It has been a fairly long wait, but the city of Ranchi will finally get to see its pride and joy, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, in action for Chennai Super Kings at JSCA International Stadium on Sunday (September 22), when Chennai on Titans in the second match of a Champions League Twenty20 2013 double-header.
As big an evening as it for Ranchi, there have been signs of the one thing that could spoil everything - rain. On Saturday, Chennai were forced to restrict their training to the gym indoors before the showers relented and the players stepped out. Dhoni then went through a long session in the nets, attempting to work off any rustiness after a two-month break. He practiced a wide array of powerful hits, launching as many as he could into the stands, and seemed to enjoy the feel of bat on ball.
Dhoni, refreshed and energised, will once again be instrumental for Chennai as they look to start on a high. Chennai and the rest of the Indian Premier League teams will be dismantled and rebuilt at the 2014 IPL auctions, and for a group that has dominated club-level Twenty20 in India, the CLT20 represents a chance at a final hurrah.
In Chennai's last outing, in the final of the IPL in May against Mumbai Indians, they ended up at the wrong end of the result following a batting collapse. It came on the back of off-field distractions, with their Team Principal, M Gurunath, alleged to have been involved in betting. For a tournament that had gone to plan up until then, it was a disastrous end, and Chennai would be determined to move on.
To achieve that, Chennai boast a squad equipped with more or less everything needed to go all the way. From highly capable openers in Faf du Plessis, Murali Vijay and Mike Hussey, through explosive middle-order batsmen such as Suresh Raina, Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja, and tailed by a balanced bowling attack in Chris Morris, Dwayne Bravo and R Ashwin.
It also helps that Chennai are based in Ranchi because given the Dhoni factor, it is as close to being home away from home as they'll get.
Chennai's gain, however, has been Titans' loss. Albie Morkel and du Plessis would have turned out for Titans had Chennai not qualified. However, Titans do have AB de Villiers and Morne Morkel in the squad - players who they would also have missed out on had their respective IPL teams qualified.
Titans head into the tournament on the back of an unsuccessful domestic season in which they failed to collect a single trophy. However, they are capable of springing a surprise or two, and have a squad packed with internationals, all capable of making a push for the title. Apart from Morkel and De Villiers, Titans have Henry Davids, the captain, Farhaan Behardien, Roelof van der Merwe and Marchant de Lange in their roster, all of whom are capable of making a difference.
While the squad will turn to Morkel and De Villiers for insight on how the sub-continental conditions work, with the IPL auctions set to take place next year, most of the other players would want to make a mark in the hope of bagging a lucrative contract, and that can only help the team.
In the previous edition of the CLT20, in South Africa, Titans were undone by Sydney Sixers, the eventual winners, off the last ball of the semifinal. That the loss came at home would have only irked them more. Their efforts to move on from that reversal and a difficult season will begin on Sunday and their progress will most probably depend on just how much they want to spoil Dhoni's party in Ranchi.
Chennai Super Kings: MS Dhoni (capt, wk), R Ashwin, S Badrinath, Dwayne Bravo, Faf du Plessis, Jason Holder, Mike Hussey, Imtiaz Ahmed, Ravindra Jadeja, Albie Morkel, Chris Morris, Suresh Raina, Wriddhiman Saha, Mohit Sharma, Murali Vijay.
Titans: Henry Davids (capt), Farhaan Behardien, Marchant de Lange, AB de Villiers (wk), Cornelius de Villiers, Heino Kuhn, Eden Links, Ethy Mbhalati, Morne Morkel, Mangaliso Mosehle, Rowan Richards, Jacques Rudolph, Graeme van Burren, Roelof van der Merwe, David Wiese.