Chennai Super Kings have mostly been spoilt for choice when it comes to picking from their pool of foreign players. But the team management won't have that happy problem to deal with when it sits down to decide the combination when they play Mumbai Indians in their opening match of the Pepsi Indian Premier League at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on Saturday (April 6).
With most of the big name foreigners yet to join the team, Michael Hussey, Dwayne Bravo, Dirk Nannes, who was bought at this year's auction, and Ben Hilfenhaus should pick themselves as the overseas players in a side that boasts of, on paper, the strongest Indian contingent.
Faf Du Plessis, the South African batsman, will miss the first four weeks due to a back injury, while Albie Morkel and Chris Morris, the allrounder who attracted a price of US$ 625,000, are yet to reach Chennai. The duo will be playing for Titans and Highveld Lions respectively in the final of South Africa's domestic Twenty20 competition on Sunday, and will join the squad ahead of their second fixture against Kings XI Punjab in Mohali on Tuesday.
With the ban on Sri Lankan players in Chennai automatically ruling out Nuwan Kulasekara and Akhila Dananjaya, it's unlikely that one of Jason Holder, the West Indies pacer, and Ben Laughlin, the Australian medium pacer, will get a look-in straightaway.
In Murali Vijay, who struck two centuries in the Test series against Australia, and Hussey, the side's opening combination looks well settled. Suresh Raina has enjoyed phenomenal success as a No. 3 batsman, while S Badrinath has often played the role of a pivot in the batting order. In Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Bravo, they have two world-class finishers.
The pace attack is likely to led by Hilfenhaus and Nannes along with Bravo. The team also has the luxury to choose from an array of uncapped Indian pacers who were signed up at the auction. The bowling unit is beefed up with spin in the form of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, with Shadab Jakati, the slow left-arm bowler, expected to be the support act.
Mumbai will have a few issues to iron out following their two-run loss to Royal Challengers Bangalore on Thursday. First and foremost will be the batting unit that stumbled at crucial moments chasing 157. A whirlwind 37-ball 60 from Dinesh Karthik somewhat covered up for poor shot selection from Rohit Sharma and Ambati Rayudu that saw them fall cheaply.
While the opening combination of Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting is unlikely to be disturbed, at least for now, there could be a case of Kieron Pollard being sent higher up the batting order if required.
Lasith Malinga's bowling, especially at the death, was sorely missed in Bangalore. Although the bowlers gave a good account of themselves initially, they fell apart in the face of an onslaught from Chris Gayle in the last ten overs.
Mitchell Johnson and Jasprit Bumrah, the 19-year-old, impressed with returns of three wickets each, but Munaf Patel's indifferent outing, which saw him concede 40 off his four overs, could be a matter of concern. It remains to be seen how Patel, as well as the others, perform in better batting conditions at Chepauk in the absence of Malinga. Malinga, who would have had to miss the match anyway because of the ban on Sri Lankans in Chennai, will join the squad in Mumbai on April 9, following treatment for a sore back,
Harbhajan Singh will lead the spin department, but the team management could also consider bringing in Glenn Maxwell, the allrounder, in place of Jacob Oram, seeing that the pitch is expected to assist spinners a lot more. If they decide to go in with an Indian spinner, Pragyan Ojha could also come into the picture.
Mumbai would also do well to remember Chennai's strong home record that has seen them win 21 of their 32 clashes in the IPL. Of course, it's the memory of beating Chennai by eight wickets in the opening game of the 2012 season that Mumbai would rather draw inspiration from.
Chennai Super Kings: MS Dhoni (capt, wk), Anirudha Srikkanth, Ankit Singh Rajpoot, Baba Aparajith, Imtiaz Ahmed, Mohit Sharma, M Vijay, R Karthikeyan, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Ronit More, Shadab Jakati, S Badrinath, Suresh Raina, Vijay Shankar, Wriddhiman Saha, Ben Hilfenhaus, Ben Laughlin, Dirk Nannes, Dwayne Bravo, Jason Holder, Michael Hussey.
Mumbai Indians: Ricky Ponting (capt), Aiden Blizzard, Nathan Coulter-Nile, James Franklin, Phillip Hughes, Mitchell Johnson, Glenn Maxwell, Jacob Oram, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Smith, Abu Nechim Ahmed, Amitoze Singh, Yuzvendra Chahal, Rishi Dhawan, Harbhajan Singh, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Dhawal Kulkarni, Sushant Marathe, Pragyan Ojha, Akshar Patel, Munaf Patel, Ambati Rayudu, Jalaj Saxena, Rohit Sharma, Pawan Suyal, Aditya Tare (wk), Sachin Tendulkar, Suryakumar Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah.