Kochi: Kochi Tuskers Kerala (KTK) will be aiming for a dream debut when they take on Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in their opening match of the fourth edition of the Indian Premier League.
For the Kochi fans, it will be a momentous occasion as their only association with big time cricket has been the odd ODIs involving India. The Kerala Ranji Trophy team never delivered at the domestic level save producing a couple of Test players like S Sreesanth and Tinu Yohanan.
If the debutants under the stewardship of Mahela Jayawardene can upset the Daniel Vettori-led RCB at home, the interest and popularity of the team among the locals will skyrocket. Also it will be a shot in the arm for the owners as the franchise was mired in various controversies in the lead up to the event.
On paper, RCB top-order that boasts of names like AB de Villiers, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Virat Kohli and the very talented Saurabh Tiwary can murder any opposition on a given day. The quartet is one of the best among 10 teams and it will be a real test for Kochi bowlers to restrict this line-up for a modest score.
With Dilshan likely to open the batting, one can expect a lot of entertainment from the dashing Lankan. The fans may not have got their share of 'Dilscoop' during the World up but in the shortest version, Dilshan can be expected to line himself up for that overhead shot.
De Villiers is another player who can rip apart in any bowling. Not to forget Kohli who is fresh from his World Cup triumph and would be itching to show one and all as to why Vijay Mallya's team decided to retain him.
Not to forget Saurabh Tiwary who got more than a million dollar deal during the auctions. Tiwary whose towering sixes were a hit with the Mumbai Indian fans during the last edition would hope that gets into the groove for RCB straightaway.
When it comes to batting, Kochi may face a few problems as they don't have a good Indian batsman in their line-up. Apart from Parthiv Patel who is an effective T20 player, there aren't any big Indian names. VVS Laxman is not likely to make much of a difference in this format.
A lot will depend on how many times skipper Jayawardene and New Zealand opener Brendon McCullum fire. McCullum who will forever be remembered for his unbeaten 73-ball-158 during the first edition hasn't really fired after that knock.
Sri Lankan Thisara Perera has been one of the better buys by Kochi as his all-round abilities are in sync with the demands of Twenty20 cricket. It was his little cameo in the final overs that helped Lanka post a challenging total against India in the World Cup final.
When it comes to bowling, the two teams are on even keel. If RCB have a top quality seamer in Zaheer Khan and the best left-arm spinner in the world in skipper Vettori, Kochi will have the wily old Muttiah Muralitharan trying to pull a trick or two out of his bag.
Murali will be ably supported by R P Singh who has been out of national reckoning for the past couple of years. With India's tours of West Indies and England coming up, the likes of R P, Vinay Kumar, Ravindra Jadeja will be eager to prove themselves.
Likely Teams Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB): Daniel Vettori (capt), TM Dilshan, AB de Villiers, Virat Kohli, Saurabh Tiwary, Mohammed Kaif, CM Gautham (wk), Zaheer Khan, Abhimanyu Mithun, Dirk Nannes, Ryan Ninnan/Abrar Kazi
Kochi Tuskers Kerala: Mahela Jayawardene (capt), Brendon McCullum, Parthiv Patel (wk), VVS Laxman, Owais Shah/Brad Hodge, Ravindra Jadeja, Thisara Perera, Rudra Pratap Singh, Ramesh Powar, R Vinay Kumar, Muttiah Muralitharan.