The seventh edition of the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) gets underway in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday night with allegations of corruption and spot-fixing looming over it. The first 20 matches, from Wednesday to April 30, will be played in the UAE as the dates were clashing with India's General Election. The Twenty20 bandwagon will return home for matches scheduled from May 2-June 1. (Also read: BCCI vs SC, top 10 developments)
The first match is between defending champions Mumbai Indians, captained by Rohit Sharma, and Gautam Gambhir-led Kolkata Knight Riders, winners of the 2012 edition. The organisers are hoping that cricket takes the centre stage and not drama and scandals -- as in the last edition. (Full schedule)
The Supreme Court, which appointed legendary Indian batsman Sunil Gavaskar to oversee the seventh edition of the IPL, would also be keeping tabs on the happenings. Off-field issues aside, IPL-7 promises to be a closely fought affair. Fresh auctions earlier in the year saw the merry-go-round of players and every franchise has a fair sprinkling of new faces, though most of them have been regulars in the tournament. (Read: Can IPL rise above scams?)
Many iconic players find themselves in new company, making opponents in yesteryears comrades today. For one, Yuvraj Singh, who cost the Royal Challengers a small fortune, will, along with his India teammate and franchise captain Virat Kohli, look to right the wrong of the World T20 final where he choked against the wily Sri Lanka attack. With prolific batsmen Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers, besides Yuvraj and Kohli, RCB, without doubt, have the most dangerous batting line-up. (Read: World T20 and IPL: Worthy entertainment or overdose?)
Delhi Daredevils, too, spent big and purchased the likes of Dinesh Karthik and Kevin Pietersen. With the new purchases on board, the GMR-owned team is expected to do better, having had a dismal season last year, finishing at the bottom of the ladder. Mumbai will be without their talisman and city icon Sachin Tendulkar but with some key additions like Mike Hussey and Corey Anderson, they would look at repeating last year's winning performance. (Hussey promises to 'chew' Sachin's ears)
Rajasthan Royals, the team most affected by the spot-fixing and betting charges, will be without Indian cricket's great wall Rahul Dravid, but he will be around to advise them. They once again look to be one of the weaker teams in the competition and with only four matches slated to be played at their home ground Sawai Mansingh Stadium, in Jaipur, things could get difficult for them.
After winning in 2012, the Kolkata Knight Riders couldn't quite carry the same form into the following season, failing to qualify for the playoffs and finishing a disappointing seventh in the nine-team league. The Knight Riders, though, have made some very smart buys this year. They have brought in Australian pacer Pat Cummins and Indians Piyush Chawla and Umesh Yadav to strengthen their bowling which was a major issue last year. (Bowlers will win us matches, says Gambhir)
The mercurial Robin Uthappa has been roped in to give the batting some much needed power. Add to that prolific all-rounders like Jacques Kallis, Shakib-Al Hasan and Andre Russell -- and the Kolkata outfit have the wherewithal to give any team a run for their money.
Despite the recent controversy about the team and its management, Chennai Super Kings cannot be ignored. Led by captain cool Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Chennai have played five finals in the six previous editions, winning the event twice -- in 2010 and 2011.
They will once again be among one of the favourites, especially after signing T20 specialists Brendon McCullum, Samuel Badree and Dwayne Smith.