Champions Gujarat Titans clash with heavyweights Chennai Super Kings in opener as IPL returns to home-and-away format
NEW DELHI, March 30: Title holders Gujarat Titans will be eager to begin the new season from where they finished off the last one as they take on four-time champions Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League opener in Ahmedabad on Friday.
After a gap of four years, the cricketing extravaganza returns to familiar home-and-away format and 12 cities will be hosting a total of 70 league phase matches.
The 2020 edition of the money-spinning league and the second half of the 2021 tournament took place in the United Arab Emirates as India battled the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year’s expanded 10-team event was held mostly in Mumbai and Pune.
Ahmedabad side Gujarat, one of the two expansion teams along with Lucknow, capped a fairytale debut season by defeating inaugural champions Rajasthan Royals in front of around 100,000 fans in the final at home.
Hardik Pandya’s side are the bookmakers’ favourites to retain the trophy but five-times champions Mumbai Indians – the most successful IPL outfit – and Chennai will aim to reclaim the crown in the 16th edition of the event.
Home support could play a major role and Chennai’s fans served up a reminder of what teams have missed with a thunderous round of applause for Mahendra Singh Dhoni during a recent practice session amid media speculation it could be his last IPL.
While a return to familiar settings will be a welcome boost for teams, they will need to quickly master a new rule that adds another strategic dimension to the game.
For the first time IPL sides will be allowed to make a tactical substitution with an “Impact Player” coming in to bat or bowl as needed.
Delhi Capitals head coach Ricky Ponting said the move would almost negate the need for all-rounders.
“Unless they’re absolutely world class and getting picked either as a batsman or as a bowler … I don’t think you’ll see many teams use the guy that might bat at seven and maybe bowl an over or two,” Ponting said.
“You don’t need those guys anymore.”
Hoping to prove the former Australian captain wrong will be Sam Curran. The England all-rounder became the most expensive ever buy in the players’ auction in December by returning to Punjab Kings for 185 million Indian rupees ($2.25 million).
Australian all-rounder Cameron Green will also look to live up to his paycheck after joining Mumbai for 175 million rupees.
The IPL will also present Green and other overseas players with the chance to get used to conditions in India, where the 50-overs World Cup will be held in October and November.
With one eye on that tournament, India captain Rohit Sharma has suggested his national team players should consider skipping some IPL games to manage their workload.
Top Indian players Rishabh Pant (Delhi), Jasprit Bumrah (Mumbai) and Shreyas Iyer (Kolkata Knight Riders) are missing the IPL this year due to injury, while England batsman Jonny Bairstow (Punjab) is still recovering from surgery.
Northeast all set to welcome IPL after Covid setback
The upcoming edition of the Indian Premier League will mark the debut of the marquee tournament to the Northeast as Guwahati gears up to host 2 matches in April.
The Assam Cricket Association (ACA) Stadium in Guwahati will be the ‘home’ to Rajasthan Royals, who along with Japiur will host a couple of matches in the north eastern state.
Royals matches against Punjab Kings on April 5 and Delhi Capitals on April 8 will be played in Assam’s capital city.
“We were allotted two IPL matches of RR in 2020. But, the matches couldn’t happen due to the outbreak of COVID-19. We are happy two games have been scheduled here this year,” ACA secretary Tridib Konwar told PTI.
He said preparations are in full swing, and ACA is working in close coordination with the Rajasthan Royals team.
“We urge the cricket lovers of Assam as well as the entire Northeast to come and watch the matches. Rajasthan Royals has already started online ticketing for the games,” Konwar said.
The Jaipur-based franchise had earlier partnered with the association for a cricket academy, which is now functional at the ACA Stadium.
Devajit Saikia, joint secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), said there are a lot of aspiring cricketers who cannot make it to the national side due to tough competition, and the IPL is a good opportunity for them.
All eyes will be on local boy Riyan Parag, who plays for the Rajasthan Royals, during the two matches at Guwahati.
Budding cricketers Rohit and Kamal, who are a regular at one the academies in Guwahati, said they cannot contain their excitement to watch their Riyan ‘da’ (elder brother) in action.
“We are happy that the IPL is finally happening here. It is the biggest tournament for us,” Kamal said.
“The Rajasthan Royals will be facing tough teams with star players. But, we are confident they will win and our Riyan ‘da’ will perform well,” added Rohit.
Roshan Basfor, who plays cricket along with Rohit and Kamal, hoped that organising the two IPL matches at Guwahati will make a case for the stadium to host matches of the 50-over World Cup, which is scheduled to be held in India later this year.
“Guwahati has already made it to the long list of probable World Cup venues. We have seen a good wicket here in previous international matches, and are hopeful that the stadium will get a chance to host World Cup games,” Basfor said.
(ToI With inputs from Reuters/PTI)