Edition 7 of the Indian Premier League has got off to a rousing start. The usual suspects were in the forefront as Kolkata Knight Riders defeated defending champions Mumbai Indians by 41 runs in the opening match at Abu Dhabi. Jacques Kallis, enjoying an almost retired life from international cricket, Lasith Malinga, Sunil Narine and young Manish Pandey grabbed a fair share of Day 1 spotlight for good reasons. The rival skippers Gautam Gambhir (KKR) and Rohit Sharma (MI) were relatively unimpressive. But this is just the start of a very long and grueling tournament. After the first leg in UAE, the tournament moves to India in May and the final is scheduled in June 1 in Mumbai. (IPL amazing stats: Gambhir's 8th duck, Narine's fastest 50)
Twenty20 cricket can destroy reputations and make some, too. Scripts can go for a toss as the shortest format of the game is like speed, which thrills but kills as well. Here's a list of 11 players who can find themselves in the tournament's Fantasy XI. But at the end of it all, the final story be totally different. (Can IPL 2014 rise above the scams?)
Michael Hussey (Mumbai Indians): The Australian veteran proved there was very little correlation between age and the slam-bang version of the game as he put in some good performances as Chennai Super Kings' opening batsman in the last couple of seasons. He now has a new team in Mumbai Indians, who have grappled with the problem of finding a good opening pair. They have tried different combinations in the past and have struggled to find a batsman who could give them a solid start early on in the game. That is where Hussey comes in. With no international commitments, Hussey will be fit and fresh to lead Mumbai Indians' fortunes upfront. (Top 5 batsmen | Top 5 bowlers)
Chris Gayle (Royal Challengers Bangalore): There can't be a fantasy league team sans Chris Gayle. Naturally aggressive and menacingly brutal, there are seldom any boundary lines in the world that this big-hitting West Indian can't clear with ease. If the opposition spinners fail to keep him down, expect nothing less than devastation from him. The burning desire to overturn his indifferent World Twenty20 form will give Gayle more reasons to strike the ball harder and send the crowds ducking for cover.
Suresh Raina (Chennai Super Kings): The Indian left-handed batsman brings the art of consistency to the vagaries of T20. Playing for the most consistent side in the tournament, Raina has been its mainstay and not much is expected to change this year. His role at No.3 could be far more important as Chennai will be without Hussey and Murali Vijay at the top of the order.
Virat Kohli (Royal Challengers Bangalore): Virat Kohli's inclusion in a fantasy XI is a straight-forward no-brainer. Form has been his best ally on the field and there have been very few conditions around the world where he hasn't felt at home. Sharjah will be no different as the RCB skipper will hope to play a vital role in taking his side to the elusive title win.
Virender Sehwag (Kings XI Punjab): No matter how poor his form is, Virender Sehwag is like a brand that refuses to die. Delhi's loss can be Kings XI Punjab's gain as the India discard will surely like to remind the national selectors that he can strike the ball as hard as anyone else and with rich dividends. Playing without the pressure of captaincy, Sehwag will be in good Aussie company in Glenn Maxwell and captain George Bailey. Expect some vintage Sehwag-style nonchalant fireworks.
MS Dhoni (Chennai Super Kings): The Indian skipper will look to put all the bad press behind him and lead a team that has been in the news for the wrong reasons. No Hussey, no Murli Vijay, Dhoni's gameplans will be one to watch. Dhoni remains one of the best chasers of the game but may just bat higher up the order. The wily skipper has done very little batting across formats in the recent weeks but it would be foolish to discount him in a format that suits his style of play so well.
Ravichandran Ashwin (Chennai Super Kings): Ravichandran Ashwin turned his woeful overseas form around in the recently concluded Asia Cup and World Twenty20 in Bangladesh. The confidence and the rhythm have made their comeback, allowing him to bowl, what was deemed as the 'Twenty20 ball of the century' by Australian legend Adam Gilchrist. Ashwin will be eager to kick-start his campaign on favourable UAE tracks and give his team a good start, something that has eluded CSK in the past six years.
Sunil Narine (Kolkata Knight Riders): West Indian 'mystery' spinner Sunil Narine, one of the two players retained by Kolkata Knight Riders, will be extremely crucial to the team's campaign this year. Their squad on paper doesn't look as menacing as the ones that Delhi Daredevils and the Kings XI Punjab have lined up but if Narine gets going, KKR could be chasing and defending low totals like 2013 again. Narine has already bagged a four-wicket haul in the opening match and is the fastest to 50 wickets in IPL.
Amit Mishra (Sunrisers Hyderabad): The best bowler of the tournament across six seasons, Amit Mishra will begin the tournament with an extra spring in his step. After enduring long periods on the sidelines, Mishra finally got the backing of the Indian selectors and played an important role in India's performances in Asia Cup and the World Twenty20. The renewed sense of confidence and the backing from the Sunrisers Hyderabad management will added to his confidence. If Sunrisers Hyderabad finished among the top four last season, a lot of credit goes to Mishra.
Dale Steyn (Sunrisers Hyderabad): The world's No. 1 pacer probably is an automatic choice. A never-say-die bowler, Steyn will aim to gun down a few big scalps every time he gets the ball. Shikhar Dhawan will bank on his first-choice pacer who will battle with Aussie speedster Mitchell Johnson, who will turn out for Kings XI this year.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar (Sunrisers Hyderabad): What's a fantasy team without a bit of a gamble? Among the likes of Mohammad Shami, Vinay Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Jaydev Unadkat and a few more, there are good chances that Bhuvneshwar will prove to be the most effective. Bowling alongside Steyn, there will be very little pressure on Bhuvneshwar. His closest contender will be Shami, who has been picked up by the Delhi Daredevils. But the pressure of leading the pace attack could wear out Shami, who has been on non-stop national duty since making his international debut early last year.