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The opening contest of Pepsi IPL 2014 will feature the defending champions Mumbai Indians pitted against the 2012 winners Kolkata Knight Riders.
Always considered to be among the formidable teams in the IPL, the Mumbai Indians never managed to lay their hands on the coveted trophy. However, 2013 turned out to be quite a watershed year for the Mumbai franchise as they won the IPL and followed it up with the Champions League T20 title. The team will be eyeing a hat-trick of titles as they embark on what promises to be a tightly contested IPL 2014.
After winning the IPL title in 2012, the Kolkata Knight Riders couldn’t quite carry that form into the following season as they failed to qualify for the Playoffs and finished a disappointing seventh in the (formerly) nine-team league. The Kolkata Knight Riders, like most other teams, have undergone a transformation, and will be hoping the influx of fresh faces will bring lots of positive energy, good luck and an upswing to the team’s fortunes.
Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 8 pm IST
Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi
In the grand stage that is the IPL – which will see the best players from across the world pitted against each other – expect the match-winners to stamp their authority.
Early on in the tournament, it is important that the captains – especially among the batsmen – set the ball rolling. And hence, a lot will ride on the shoulders of Rohit Sharma and Gautam Gambhir.
The other players capable of playing whirlwind match-changing knocks are Michael Hussey, Kieron Pollard and Corey Anderson of MI, and Robin Uthappa, Yusuf Pathan and Ryan ten Doeschate of KKR.
Among the bowlers, one does not need to look beyond Lasith Malinga and Sunil Narine. Both bowlers are unorthodox in their style of delivery, yet accurate to the dot, and can come up with sterling match-winning spells on a consistent basis.
Previous contests between the Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders have been fairly lopsided in favour of the former; MI have won 10 of their 12 matches against KKR – including both encounters last season.
Not only is the match result lopsided in favour of MI in their matches against KKR, even the coin toss has gone in favour of the defending champions. MI captains have won the toss in 9 of the 12 contests against KKR.
Mumbai Indians have a lot of riches in their line-up; their skipper Rohit Sharma is the second-highest run-getter in the IPL. Lasith Malinga is the leading wicket-taker and Pragyan Ojha is the fourth-highest wicket-taker in the competition. In their skipper, Gautam Gambhir, KKR have the fourth-highest run-getter in the competition.
Though he has been part of the KKR line-up for only the last two seasons, Sunil Narine is comfortably the team’s most successful bowler; the unorthodox spinner from the Caribbean has 46 wickets from 31 matches, followed by Jacques Kallis with 38 scalps.
Both teams will be seen in action next on April 19. While the Mumbai Indians will clash with the Royal Challengers Bangalore at 4pm IST, the Kolkata Knight Riders will take on the Delhi Daredevils in the late evening fixture the same day.
Former Indian Premier League champions, Chennai Super Kings, are set to stake a claim at the coveted Twenty20 title in the seventh edition of the tournament. Led by MS Dhoni, they will be playing their first match on Friday, April 18, in Abu Dhabi.
At the announcement of a new three-year sponsorship deal with IT services and solutions company, UST Global, the captain interacted with the media ahead of the tournament. Speaking about his team’s campaign, Dhoni said, “There are players who are coming from the Asia Cup in Dhaka, some even New Zealand. The challenge is the ability to adapt and perform quickly.”
Elaborating on these challenges, the CSK skipper said, “Yes, the weather is slightly different when you compare to Mumbai or Chennai or Kolkata. It is hot and humid. But Delhi has very dry heat and this place is similar to that. It will be a challenge. But sports people crib a lot initially. But you don’t get bothered by it once we start to play.”
All the teams have incorporated new personnel in their ranks ahead of the seventh season. Armed with a combination of new faces, and some who have represented the franchise consistently over the years, the Super Kings will be raring to have another go at the trophy.
Speaking about their campaign, Dhoni mentioned, “Consistency at playing well and reaching the semi-finals is our goal firstly. We can’t say we will win because all it takes is one individual to have a good day. The importance is to reach the semi-finals, and you up your game a bit.” “In knockout stages, you play to the best of your potential. That becomes crucial.”
The CSK squad has some of the best T20 players in world, like Suresh Raina, Ravichandran Ashwin, New Zealand skipper Brendan McCullum, South African batsman Francois ‘Faf’ du Plessis and West Indian opener Dwayne Bravo. Asked whether his current squad is one of the strongest he has seen in CSK history, Dhoni replied, “What you have to see are your fitness issues. And your composition as a side depends on the fitness of the players and their form. You may have to omit someone who is a big player because with him included, the side doesn’t look balanced as compared to somebody else who isn’t as big a player. You have to see all those things.”
“The good thing is, we haven’t had so many changed players since season one. We try to retain as many as possible. And as a team, we lay down what each one’s roles and responsibilities are. And we try to learn as we are making mistakes; we want to keep that low.”
With some of the best in the game being part of the side, managing strong personalities from various cricketing countries also becomes a challenging task for a captain of an IPL side. Dhoni, who is known to be one of the coolest captains in the game, said, "So far, we have been blessed. We have a few players, and most are likeminded people, but yes, it is difficult managing a couple of them.”
“But we want to create an environment that provides a good mental condition to perform. And that will only happen if the players in the dressing room are good with each other,” he added.
The CSK coach Stephen Fleming also expressed his delight to be with the franchise, and said, “One thing I can say is, when the group gets together, it is very easy to do the job at hand.”