Both teams will have an Australian leader     that is not a rarity anymore in this Indian spectacle    AFP
Both teams will have an Australian leader that is not a rarity anymore in this Indian spectacle AFP

Let alone entering the battle, Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) are severely wounded en route the battlefield. In the absence of Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers, Shane Watson will captain the red brigade against the reigning champions Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) in the first match of Indian Premier League (IPL) 2017 at Hyderabad. However, if David Warner does not pick up an injury and an Indian cricketer takes over, this will be the first time two overseas cricketers will call the shots in an IPL opener. Above all, both teams will have an Australian leader that is not a rarity anymore in this Indian spectacle. FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: Sunrisers Hyderabad vs Royal Challengers Bangalore, IPL 2017, Match 1 at Hyderabad

RCB will be without the services of Kohli, highest run-scorer of IPL 2016; de Villiers, their second-most experienced player; KL Rahul, their regular wicketkeeper (though, to be fair, not an outstanding one); Sarfaraz Khan, their lower-order dynamo. The once-strongest team on paper looks vulnerable now, and rely on reinforcement to eclipse the Sunrisers.

We got all the players we wanted, all the skill-sets we wanted to acquire. As of now the team looks formidable. The new recruitments now brought stability, and will allow us to try out four or more different combinations, said VVS Laxman, CricketCountry s Chief Mentor. Nevertheless, the think-tank is likely to have a headache when they start dishing out the starting XI from such staggering squad.

SRH s selection conundrum

Warner was the second-highest run-scorer in the previous season. Opening the innings, he blasted 848 runs at 60.5. And to partner him was Shikhar Dhawan, who scored runs at 38.5. They have scored most runs, most fifties, most everything for SRH in their brief stint as an IPL franchise. The opening pair, in all probability, will remain unchanged. But, here comes a surprise. IPL 2017: SRH have difficult match against RCB, says Moody

Tanmay Agarwal may get a nod ahead of Williamson and Yuvraj Singh. Why, you ask?

Tanmay does not bowl unlike Yuvraj. However, Yuvraj had sent down only 9 overs in 14 matches, taking only a wicket. This clearly means Warner preferred others over him when he needed a change in bowling.

The selection of Agarwal over Williamson will make sure three foreigners (that too, including two all-rounders) Moises Henriques, Rashid Khan, and Mohammad Nabi can play. Hence, the four-foreign-player policy is taken care of.

Agarwal can use the long handle to devastating effect. He was the highest run-scorer in the Indian domestic T20 league (yes, there is another in India), bludgeoning runs at a strike rate of 162.

Another dark horse is left-arm spinner Bipul Sharma. Bipul had had taken de Villiers wicket in the final of 2016. Yes, there is leg-spinner Pravin Tambe in the side, but Bipul is actually a batsman who bowls. In fact, Bipul s batting strike rate reads 157.7 in 26 matches.

Bipul will share the spin department with leg-spinner Rashid and off-spinner Nabi, forming an excellent combination. Nabi comes with a reputation of clearing the boundaries at will, while Rashid can tonk the odd ball. They are Afghanistani cricketers, after all. They play without a worry in the world.

This leaves the pace unit. Given Mustafizur Rahman will join the team on April 7, he is out of the equation. Along with Ashish Nehra, SRH have the Purple Cap-holder Bhuvneshwar Kumar to open bowling. If needed, Henriques will roll his arm and bowl his medium-pace though he has almost not bowled in BBL this summer.

We still have two slots to fill, and they have to be Indians. While the wicketkeeper will inarguably be Naman Ojha, who will be the other one? To put things into perspective, they do not have a place for batsman. Moreover, they have three spinners and three pacers (including Henriques). Come to think of it, SRH now seem to be the clear favourites looking at the array of options they have.

But, we still need that one man, a new-ball bowler (mostly since Henriques may not bowl his full quota). There are medium-pacers in Vijay Shankar and Siddharth Kaul, but Warner gave 14 matches to Barinder Sran last season and should undoubtedly go with him.

Phew. That was tough. Let us have a final look at the starting XI.

SRH likely XI: David Warner (c), Shikhar Dhawan, Tanmay Agarwal, Moises Henriques, Mohammad Nabi, Bipul Sharma, Naman Ojha (wk), Rashid Khan, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Barinder Sran, Ashish Nehra

RCB s reinforcements

I may have some grey hairs by the end of Indian summer, it seems.

