Season begins, rivalry resumes

Context

One thousand and forty-nine days! Say that again because that’s how long we have had to wait for a Mumbai Indians (MI) vs Chennai Super Kings (CSK) encounter. The greatest rivalry in the history of Vivo IPL finally resumes at the Wankhede on Saturday evening. A lot of water has flown under the bridge since May 24, 2015, the last time the twain met. We had equalled CSK’s record by winning our second Vivo IPL title on that fateful night in Kolkata nearly three years ago. CSK, on the other hand, went on to miss the next two editions of the league for disciplinary reasons. We won the crown in 2017, too, and go into the 11th edition of the league as the defending champions. We also hold a 12-10 head-to-head advantage over CSK with a three-match winning streak to boot. The last time CSK tasted victory against us was on April 17, 2015. Ashish Nehra was around then. In fact, he won the Man of the Match award at the Wankhede that evening. Both teams go into the tournament with lots of planning and training. Our boys sweated it out at the Reliance Corporate Park for a week before moving to our home base at Trident, a stone’s throw from Wankhede, our home-ground. CSK’s training sessions at Chepauk were thrown open to the public. A small matter of 20,000 fans turned up on each day.

In The Spotlight

Mumbai Indians

Skipper Rohit Sharma goes into the tournament on the back of a fantastic year in international cricket. He has scored runs at will besides captaining the national team with purpose and panache in the absence of Virat Kohli. He goes into the Vivo IPL as the only captain with three titles under his belt. As is his wont, Sharma will set himself — and the team — realistic short-term goals. And when it’s time to step up the gas for the business end of the tournament, he will drive the team forward.

Evin Lewis has scored two Twenty20 International hundreds against India. A left-handed opener who is often compared to fellow West Indian Chris Gayle, Lewis is as good as they come. Needless to say, he loves hitting sixes. Sample this: “Once I know I can hit a ball for six, I’ll hit it for six. It can be the first ball.” Those are his words. Mumbai could do with his firepower at the top. For the record, he boasts a career strike-rate of 146 in this format.

Chennai Super Kings

Mahendra Singh Dhoni has not captained a Twenty20 side since August 28, 2016, when India played West Indies in the second of two T20Is in Florida. There has also been talk of replacing him with Dinesh Karthik in the Indian team for the shortest format. But when you utter Dhoni and CSK in the same breath, the variables go for a toss. The only constant is that he is the undisputed Super King. It’s his team.

For 10 long years, Harbhajan Singh represented Mumbai Indians with distinction. With 127 sticks in 136 appearances, he is the third-highest wicket-taker in Vivo IPL history. His bond with the players and the Paltan can’t be explained in words. And, now, he finds himself in the opposite camp. How will he approach the game? Will he shed a tear or two? Will he celebrate quietly or wildly if he gets a wicket?

Key Clashes

Suresh Raina vs Mustafizur Rahman

Raina goes into the season-opener as the highest run-getter in the league’s history. And Bangladesh pace sensation Rahman comes with a big reputation — and armoury — of his own. Raina’s problems against genuine pace and bounce are well-documented. But he is also a man on a mission. This is going to be a riveting contest.

CSK batsmen vs MI spinners

For a decade, Harbhajan Singh was MI’s lead spinner. But as it is with franchises the world over, players move on. Krunal Pandya, Akila Dananjaya, Mayank Markande, Anukul Roy and Tajinder Singh form an exciting spin unit. Some of them are untested alright, but there needn’t be any doubts about their skills and potential. CSK have a well-rounded batting unit with great players of spin like MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina and Faf du Plessis in the mix. It will make for engaging viewing.

What They Said

“We are going to start from scratch. We are proud to be the defending champions, but we don’t see ourselves as favourites. We see ourselves as equally good and striving to be better than the others. We will take it one game at a time.”

—Mahela Jayawardene, head coach, MI

“MS Dhoni will bat relatively high. The time that we choose may depend on the match situation as well. He would definitely play a more prominent role as a batter.”

—Stephen Fleming, head coach, CSK

Number Game

Head to Head

MI lead 12-10

Form Guide

MI: WWLWL
CSK: LWLWL

Last 5 Matches

MI have won three of the last five encounters, including the 2015 final.


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