IPL’s biggest rivalry kickstarts new season

inay Kumar to [Mohit] Sharma, FOUR, top edge over the keeper’s head, but Mumbai Indians don’t care where the ball has gone. This is a legal delivery, and that means they have won the IPL again

May 24, 2015, Eden Gardens. We didn’t know it then, but this would be the last bit of on-field action for Chennai Super Kings for close to three years. An inconsequential top-edged four in a big defeat, in their sixth IPL final.

On Friday, Super Kings will be back, with a team full of familiar names and sentimental favourites, and while they would have liked to play their comeback match in front of their home fans at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, this is probably the next-best thing: Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede. The IPL’s two most successful franchises, head-to-head, in the opening match of a new season.

Despite all the upheaval between that 2015 final and now, there’s a remarkable number of old storylines still at play when these two sides meet: half of the 22 players who lined up for that match are still part of the two squads, with two – Harbhajan Singh and Ambati Rayudu – crossing over from blue to yellow.

Taken too far, however, continuity can turn into stagnation, and that’s a danger Super Kings, in particular, will have to guard against, with their squad containing 11 players in their 30s. It’s also a squad that looks a touch unbalanced, loaded with spinners and light on pace options and power-hitters. It might be just the right squad for the slow turners that they typically play on in Chennai, but perhaps not for flatter, bouncier pitches – like the Wankhede, for instance.

Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede, then, will be a massive litmus test for Super Kings’ adaptability, right at the start of the season. Any early cracks they show will be ruthlessly pounced upon by every other team.

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