In the absence of Virat and KL Rahul, there are chances that I would be asked to bat at the top a position which I enjoy the most and have been doing well, Watson had told reporters on Saturday.

However, given the need of the hour, Watson should ideally bat at No. 4, allowing Mandeep Singh to open with Chris Gayle. This will also give him some time to find his feet before he fires on all cylinders, also keeping in mind that Gayle is not the swiftest runner between the wickets.

In the absence of AB, the onus of taking the opposition to cleaners will be on Travis Head at No. 3. A strike rate of 151.5 in T20Is evidences the very fact.

Kohli had preferred Sachin Baby ahead of Sarfraz in the middle order, which takes care of one slot. Baby will be followed by Kedar Jadhav India s new finisher.

So far, there are three two all-rounders the seamer Watson and off-spinners Gayle and Jadhav, though Gayle does not bowl much.

They need one more man who can bat lower down the order and bowl an over or two if one of the mainstays has a bad day. They have Pawan Negi and Stuart Binny for that, but only one of them will make the cut. Here, however, experience will matter considering RCB do not have the services of key players. Let us place Binny at No. 7.

I suppose, this is easier than listing a starting XI for SRH.

You cannot leave Yuzvendra Chahal, second-highest wicket-taker of IPL 2016, out. His leg-spinners also helped him grab the only six-for India in T20Is earlier this year. Again, would you pick Negi ahead of Iqbal Abdullah? Since Abdullah has better batting and bowling averages, Negi has to wait for the opportunity.

Tymal Mills, picked up as a like-for-like replacement for Mitchell Starc, will share the new bowl with another southpaw Sreenath Aravind.

Ideal XI: Mandeep Singh, Chris Gayle, Travis Head, Shane Watson (c), Sachin Baby, Kedar Jadhav, Stuart Binny, Iqbal Abdullah, Yuzvendra Chahal, Sreenath Aravind, Tymal Mills

Predictions

SRH clearly have the upper hand. None of their players are injured, and they will be playing amidst the cheers of their home crowd. RCB, on the other hand, will have to come good in all the departments to start off the journey on a high.

Be that as it may, IPL 2017 is unlike any of its previous editions.

Rising Pune Supergiant (RPS) made two changes to turn their fortunes. First, they removed MS Dhoni, the most successful captain in the history of IPL, from the helm; of course, Dhoni will continue as a player. Secondly, their name has now turned singular (from Supergiants).

Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) bought Varun Aaron for INR 2.8 crores 2.5 crores more than they invested on two-time World T20-winning captain Darren Sammy.

Dale Steyn had withdrawn his name from this season s IPL citing injuries. Starc, Quinton de Kock, and JP Duminy rode the same ambulance. Kevin Pietersen, on the other hand, said he will spend time with his family and opted out as well, but later announced that he will commentate during first and fourth weeks and fag end of the tournament.

Ishant Sharma, who went unsold, was picked up by KXIP in place of Murali Vijay (why?) a day before the tournament opener.

Among the original teams, RCB, DD, and KXIP are the only three that have not won an IPL title yet. If Smith does not get injured, he will become the first player to lead three IPL sides.

Who knows, Dhoni s team will win a title, albeit under Smith. But that does not change the fact that you will find him at the corner during celebrations. Who knows, Kohli will end up being the highest run-scorer despite missing a few matches.

You never know. This is IPL. This is a paradise of the unprecedented.

Squads:

Sunrisers Hyderabad: David Warner (c), Naman Ojha (wk), Eklavya Dwivedi (wk), Kane Williamson, Ashish Nehra, Yuvraj Singh, Moises Henriques, Shikhar Dhawan, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan, Mustafizur Rahman, Tanmay Agarwal, Barinder Sran, Ricky Bhui, Bipul Sharma, Ben Cutting, Ben Laughlin, Chris Jordan, Abhimanyu Mithun, Pravin Tambe, Deepak Hooda, Siddarth Kaul, Mohammed Siraj, Vijay Shankar.

Royal Challengers Bangalore: Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers, Shane Watson, Virat Kohli, Kedar Jadhav, Stuart Binny, Iqbal Abdullah, Yuzvendra Chahal, Sreenath Aravind, Tymal Mills, Avesh Khan, Samuel Badree, Praveen Dubey, Travid Head, Mandeep Singh, Adam Milne, Pawan Negi, Harshal Patel, Sachin Baby, Tabraiz Shamsi, Billy Stanlake.

Time: 20:00 IST | 14:30 GMT