Defending champions v former champions makes for good billing. Being the season opener entices its share of audience. A dash of chequered recent history and both Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians have points to prove.
A 14-match winning streak for Gautam Gambhir’s men screeched to a halt in the Champions League T20 final. Sunil Narine’s absence – he was suspended for an illegal action – coloured an eight-wicket defeat to Chennai Super Kings. There had been doubts over his participation as late as last Sunday, but the BCCI sub-committee for suspect actions is satisfied with the changes. “It has never been our strategy to have a back-up for Sunil, because there can’t be a back-up for him,” Gambhir said.
Now though they don’t have to worry about plan B. They have most of their A-team to call on, barring the injuries to James Neesham and Chris Lynn. Robin Uthappa was the top-scorer in the Ranji season. Morne Morkel was one of the bowlers of the tournament at the World Cup. Ryan ten Doeschate and Andre Russell have excellent pedigree as T20 finishers. They retain Shakib Al Hasan’s services for the first couple of matches. Options aplenty.
Options that should worry Mumbai. Last we saw them, they became the first IPL team to fail the qualifying round into the Champions League T20. But there were extenuating circumstances: Rohit Sharma, their captain, was injured and left their team combination a mess. His presence at the helm, along with Ricky Ponting as coach, and the Lasith Malinga-led bowling raises expectation. Kieron Pollard will have his own spotlight, as well. Since his time away from the West Indies team, he’s written two columns for Al Jazeera and played only twice as many games of competitive cricket. Not the best ratio for an active cricketer. So the biggest question Mumbai will face is if the various cogs fit together smoothly.