Abu Dhabi: Distracted to an extent by off-field furores surrounding them, two-time former champions Chennai Super Kings would look to bring the focus back on their cricketing prowess when they take on a revamped Kings XI Punjab in their Indian Premier League opener on Friday. The Chennai outfit, the most dominant team in the past three seasons, is still reeling under the spot-fixing scandal, in which some of its top officials have been implicated besides a few players also being under the scanner. (Adjoining image for representational purpose only)
Coach Stephen Fleming has been candid enough to admit that off-field issues cannot be just brushed aside and are like a distraction for the team, which under normal circumstances comes across as a well-oiled machine on a mission. "There's a lot going on, I won't lie. There are a lot of distractions (leading up to the tournament). I think we were all uncertain about how it was going to play out," Fleming said in a subtle reference to the betting controversy which is now under a Supreme Court-monitored investigation.
This year, CSK would be without some of their most reliable stars, including Australian mainstay Michael Hussey and South African Albie Morkel, after losing them in the players' auction. But with replacements like New Zealand swashbuckler Brendon McCullum and South African Faf du Plessis, CSK look formidable nonetheless. (Challenging to adjust in UAE conditions, says Dhoni)
On the bowling front, West Indian leg-spinner Samuel Badree could prove to be an important player given that his confidence is sky-high after finishing the third highest wicket-taker in the recent World T20.
Up against them are the Kings XI Punjab. The franchise, which until the last season seemed lost in the celebrity event, has managed to instill balance and sheen to the side by making some smart purchases in the players' auction.
Led by Australian George Bailey, Punjab pulled off quite a masterstroke by snapping up Virender Sehwag. Even though he is no longer in his prime but on his day, the Delhi-dasher is an enthralling game-changer capable of mortifying opposition attacks.
"No doubt, he will have a big impact. Having him around the group is a great thing. It will be great for him to go out and play with freedom," Bailey had stated ahead of the tournament.
Another masterstroke by KXIP at the auction was the purchase of Mitchell Johnson. The Australian speedster is in the form of his life and is likely to be worth every one of the Rs 6.5 crore that the KXIP splurged on him during the auction. (Also read: Srinivasan taking 'unilateral' decisions, 'rebel' BCCI members want emergency meeting)
Besides, the team also managed to bring back Australian batsman Shaun Marsh. Fitness-permitting, Marsh has a decent track record in the IPL. Given the way the two teams match up on paper, it promises to be a battle of the equals.
Chennai Super Kings: MS Dhoni (c), Suresh Raina, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Dwayne Bravo, Faf du Plessis, Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Smith, Ashish Nehra, Mohit Sharma, Samuel Badree, Ben Hilfenhaus, Matt Henry, B Aparajith, Mithun Manhas, Ishwar Pandey, Pawan Negi, Vijay Shankar, Ronit More, John Hastings.
Kings XI Punjab: George Bailey (c), David Miller, Manan Vohra, Virender Sehwag, Mitchell Johnson, Cheteshwar Pujara, Shaun Marsh, Wriddhaman Saha, Thisara Perera, Glenn Maxwell, Rishi Dhawan, Anureet Singh, Sandeep Sharma, Akshar Patel, Beuran Hendricks, Karanveer Singh, Murali Kartik, Shivam Sharma, Shardul Thakur, L Balaji, Parvinder Awana, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Mandeep Singh.