IPL 2020: Mumbai and Chennai start the season with a blockbuster clash

It’s not the usual time of the year that one associates with the Indian Premier League (IPL), but then nothing about 2020 has been usual. This year has followed a script which no one had anticipated.
The good news for cricket fans and fans of T20 franchise cricket in particular is that the 13th edition of the IPL, albeit late, is being played. The BCCI managed to shift the whole tournament to the UAE, as the franchises were cocooned in their own bio-secure bubbles. For the first time only three venues will host as many as 60 IPL matches. Given the unprecedented nature of the global pandemic that brought sports across the world to a grinding halt earlier, over 20,000 Covid-19 tests are being conducted as part of IPL 2020 in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.
For the fans who were starved of live cricket action, the next 53 days will give them the adrenaline rush they were waiting for, as their favourite franchise teams go toe to toe in the desert. No one perhaps can imagine the T20 extravaganza without the cheerleaders, the fans with the placards of their favourite teams and players and with painted bodies. This time all that will be missing. But for TV audiences, it’s game on.
The eight teams have decided to pre-record the reactions of cheerleaders and in some cases fans which they will play out during the matches to make up for the empty stands and the eerie silence of no fans.
There is a change in the traditional match timings this year. The evening matches will begin at 7:30 pm IST, while the afternoon matches will start at 3:30 pm IST. There are a total of 10 double headers in the 13th season.
IPL 2020 will be played across three venues in the UAE (Dubai, Abu Dhabi & Sharjah)
The venues are:
In Dubai: The Dubai International Cricket Stadium
In Abu Dhabi: The Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium
In Sharjah: The Sharjah Cricket Stadium
24 matches will be held in Dubai, 20 in Abu Dhabi and 12 in Sharjah in the league stage. The venues for the play-offs and the final will be announced later
The league stage will be played over 46 days.
IPL 2020 will get underway with a blockbuster clash between the defending champions Mumbai Indians and last year’s runners-up Chennai Super Kings in the season opener on September 19 in Abu Dhabi. It’s a clash of the two most successful teams in the history of the tournament. The Mumbai Indians and the Chennai Super Kings have won 7 titles between them out of the 12 editions played so far.
Adapting to the slow UAE tracks will be the biggest challenge for both Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings, just like the other teams. MI and CSK have been pitted against each other on three occasions in the IPL final earlier and every time team Mumbai emerged victorious.
Mumbai Indians are aiming to claim their first consecutive title in the Indian Premier League. So far, the Rohit Sharma led team have won their 4 titles in alternate years (2013, 2015, 2017 & 2019). They have been unable to match CSK’s feat of 2010 and 2011 – winning the world’s most lucrative T20 league twice in a row.
Leadership: Rohit Sharma‘s calm and calculated leadership, and the fact that he is a prolific scorer himself – third in the all-time list, has made Mumbai Indians the team to beat in the league. They are the most successful side in the tournament with four titles, and their fortune changed with the change in command in 2013, when Rohit took up the reigns of the team. The sixth edition of the league was the first under Rohit’s captaincy and the India white-ball vice-captain delivered them their first title. Since then Rohit has added three more titles to his trophy cabinet in the last six seasons, establishing himself as the most successful captain in the league.
Rohit’s statistics as MI skipper
Matches – 104
Won – 60
Lost – 42
Tied – 2

