Forced to shift tent to South Africa due to security fears last year, the Indian Premier League returns to the country promising a heady mix of cricket and entertainment with last season laggards Kolkata Knight Riders taking on defending champions Deccan Chargers in the tournament opener on Friday.
The opening ceremony preceding the first match at the D Y Patil Stadium will see top international performers Lionel Ritchie, UB40 and Bjorn Agan, besides Bollywood star Deepika Padukone, give a rocking start to the 45-day event.
A spectacular fireworks display is to follow after which the debris from the field would be cleared to set the stage for the opening clash between the no. 1 and no. 8 teams of the second edition.
Day two of the IPL will see two legends of the game crossing swords with each other at the famous Brabourne Stadium in South Mumbai.
The Sachin Tendulkar-led Mumbai Indians would kick off their campaign to make up for indifferent displays in the first two seasons against 2008 winners Rajasthan Royals captained by Australian Shane Warne.
As was the case in the first two seasons, some international stars, busy with their international commitments for their home countries, would be missing from action in the initial stages of the tournament.
Those teams would have to use the other players in their roster intelligently to pick up points and gain early momentum in the race to the top.
In IPL-3, the players have the added incentive of the players’ auction ahead of IPL-4 to look up to as most of them would go under the hammer for the next season that would see an additional two teams in action.
The players would be aware that a top class display in this season would increase their demand from the IPL franchises at the auction and fetch higher prices.
This time around, three more centers have been added to witness IPL action – Ahmedabad, Cuttack and Dharamsala – while Deccan Chargers will not play their seven home matches strictly at home – in Hyderabad – but in Navi Mumbai, Nagpur and Cuttack.
The 2.5-minute strategic breaks would be another important factor with both the fielding and batting sides given specific overs to take them.
The bowling side captain can opt to take them anytime between overs 6 and 8, while the batting team skipper has a wider time frame to decide – between the 11th and 16th overs.
This short period in the fast-paced game provides not only some rest for the players but also gives the teams’ an opportunity to rework their strategies as per the situations.
The opening clash under lights will see Adam Gilchrist, the retired Australia wicket keeper-batsman, revisit the venue that he lit up with his pyrotechnics two years ago.
Gilchrist scored a masterly century on that occasion to take the match away from Mumbai Indians and his performance would be crucial to the Hyderabad franchise’s fortunes.
But he comes into this edition with a handicap. Unlike last year when he had just retired, he has not played at the top level for more than a year now. But a batsman of his calibre would need just a few knocks in the middle to get back into his groove.
His Australian counterpart, the temperamental and explosive Andrew Symonds is also sailing in the same boat.
Thus initially at least the other batsmen, especially Herschelle Gibbs of South Africa and India’s inconsistent Rohit Sharma would be needed to fire with more regularity to give the team the right momentum when the retired Australians try to find their feet.
The Chargers, who made a spectacular transformation after being the cellar team in the first edition to climb the winners’ podium one year later, look a bit weak in bowling and would be eager to get the services of exciting West Indian fast bowler Kemar Roach as early as possible.
But Roach would not be available for the inaugural tie as he’s busy playing for the Calypso Charmers in the ODI series at home against Zimbabwe.
In Roach’s absence, Rudra Pratap Singh would have to carry the extra responsibility of giving the team early breakthroughs along with former Sri Lanka pacer Chaminda Vaas who too will take some time to rediscover his touch after being out of international cricket.
In slow bowling, they have left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha to try and apply the brakes on the Knight Riders’ line-up boasting of skipper Sourav Ganguly and Brad Hodge, to name only a few.
The Knight Riders have changed the colour of their jersey hoping they would hit a lengthy purple patch after the disappointing displays in the first two editions.
Team owner Shah Rukh Khan and captain Ganguly are optimistic that a change in attitude would do wonders for the Kolkata franchise, which has not done justice to its potential in the first two years.
The team will miss the explosive hitting of West Indian Chris Gayle and New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum, not to speak of the fiery pace of Kiwi Shane Bond, for the first few games.
The think tank, including coach Dav Whatmore and bowling consultant Wasim Akram, may ask Hodge, their highest scorer in South Africa, and Manoj Tiwary to open the innings initially with Ganguly to follow.
In bowling, they have the gangling Ishant Sharma and the wiry Ajit Agarkar, along with Sri Lankan all-rounder Angelo Mathews and South African Charl Langeveldt to bank on for pace.
In spin bowling, the miserly Ajantha Mendis, who has been not as successful at the international level after his first season, and seasoned Murali Kartik would be looked upon to get wickets and contain the run-rate in the middle overs.
The first night of action thus promises plenty of excitement to give the perfect kick-off to the tournament that ends with the grand final at the same venue on April 25.
Deccan Chargers: Adam Gilchrist (captain/wk), Ashish Reddy, Anirudh Singh, Azhar Bilakhia, Herschelle Gibbs, Harmeet Singh, VVS Laxman, Monish Mishra, Pragyan Ojha, Dwaraka Ravi Teja, Rohit Sharma, R P Singh, Tirumalasetti Suman, Bodapati Sumanth, Andrew Symonds, Chaminda Vaas, Venugopal Rao and Arjun Yadav.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Sourav Ganguly (captain), Varun Aaron, Ajit Agarkar, Ashok Dinda, Eklak Ahmad, Rohan Gavaskar, Brad Hodge. Iqbal Abdulla, Murali Kartik, Harshad Khadiwale, Charl Langeveldt, Angelo Mathews, Ajantha Mendis, Chirag Pathak, Cheteshwar Pujara, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Owais Shah, Ishant Sharma, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Manoj Tiwary and Ganapathi Vignesh.