Abu Dhabi: Two of the most successful teams in the Indian Premier League (IPL) history -- Mumbai Indians (MI) and Chennai Super Kings (CSK) -- will be up against each other in the opening match of the 13th edition here at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium on Saturday.
Despite the high-octane clash featuring the two top teams that have a huge fan following, this match as well as the others will be played in empty stadiums due to COVID-19 pandemic. Both the Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led Chennai side and Rohit Sharma-captained Mumbai are surely going to miss the crowd support this time around.
CSK recently suffered two major jolts as Suresh Raina and HarbhajanSingh opted out of the tournament citing personal reasons. It will be interesting to see how a charismatic leader like Dhoni, known for calmly handling all types of tense situations, overcomes their absence.
However, who replaces Raina will be known only when matches begin. With Ruturaj Gaikwad also being ruled out of the campaign opener, Kedhar Jadhav may be asked to bat at No. 3. CSK have the option of opening with Faf du Plessis and Shane Watson. The other opening options, possibly in an emergency, are Watson and Ambati Rayudu.
But juggling the foreign players and including then in the XI is also something the team management will have to look at. A maximum of four foreigners can be part of a playing XI, and Watson and Dwayne Bravo could be among the automatic starters.
In the bowling department, either Lungi Ngidi or Josh Hazlewood could make the cut. CSK is expected to rely on South African Imran Tahir and Mitchell Santner of New Zealand as far as spin is concerned.
Harbhajan and Ravindra Jadeja could have formed a lethal spin attack. However, with Harbhajan missing, Tahir's experience will become priceless. In such a situation, du Plessis could miss the tournament opener but the South African could find a berth in the XI if Dhoni opts to go with leg-spinner Piyush Chawla.
The middle-order batting will once again rely on Bravo and Dhoni himself as both of them are capable of rotating the strike, accelerating, and even changing the outcome of the game.
In the pace department, Shardul Thakur and Deepak Chahar will lead the charge. If situation demands, Chahar can be handy with the bat. It will be seen on the match day how the Chennai team management utilises Ngidi and Hazlewood.
On the other hand, four-time champions Mumbai have strengthened their batting after signing swashbuckling Aussie batter Chris Lynn. Mumbai could pose a major threat to their opponents as Rohit has confirmed that he would open the innings with Quinton de Kock. While Rohit gathered 405, the South African stumper amassed a massive tally of 529 last season and if the duo repeat the show, the Chennai bowlers would experience a tough time.
In the middle-order, Mumbai enjoys many options with the likes of the experienced Suryakumar Yadav, youngster Ishan Kishan, Hardik Pandya and his brother Krunal. Sherfane Rutherford and Saurabh Tiwary are the other options for Mumbai.
Looking at the slow and low pitches in the UAE that will help spinners more, CSK hold an edge over Mumbai as they have Bravo in their ranks, who has the ability to utilise such conditions while Watson's experience could also come handy. Also, with Jadeja, Santner, and Chawla in their side, Chennai have more spin options than their opponents.
Overall, the two sides have met 28 times in the IPL, with Mumbai winning 17 matches and CSK 11.
Teams: Mumbai Indians: Rohit Sharma (capt), Sherfane Rutherford, Suryakumar Yadav, Anmolpreet Singh, Chris Lynn, Saurabh Tiwary, Ishan Kishan (wk), Quinton de Kock (wk), Aditya Tare, Hardik Pandya, Kieron Pollard, Krunal Pandya, Anukul Roy, Dhawal Kulkarni, Jaspreet Bumrah, Rahul Chahar, Trent Boult, Mohsin Khan, Prince Balwant Rai Singh, Digvijay Deshmukh, Jayant Yadav, Nathan Coulter-Nile, James Pattinson.
Chennai Super Kings: M S Dhoni (capt/wk), Ruturaj Gaikwad, Narayan Jagadeesan (wk), K M Asif, Ravindra Jadeja, M Vijay, Josh Hazlewood, Kedar Jadhav, Karn Sharma, Piyush Chawla, Ambati Rayudu, Imran Tahir, Deepak Chahar, Faf du Plessis, Shardul Thakur, Mitchell Santner, Dwayne Bravo, Lungi Ngidi, Sam Curran, Monu Kumar, Shane Watson, Sai Kishore.