Foes turn team-mates and vice-versa as the 2011 Indian Premier League (IPL) commences here Friday with defending champions Chennai Super Kings playing host to the new-look Kolkata Knight Riders.
Players from various countries, especially those who participated in the just-concluded World Cup, find themselves lined up against their mates and spread across the 10 teams with the inclusion of Pune and Kochi franchises that will be competing in IPL-4 as against eight in the previous three editions.
Chennai Super Kings came off best from the January auctions as they managed to retain a majority of their players even as other teams indulged in a drastic shake-up. The next six weeks will show whether the chopping and changing has had the desired impact or further weakened the teams.
Knight Riders are a case in point. They finished sixth out of eight teams in 2008 and 2010, and last in 2009 edition that was moved to South Africa in view of security issues.
Consequently, their captain for three seasons, Sourav Ganguly, does not even figure in the squad in any capacity with Delhi’s Gautam Gambhir, bought for a record $2.4 million, taking over the reins for 2011 season.
The Knight Riders, in fact, chose not to retain even a single player in an attempt to totally revamp their squad in contrast to the Super Kings who while retaining four – skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Murali Vijay and Albie Morkel – bought back 10.
Super Kings, the most consistent IPL team having reached the final in 2008, semifinals in 2009 and winning the trophy last year, have retained the core of their squad, including the support staff.
Given Dhoni’s track record as captain, and the depth of talent, both in batting and bowling, besides the continuity factor, the Super Kings are favoured to retain the trophy.
The Knight Riders face an uphill task on the morrow considering their dismal record against the Super Kings who have won four of their six previous meetings one of which in Cape Town was rained off.
The Knight Riders’ sole win against the Super Kings was at the Centurion two years ago when they chased a target of 189 for the loss of only three wickets.
The Kolkata team met with failure on all their three previous visits to Chennai, although this time around, the visitors appear to have far more potent ammunition in the form of Yusuf Pathan, Brett Lee, Brad Haddin and Jacques Kallis in their ranks, to douse the local hopes.
It is a task easier said than done although the Super Kings are without their spearhead Doug Bollinger who is expected to join the squad later this month, and Sri Lankan ace spinner Muttiah Muralitharan who was bought by Kochi.
Yet, the Super Kings boast of a strong batting line-up that yet again is expected to carry the side through the tournament, despite the absence of Matthew Hayden who was cast free following his dismal form last season.
Being the first match of the IPL season, it is early days to judge the teams on the basis of names, but the Chennai Super Kings appear primed for the challenge far better than the other nine sides in the fray.