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Preview: An IPL 2021 opener loaded with superstars

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It’s only been five months since the Mumbai Indians won their fifth title in Dubai, and the IPL is already back. It’s back and it’s home again, but the eerie feeling of being out of this world that came with the 2020 edition of the tournament will continue simply because the world hasn’t changed too much in the meantime. You might even ask if India, which has registered over 100,000 new Covid-19 cases daily since April 4, should be hosting the IPL at all right now.

The time and strict protocols that cricket has followed during these months of the pandemic will answer that question. For now, turn to the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, the first stop in a tournament that is run entirely for neutral reasons. If the pitch matches its youngest nature, it will present Mumbai and Royal Challengers Bangalore with a rigorous test of their adaptability.

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Both teams are designed to varying degrees for their high scoring homesteads. Chennai is different. Chennai is all about spin. Of the 11 Indian playing fields on which IPL games have been played since the beginning of 2018, the spinners in the MA Chidambaram Stadium have both the best average (19.52) and the best savings rate (6.16). Unless the field of play has changed drastically since India’s Test series against England, expect both teams to pick a third spinner and for a somewhat grueling competition to kick off the tournament.

But it’s still only Matchday 1, so no prediction – conditions, selection, form, match-ups – can be made with any certainty. Instead, sit back, turn on your TVs and forget about the world outside your windows for a few hours.

Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli laugh together Sandeep Shetty / © BCCI

In the news

If Quinton de Kock and Adam Milne serve the seven-day quarantine in their hotel rooms, they will not be available for the game on Friday. However, ESPNcricinfo believes that de Kock flew from South Africa to India on a charter flight. With entry and exit points separate from the regular airport, it may not need to be quarantined and is likely to be available for the first game.

Devdutt Padikkal has rejoined the Royal Challengers roster after recovering from Covid-19. The prelude trained with his teammates on Wednesday and should be ready to play. You will also get by without Finn Allen and Adam Zampa, who had not yet completed their quarantine when they arrived in India.

Probably XIs

Mumbai Indians 1 Rohit Sharma (Capt), 2 Ishan Kishan (week), 3 Suryakumar Yadav, 4 Hardik Pandya, 5 Kieron Pollard, 6 James Neesham, 7 Krunal Pandya, 8 Nathan Coulter-Nile / Jayant Yadav, 9 Rahul Chahar, 10 Trent Boult, 11 Jasprit Bumrah.

Royal Challengers Bangalore: 1 Virat Kohli (Capt), 2 Devdutt Padikkal, 3 AB de Villiers, 4 Glenn Maxwell, 5 Mohammed Azharuddeen (week), 6 Daniel Christian, 7 Washington Sundar, 8 Kyle Jamieson, 9 Navdeep Saini, 10 Mohammed Siraj , 11 Yuzvendra Chahal.

Strategy punt

Where will Glenn beat Maxwell? He fought as a death overs hitter for Kings XI Punjab last season and has been at his best in fourth for Australia lately, a position that generally gives him a little more time to find his way around the crease. With that in mind, Maxwell has to beat AB de Villiers, who scored a staggering 224.70 in death overs last season but only hit 133.72 in middle overs.

In recent years, Virat Kohli’s hit rate against Spin has decreased significantly. From an impressive 147.90 in the three years from 2015 to 2017, it has fallen to 117.97 since the beginning of 2018. Kohli has announced that he will open his eyelash during this IPL. If he does that, Mumbai could start with Trent Boult’s left arm swing from one end and either Krunal Pandya or Rahul Chahar – both spinning the ball away from the right-handed – from the other, giving each other the option to retain a or two of Jasprit Bumrah’s Overs for later.

Statistics that matter

Mumbai have won eight of their last ten games with Royal Challengers Bangalore and one of the two games they lost was one over last season’s Super Over.

However, Mumbai has lost each of its last eight season openers in the IPL.

Of the six venues for this year’s tournament, the MA Chidambaram Stadium was Virat Kohli’s slowest goal (hit rate 111.49).

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Melinda Martin