Jaipur: Everything looks well placed to make the main part of the Champions League Twenty20 2013 tournament start with the proverbial bang.
On the field, there's Sachin Tendulkar facing off against Rahul Dravid for possibly the last time in competitive cricket - unless both Rajasthan Royals and Mumbai Indians make it to the final. It will have Mumbai, the IPL VI champions, coming to Rajasthan's den, from which no team returned with a victory in IPL 2013. And off the field, there are thunderstorms forecast, and ominous dark clouds hovered over Jaipur on Friday (September 20), the eve of the match, with a spell of rain thrown in too.
What the rain will do to the pitch, which was expected to be a good Twenty20 surface with runs on offer, is anybody's guess. But if some dampness remains, it might be to Rajasthan's advantage, seeing that their seamers will probably do the bulk of the bowling.
Mumbai, missing Lasith Malinga, still pack a punch with Mitchell Johnson in splendid recent form against England, and the exciting Nathan Coulter-Nile, who is in with a good chance of getting a game early on.
Johnson will have the burden of leading the attack and Mumbai will expect the special bursts he is capable of as they attempt to do what no other team has done in 2013: beat Rajasthan at Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur.
Meanwhile, however much both teams downplay it, this match will have the Dravid vs Tendulkar narrative playing parallelly to the main contest. Tendulkar has already announced it will be his final T20 tournament while Dravid remained coy about stating the same with any finality on Thursday, but he's given several hints that this could be his final outing as a Rajasthan player too. Both sets of players, support staff and fans will want their heroes to get a grand farewell, and starting with a good win will be a vital first step towards that.
Tendulkar's form could be of some concern to Mumbai. He hasn't played a competitive match since mid-May, when he injured his hand and sat out the final stages of Mumbai's title run. At a practice match on Thursday, Tendulkar was out early, trying to lift the ball over the ropes but holing out to long on. But that apart, Mumbai look pretty settled and can have a balanced attack whether they go in with one spinner or two.
Rajasthan's only gap is in the spin department, a fact that hurt them in the IPL too after Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila were ruled out following their arrest on spot-fixing charges.
However, Harmeet Singh, the 19-year-old left-arm spinner, has been added to the squad as replacement for Siddharth Trivedi, who was part of the original 15-man squad but was slapped with a one-year ban by the BCCI for not reporting an advance to the BCCI. Harmeet practiced with the side on Thursday and Friday, getting some good purchase on the practice pitches.
The wildcard for Rajasthan may well be Ashok Menaria, the batting allrounder. Menaria's bowling proved to be the clincher for India A against New Zealand A in Visakhapatnam recently, and he could perform Chandila's role if Dravid opts for spin with the new ball.
The man most likely to make a difference though, is still Shane Watson. Fresh off a dominating 143 against England, Watson hit the ground running at practice, and appeared fully fit and raring to go. In fact, if there's one man more than any other in the entire tournament who can turn a match on its head, it's Watson, and Rajasthan will bank heavily on him to continue their dream run at home.
Rajasthan Royals: Rahul Dravid (capt), Ajinkya Rahane, Stuart Binny, Sanju Samson (wk), Ashok Menaria, Dishant Yagnik, Vikramjeet Malik, Harmeet Singh, Rahul Shukla, Pravin Tambe, Shane Watson, Brad Hodge, James Faulkner, Kevon Cooper, Shaun Tait.
Mumbai Indians: Rohit Sharma (capt), Sachin Tendulkar, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Harbhajan Singh, Pragyan Ojha, Ambati Rayudu, Aditya Tare, Rishi Dhawan, Abu Nechim, Akshar Patel, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Smith, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Mitchell Johnson, Glenn Maxwell.