What better place for the sixth edition of the Indian Premier League to begin than the home of Indian cricket, Eden Gardens. And what better contest to kick- start the extravaganza than defending champions Kolkata Knight Riders against Delhi Daredevils.
In nine matches the teams have played so far, KKR have won five while DD have won four. But more than the numbers, it is closeness of the contests that have impressed fans. The last time the two teams met at the same ground, DD won a rain- affected game emphatically.
But this time, defending champions KKR will definitely be favourites going into the first of the 76 matches over the next 54 days. In addition to Kevin Pietersen and Jesse Ryder, who have been ruled out for the season, Delhi are expected to take the field without Virender Sehwag, who is yet to join the team, and Morne Morkel, who is playing domestic cricket back in South Africa. The emphasis will be on the likes of skipper Mahela Jayawardene, David Warner, Andre Russell and Umesh Yadav to turn the heat on the champions.
For KKR, a lot will depend on how skipper Gautam Gambhir utilises Sunil Narine. While Gambhir has stressed on the need for all the players to contribute, Narine will definitely hold the key to stopping rampaging batsmen.
Among other contenders, it will be an important year for Mumbai Indians. They start their campaign against Royal Challengers Bangalore on Thursday. Mumbai have roped in the likes of Ricky Ponting and million- dollar man Glenn Maxwell, and would be hoping they can finally gift Sachin Tendulkar an IPL trophy before he calls it a day.
For Royal Challengers Bangalore, it will be all about how Virat Kohli leads the team. The team has many big names in Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers and Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kohli will have a challenge on his hands.
Chennai Super Kings have to wait until Saturday to open their campaign against Mumbai in Chennai — a game which Lasith Malinga will have to sit out due to the Tamil Nadu government’s insistence on keeping Sri Lankans out of the state. MS Dhoni has the firepower in his ranks to notch up a third title, with the likes of Murali Vijay, Suresh Raina, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Michael Hussey being part of the outfit.
For new team Sunrisers Hyderabad, it will be all about gaining a foothold in the league and in the fans’ hearts. They have retained most of Deccan Chargers’ players, and have Pune Warriors India as their opponents in their opening match on Friday.
If a torrid couple of seasons weren’t bad enough for Pune, they started off on a bad note in the lead- up as they lost skipper Michael Clarke to a back injury. While Yuvraj Singh is back, Angelo Mathews has been handed the reins.
Kings XI Punjab would be hoping that skipper Adam Gilchrist can finally inspire them to the play- offs and beyond. Last year was all about their domestic recruits, Mandeep Singh and Parvinder Awana, who took the IPL by storm. This year, they would hope to get contributions from Gilchrist, Shaun Marsh and David Hussey.
Last but not the least, inaugural winners Rajasthan Royals will hope they can recreate the magic. They have a mature leader in Rahul Dravid who can extract the best out of the likes of Ajinkya Rahane, Shane Watson and the maverick S Sreesanth.
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