The 2016 Indian Premier League season will start on Saturday with an enticing fixture that offers storylines aplenty. Not only will the defending champions Mumbai Indians be going up against one of the two newcomers to the ninth edition of the IPL, but it will be as close to a repeat of last year’s final as is now possible.
After Chennai Superkings’ suspension, along with the Rajasthan Royals, due to gambling violations, several key members of last year’s runner’s up now find themselves on the franchise in Pune. Along with head coach Stephen Fleming and leading spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, there is the man who was the face of Chennai Super Kings since the start of IPL in 2008, captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
The veteran, who is coming off the back of leading India to the semifinals of the World T20, will undoubtedly find it strange suiting up for a new team. One thing he won’t be short of, though, is experience alongside him. As well as the India skipper, the Supergiants will have Faf du Plessis and Steven Smith, T20 captains for South Africa and Australia, respectively. And a strong batting lineup will also be populated by a veteran who has long excelled in cricket’s shortest format, Kevin Pietersen.
While there is a global feel to their batting, their bowling has much more of a domestic look. Alongside Ravichandran Ashwin, there will be much attention on his namesake Murugan, who shot to prominence in February when going for a surprisingly large price in the IPL auction.
On what is set to be a batting-friendly surface at the Wankhede Stadium, where England successfully chased down 230 in the World T20, Mumbai’s title defense will also face an early challenge without Lasith Malinga. The Sri Lankan bowler, who took 24 wickets last season, is set to miss the first half of the IPL season with injury and is a doubt to appear at all. But bowling coach Shane Bond has stressed that the squad has the depth to cope.
“The owners and [head coach] Ricky [Ponting] have done a good job in recruiting a couple of fast bowlers in the side,” he said, reports the Indian Express. “So we have cover for him. If he arrives fit, he will surely fit into our squad. If he doesn’t, we have good cover for him. Nothing changes, like in any injury, that is the depth of the squad. When it comes to IPL during the course of time, there were 16 players, so you cannot rely on one player.”
With the rapid emergence of Jasprit Bumrah into an international force with India, Mumbai arguably has reason to be confident. And their attack will also be aided by another young Indian who made his mark in the World T20, Hardik Pandya.
An impressive batting lineup will be led by a third player who was recently under the charge of Rohit Sharma, who has led Mumbai to two championships in the last three years. He will be joined in a stacked batting lineup by overseas stars Lendl Simmons, Jos Buttle and Keiron Pollard.
Match time: 10:30 a.m. EDT
TV coverage: Viewers in the USA can watch the 2016 IPL on ESPN pay per view through DISH, Verizon FiOS, Hotwire Communications, Mediacom and RCN.
Live stream: Live streaming coverage will be available via a subscription to ESPN’s Cricket Pass.