Big-stage performers backed by a team of experts: MI are big stage performers and boast an 80% success rate in the summit clash, winning four of the five finals they have played so far. Not only do they have a team to face any situation, they have an army of excellent support staff to guide them over any hurdle. Their support staff consists of legends like Sachin Tendulkar as their icon, with Sri Lanka’s Mahela Jayawardene as head coach. They also have Zaheer Khan (Director of cricket operations), Shane Bond (bowling coach), and Robin Singh (batting coach) among others to help Rohit strategise their gameplan.
Opening slots: MI’s strength lies in their batting with skipper Rohit Sharma and South African Quinton de Kock making for a solid opening pair. Additionally Australian Chris Lynn also gives them an option for the slot if need be.
Middle order: Suryakumar Yadav, Kieron Pollard, Hardik Pandya, who is returning from an injury break, and Krunal Pandya make a formidable middle-order. Given that all of them are big-hitters, Mumbai will have a distinct advantage over others.
Bowling attack: Jasprit Bumrah, who was MI’s leading wicket-taker last season with 19 scalps, will be Mumbai’s key pacer in an attack which boasts the likes of Mitchell McLenaghan, Trent Boult, Nathan Coulter Nile and James Pattinson.
Not too many quality spin options: The lack of quality spinners is likely to hurt MI’s chances, especially because they play as many as 8 of their 14 league stage matches on the slow tracks of Abu Dhabi. Add to that the fact that there is no Lasith Malinga available for them this year.
Breaking the consecutive-year jinx: Looking at their line-up and confidence under Rohit’s command, one negative for MI this season could be their past. They haven’t been able to defend their title in the last four occasions, winning all their 4 titles so far in alternate years. Will they be able to break the sequence and win back-to-back titles? Will the change of venues, UAE instead of India, change the fortune of MI this time around as far as that statistic is concerned? We will find out soon.
MI Squad: Rohit Sharma (c), Sherfane Rutherford, Suryakumar Yadav, Anmolpreet Singh, Chris Lynn, Saurabh Tiwary, Dhawal Kulkarni, Jasprit Bumrah, Mitchell McClenaghan, Rahul Chahar, Trent Boult, Mohsin Khan, Prince Balwant Rai Singh, Digvijay Deshmukh, Hardik Pandya, Jayant Yadav, Kieron Pollard, Krunal Pandya, Anukul Roy, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Ishan Kishan, Quinton de Kock, Aditya Tare, James Pattinson
On the other hand, CSK is one of the most successful sides in the history of the IPL and under the leadership of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the side has won the title three times and lifted the Champions League trophy twice. The Chennai-based side has also finished the tournament as runners-up five times.
Chennai and Rajasthan Royals were suspended for two years and were not part of the 2016 and 2017 editions of the IPL.
All eyes will be on the recently-retired MS Dhoni, who takes the field for the first time since India’s defeat at the hands of New Zealand in the semifinals of the World Cup 2019.
Leadership and experience: The Dhoni-led CSK are probably the most experienced side in the league. Much has been said and written about Dhoni’s captaincy, but one thing that remains consistent is that his team always fights for the title every season. Dhoni has taken CSK to eight finals in 10 seasons and has won the title three times. Most of his teammates are proven match-winners, both at the league stage and in big playoff and finals games. You can count on them to fight hard for their fourth title in the UAE this time.
Quality spinners: This has been one of CSK’s big strengths over the years. Though they will not have the services of the veteran Harbhajan Singh this season, they have signed Piyush Chawla. The likes of Jadeja, Imran Tahir, Karn Sharma and Mitchell Santner give Dhoni multiple spinning options to pick from on the slow UAE pitches.
Top order: The top-order of the team consists of Murali Vijay, Faf du Plessis and Shane Watson. In the last season, Watson and du Plessis both performed well and scored 398 and 396 runs respectively. Vijay will have to step up to the plate and deliver. The likes of Ambati Rayudu, Kedar Jadhav and Dwayne Bravo will bolster the middle-order.
Finishers: CSK has two of the best finishers in Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja who can change the momentum of the game
Overall bowling attack: Despite having a spin-heavy squad, the team’s bowling line-up looks balanced. Tahir, Mitchell Santner, Karn Sharma and R Sai Kishore will lead the spin bowling department while the pace attack comprising Lungi Ngidi, Josh Hazlewood, Sam Curran, Deepak Chahar and Shardul Thakur.
Conditions in the UAE will suit the team: CSK have traditionally done very well on the turning tracks of the Chepauk and steadily built their spin arsenal because of the nature of the tracks there. In the UAE they will find similar conditions. Though the nature of pitches are somewhat different in all three venues (Abu Dhabi, Sharjah & Dubai), the whole host of world class spinners they have in their arsenal will be itching to take full advantage of the slow pitches, which are expected to provide turn.

Match-winning all-rounders: The squad is full of all-rounders and most of their front-line batsmen and front-line bowlers can chip in handsomely in the other department of the game. The likes of Dwayne Bravo, Shane Watson, Ravindra Jadeja, Mitchell Santner and Kedar Jadhav provide a lot of balance to the team. They now also have the services of young England all-rounder Sam Curran, who is expected to bring a lot to the table with his left arm bowling and power hitting.
Consistency: As mentioned before, CSK are the most consistent team in the league. Reaching the playoffs is a norm for them and one can expect the same this season too. Since returning from their two-year suspension – 2016 & 2017 editions, CSK have won one title and finished runners-up to MI last year. That showed that they haven’t lost their magic at all. Out of a total of 165 matches that they have played so far, CSK have won 100.
Another thing that CSK has done well over the years in terms of consistency is retain certain core players and support staff which leads to better understanding and adds fluidity to their overall campaign. While Dhoni has been their rock as captain and key player, Stephen Fleming has been the Head coach since the 2009 edition, after having played the inaugural edition in 2008 as a player for the Super Kings.
Lack of competitive match practice: Dubbed ‘Dad’s Army’, CSK have multiple players who haven’t played competitive cricket in a while. While Dhoni hasn’t played any cricket since India’s World Cup semi final loss vs New Zealand last year, the likes of Shane Watson and Ambati Rayudu also haven’t played competitive cricket in a while.
Top order: With No Suresh Raina at number 3 this time, the top order consisting of ‘older’ players like Watson, Vijay and Rayudu will have to come good. Faf du Plessis might have a big role to play this season in the middle order. Expect Dhoni to push himself up the order as well.
The pull-outs: Two of their senior-most players – Suresh Raina & Harbhajan Singh – decided to pull out of the tournament due to personal reasons. Raina’s absence will have a bigger impact on team strategy etc. Raina came back to India after travelling to the UAE with the team, while Harbhajan took time before his announcement and stayed back home. Raina has been part of CSK from the beginning and is the all-time highest run-getter for them, second overall behind Virat Kohli in the all time IPL run scoring charts. And Harbhajan has won the IPL four times, three with MI and one with CSK, so his experience will be missed, even though chances are he wouldn’t have figured prominently as such in the playing XI.
CSK Squad: MS Dhoni (c), Ravindra Jadeja, M Vijay, Josh Hazlewood, Kedar Jadhav, Karn Sharma, Piyush Chawla, Ambati Rayudu, Imran Tahir, Deepak Chahar, Faf du Plessis, Shardul Thakur, Mitchell Santner, Dwayne Bravo, Lungi Ngidi, Sam Curran, Monu Kumar, Shane Watson, Sai Kishore, Narayan Jagadeesan, Ruturaj Gaikwad, KM Asif

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