Shikhar Dhawan (above) would re-unite with David Warner, keeping aside their recent spat in Australia © IANS
Shikhar Dhawan (above) would re-unite with David Warner, keeping aside their recent spat in Australia © IANS

By Tapan Mohanta

Kolkata: Its scandalous past seasons still quite fresh in memory, the Indian Premier League (IPL) organisers will look to ensure that the focus remains firmly on cricket when the cash-rich event gets underway with a glamorous opening ceremony, featuring top Bollywood stars, here tomorrow.

After a pulling off a controversy-free tournament last year, the organisers would again be hoping for a smooth run when the 47-day tournament, marred by a spot-fixing scandal in 2013, kickstarts with defending champions Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) taking on Mumbai Indians (MI) at Eden Gardens on Wednesday.

Before that, the event will open tomorrow night to a glittering ceremony where Bollywood superstars Hrithik Roshan, Shahid Kapoor and Anushka Sharma form a power-packed line-up of performers.

The melting pot that it is, the opening match itself features two players, who aggressively faced off as recently as in the World Cup last month, playing together in one team.

David Warner and Shikhar Dhawan will share the dressing room (Sunrisers Hyderabad) putting behind their spat in Australia recently.

As the international rivals become friends, there will be some who will be hungry for success as the tournament provides an ideal launchpad ahead of next year’s World Twenty20 in India around the same time.

There will be some veteran Indian warhorses with the likes of Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan among others, who will see this as a final chance to make a comeback to the national side.

The Indian selectors might think otherwise, but the IPL teams clearly believe the 33-year-old Yuvraj still has the fire in his belly as he was bought for a record Rs 16 crore by Delhi Daredevils after intense bidding among four franchises.

This had happened on the back of his three successive Ranji Trophy centuries which were not enough for him to make the World Cup cut. But the player of the tournament in India‘s 2011 World Cup triumph is not the one to give up and would be among the ones to watch out for this season.

“It’s been a couple of hard years for me since I have come back from my treatment. I have worked very hard and I have had a good domestic season. I am confident of doing well and hope that things get better from here,” the dashing left-hander has said.

In fact, Yuvraj would be the key to the success for the Delhi Daredevils, who finished bottom of the table in the last two seasons.

DD have once again gone for a complete overhaul and apart from Yuvraj, they have invested in a 36-year-old Zaheer, who too would be aspiring to don India colours one last time.

To be led by South African pro JP Duminy, DD have his compatriot Imran Tahir as the Pakistani-born leg-spinner would look to replicate his World Cup show.

The consistent Mohammed Shami will partner the highly experienced Zaheer in the pace department, while in Yuvraj and star Sri Lankan all-rounder Angelo Mathews, they will have the necessary X-factor.

It’s a strong team on paper but it remains to be seen whether they better their 2012 show where they finished on top and crashed out of the play-offs. They also have last-four finishes in 2008 and 2009.

The Sri Lankan captain, however, will miss out on the team’s opening match in Chennai on April 9 because of a ban on the Lankan players by the Tamil Nadu government.

Another power-packed team, who are yet to win the coveted silverware is Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), the finalists in 2009 and 2011.

Like their team owner and business magnate Vijay Mallya, the team is flamboyance personified but that has not always translated in wins.

The team obviously would look no further after having Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers in their top four.

Boasting of the terrific trio who define modern day cricket, RCB’s batting is arguably the most explosive and this time they have invested Rs 10.5 crore in Dinesh Karthik to give depth to the line-up.

But with Varun Aaron and Ashok Dinda their two leading pacers to begin with, the bowling looks a bit shaky in absence of World Cup player of the tournament Mitchell Starc who is likely to miss three weeks for a knee injury, while Adam Milne is recovering from a heel injury.

The spin department will rely on Yuzvendra Chahal and Iqbal Abdulla who will be bowling under the tutelage of coach Daniel Vettori the master craftsman of the left-arm spin bowling.

The 2010 and 2011 champions Chennai Super Kings (CSK) have been the most consistent team across all seasons and will start 2015 with some off the field distractions after the Supreme Court’s judgement on Gurunath Meiyappan and the team’s ownership by ICC chairman N Srinivasan-led India Cements.

Following the conflict of interest judgement, the team was transferred to a wholly-owned subsidiary named Chennai Super Kings Cricket Ltd and made it difficult for Srinivasan to become BCCI president again.

But in India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, CSK have a captain who can overcome any crisis with ease.

This year too, they have retained the nucleus of the side and have invested in Irfan Pathan and Michael Hussey, Kyle Abott, Rahul Sharma among others.

They have made the last four in each of the last seven seasons, including four straight final appearances and two titles.

Such is their might that three years without a title is being considered a trophy drought and they would look to bounce back and silence the critics.

Defending champions Kolkata Knight Riders were in the news before the season began with BCCI ignoring ICC’s report of Sunil Narine and summoning the West Indies off-spinner for a retest of his suspect bowling action.

Having got a clean chit two days before their first match, it would be interesting to see how effective Narine becomes with his remodelled action.

Narine, it maybe noted, has been key to their success in winning the titles in 2012 and 2014 and their effective slow bowlers make them the team to beat at the home ground of Eden Gardens.

This season, they have invested Rs 2.4 crore in little known KC Cariappa, who is seen as a future Narine, and have two Chinaman bowlers in Brad Hogg and Kuldeep Yadav besides the South African spinner Johan Botha.

Morne Morkel and Umesh Yadav will lend stability to the pace department as the bowling would be KKR’s main strength.

The batting will rely heavily on the likes of skipper Gautam Gambhir, Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey.

2013 winners Mumbai Indians have a star studded support staff with Ricky Ponting as coach and a team icon in Sachin Tendulkar, who would look to inspire the side.

They have acquired Aussie World Cup winning opener Aaron Finch and have some good all-rounders in Corey Anderson and Kieron Pollard but it’s their inconsistency of their batsmen including captain Rohit Sharma that would make the difference.

Last season’s runners-up Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) had a rousing start to their campaign winning five matches on the trot in the UAE leg.

They boast of World Cup winners in Glenn Maxwell, David Miller and Mitchell Johnson but it remains to be seen how they cope with the hectic season ahead.

They will also have the devastating Indian opener Virender Sehwag, who would be hungry for more, and Wriddhiman Saha, aiming to play a big role like last season.

Sunrisers Hyderabad, who have announced David Warner as their captain, also feature an explosive batting line-up in Shikhar Dhawan, Eoin Morgan and Kevin Pietersen who will miss the league stage but will return should they make the playoffs.

The fans and organisers may also have to keep a tab on the weather forecast as thunderstorm (known as Nor’wester) towards the evening is not unusual in these parts during this time of the season.