The Wankhede is all set to stage the blockbuster season opener of the 11th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) on Saturday, April 7. The crowd at the iconic Mumbai stadium will be up for a treat when two of the most successful teams in the competition will lock horns in the much-anticipated opener. While Chennai Super Kings, led by their talismanic captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, will be making a return in the cash-rich league after serving a suspension for two years, the defending champions Mumbai Indians, who have enjoyed a phenomenal few seasons under skipper Rohit Sharma, will be heading to the clash as favourites backed by an enthusiastic home crowd.  This will be the 11th edition of the biggest T20 league in the world and fitting to its reputation a match between Mumbai and Chennai is what the fans would be looking forward to.

The two teams share a long-lived rivalry between each other, something that has always kept the fans abuzz on social media. Mumbai have won three titles including the trophy last year while Chennai is a two-time champion and are aiming to match their fiercest rivals in terms of trophies. Dhoni’s men would be under immense pressure of getting the lost rhythm back and living up to the team’s expectations.  Mumbai Indians, on the other hand, possess a poor record in the starters and have lost their previous five opening games, but this time around with a reinvented squad at their disposal, Rohit will look to get the stats straight. 

In the player auctions, after retaining their trump cards of Dhoni, Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja, Chennai Super Kings managed to formulate a squad on the team’s strategy of maintaining strong spin unit along with a powerful batting lineup. Despite losing out local favourite Ravichandran Ashwin, the franchise on the recommendation of captain Dhoni brought another masterful replacement in Harbhajan Singh, who can play a vital role in his team’s performance against his former side Mumbai Indians.  Bhajji spent a decade with Mumbai before eventually donning CSK yellow this season and ever since joining his teammates at Chepauk, has immersed himself in his new team’s culture. His inputs to Dhoni on how to tackle the likes of Rohit Sharma and Hardik Pandya at the Wankhede would definitely be a plus point for Chennai.

Apart from Harbhajan, Chennai also bought Ambati Rayudu and Karn Sharma, who were superb for Mumbai last season, and will be rearing to prove their former team’s decision wrong with a good show in the opening encounter. As expected coach Stephen Fleming has once again built his team around a core of players in Dhoni, Bravo, Jadeja and Raina who have been integral members of the team’s success over the years. Murali Vijay also returned to the place where it all started for him in the IPL and will likely be the team’s first choice opener, a role which he had owned during his stint in yellow.

On the other hand, Mumbai Indians also maintained a core of their title-winning team from last season after retaining Hardik Pandya, Jasprit Bumrah, and skipper Rohit Sharma. The Pandya brothers will be certain to start in the important clash against Chennai and take the stage by storm as they have done over the years. The two all-rounders will play a crucial role in deciding how the team fares against their arch-rivals. Mumbai despite letting their highest wicket-taker Lasith Malinga go, built one of the finest pace bowling units in the competition with the likes of Mustafizur Rahman, Pat Cummins and Jasprit Bumrah in their ranks. However, the spin department looks thin and inexperienced with Rahul Chahar, Anukul Roy and Sri Lankan Akila Dananjaya limiting Rohit Sharma’s options.

On the batting front though, Mumbai yet again have an attacking set-up which can destroy the best of bowling line-ups on their day. Rohit Sharma is likely to keep the number 3 or 4 spot to himself, pushing young gun Ishan Kishan and West Indies explosive opener Evin Lewis to open the proceedings at their fortress Wankhede.  With JP Duminy, Suryakumar Yadav, Kieron Pollard and the Pandya brothers in the middle, Mumbai dons the ability to lash the Chennai bowlers at their home.

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Here are the few players to watch out for in the blockbuster season opener between Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians:

Impact bowlers:

Mumbai Indians: Mustafizur Rahman had a good first season in the Indian Premier League with the Sunrisers Hyderabad in the 2016 season taking 17 wickets in 16 games at a marvelous economy of 6.90. The Bangladeshi pacer was on the peak of his prowess that season after rising to prominence with his international exploits. He has since become more predictable but to write off his lethal accuracy and ability to ball Yorkers in the depth cannot be written off. Mustafizur can be terrorizing the Super Kings spearheading Mumbai’s pace attack with Bumrah who would be aiming to nullify Malinga’s absence in the side.

Chennai Super Kings: Lungi Ngidi’s absence can be of great significance for a spin-heavy Chennai Super Kings but the team would expect Dwayne Bravo to lead the line with English pacer Mark Wood. Shardul Thakur who impressed in the Nidahas Trophy with a 4-wicket haul against Sri Lanka would once again be reuniting under Dhoni along with Deepak Chahar, both the domestic bowlers will be integral in deciding Chennai’s fate in the match. In the spin department, Harbhajan Singh will enjoy his outing at a familiar Wankhede with Jadeja and Karn Sharma.

Impact Batsmen:

Chennai Super Kings: Mr. IPL Suresh Raina would definitely be the one to watch out for as he is also bidding to gain back a spot in the national team. Fleming had already hinted that Dhoni will see a promotion in his batting position and if things work out well as they have previously for the former Indian captain, the fans will be up for a boundaries shower at the Wankhede. Among others would be English southpaw Sam Billings who has had a decent Big Bash campaign.

Mumbai Indians: Skipper Rohit Sharma’s performance in the match will have a huge impact on the game. After recently leading India to a victory in the Nidahas Trophy in Sri Lanka, Rohit will be keen to put up a good show with the willow and lead his team with example to square off the competition. Evin Lewis and Ishan Kishan who are the probable opening pair for Mumbai will also look to turn heads at the Wankhede.

Head to Head

Overall: Matches – 22, Mumbai Indians won – 12, Chennai Super Kings won – 10

At the Wankhede Stadium: Matches – 7, Mumbai Indians won – 5, Chennai Super Kings won – 2

Squads:

Mumbai Indians: Rohit Sharma(c), Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya, Kieron Pollard, Mustafizur Rahman, Pat Cummins, Suryakumar Yadav, Krunal Pandya, Ishan Kishan, Rahul Chahar, Evin Lewis, Saurabh Tiwary, Ben Cutting, Pradeep Sangwan, Jean-Paul Duminy, Tajinder Singh, Sharad Lumba, Siddhesh Lad, Aditya Tare, Mayank Markande, Akila Dananjaya, Anukul Roy, Mohsin Khan, MD Nidheesh, Mitchell McClenaghan.

Chennai Super Kings: MS Dhoni(c), Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Faf du Plessis, Harbhajan Singh, Dwayne Bravo, Shane Watson, Kedar Jadhav, Ambati Rayudu, Deepak Chahar, KM Asif, Kanishk Seth, Lungi Ngidi, Dhruv Shorey, Murali Vijay, Sam Billings, Mark Wood, Kshitiz Sharma, Monu Kumar, Chaitanya Bishnoi, Imran Tahir, Karn Sharma, Shardul Thakur, N Jagadeesan.

Predicted playing XIs:

Mumbai Indians: Ishan Kishan(WK), Evin Lewis, Rohit Sharma (C), Suryakumar Yadav, Hardik Pandya, Kieron Pollard, Krunal Pandya, Jasprit Bumrah, Pat Cummins, Mustafizur Rahman,  Rahul Chahar

Chennai Super Kings: Murali Vijay, Sam Billings, Suresh Raina, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni (C/WK), Shane Watson, Dwayne Bravo, Ravindra Jadeja, Harbhajan Singh, Shardul Thakur, Mark Wood

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