his IPL bow. As explosive a batsman as they come, Lewis comes into the tournament in fine knick.
D’ARCY SHORT (RAJASTHAN ROYALS)
The Aussie opener’s rapid rise in the past few months has been astonishing. He smashed the record for the most runs in a single Big Bash League (BBL) season by a country mile after scoring 572 runs for the Hobart Hurricanes. Has since made his T20 debut for Australia and blended in seamlessly.
HEINRICH KLAASEN (RAJASTHAN ROYALS)
The South African wicket-keeper batsman was an unheard of quantity before India toured the country recently. There, he toyed with India’s spinners, especially Yuzvendra Chahal, as he showed his T20 credentials with some exhilarating and and sometimes outrageous shot-making. That Royals decided to replace a batsman of Steve Smith’s pedigree with him shows the kind of impact Klaasen has already created.
MARK WOOD (CHENNAI SUPER KINGS)
The England pacer does not have a wealth of T20 cricket experience but his pedigree cannot be doubted. The Englishman’s raw pace makes him a dangerous customer on any track. Can comfortably clock 140kph on a regular basis and will be vital addition to MS Dhoni and his men.
JOFRA ARCHER (RAJASTHAN ROYALS)
Archer is another West Indies-born cricketer who has made rapid strides in T20 cricket of late. A huge hit in the recent BBL for Hobart Hurricanes, the all-rounder is one of the most sought after talents going around in T20 cricket currently. He is electric on the field and his skiddy fast-bowling has been a nightmare for BBL batsmen.
SHUBMAN GILL (KOLKATA KNIGHT RIDERS)
The teenager was picked up by the Kolkata franchise while he was lighting it up at the ICC U-19 World Cup in New Zealand. Gill finished as the player of the series, scoring a brilliant ton against Pakistan in the semi-final as India were crowned champions. He registered a first-class hundred in only his second Ranji Trophy match for Punjab last year.
KAMLESH NAGARKOTI (KOLKATA KNIGHT RIDERS)
Another Indian youngster who impressed in the U19 World Cup win, Kamlesh Nagarkoti has raw pace in abundance. He has fans back in India relishing the prospect of his senior debut already after clocking regularly in excess of 140kph in the World Cup where he picked up nine wickets. The 18-year-old had become the first Rajasthan player to claim a List A hat-trick last year.
PRITHVI SHAW (DELHI DAREDEVILS)
The skipper of India U19s at the World Cup, Shaw has been creating waves since he was 14 when he scored a mammoth 546 runs in a minor-cricket match in Mumbai. He has made an equally astonishing start to his senior career, scoring a ton for Mumbai on his Ranji debut before breaking Sachin Tendulkar’s record to become the youngest century-maker (17) on his Duleep Trophy debut.