It was an electrifying start to the Indian Premier League on Saturday as Mahendra Singh Dhoni's Chennai Super Kings registered their first victory in six attempts against defending champions Mumbai Indians in the opening game. The three-time IPL champions secured a five-wicket victory over MI, thanks to notable contributions from youngster Sam Curran and the experienced campaigners like Ambati Rayudu and Faf du Plessis. The match also saw MS Dhoni return to cricket action after more than a year. The wicketkeeper-batsman continued to be in the record books, however, as he became the first IPL captain to secure 100 wins with the victory in the opening game.
The attention now turns to the second match of the league where Shreyas Iyer's Delhi Capitals take on the Kings XI Punjab, led by KL Rahul who will assume the captaincy role for the first time in the league. Both are seen as future captaincy material for the Indian cricket team in the limited-overs format, which adds to the flavour of the match-up between the two sides. It is going to be a battle of power-hitters as DC boasts of players like Shikhar Dhawan, Prithvi Shaw, Rishabh Pant, Shimron Hetmyer and Marcus Stoinis among others, while KXIP has the likes of Rahul, Chris Gayle, Nicholas Pooran, and the newly-recruited Glenn Maxwell in their roster.
In addition, two greats will also pit their wits against each other in the background, with Ricky Ponting and Anil Kumble being head coaches of DC and KXIP respectively. Both, Ponting and Kumble are arguably two of the biggest names in cricket and the dazzling array of talent in both the teams would seek to draw inspiration from their respective heavyweight coaches in their tournament opener.
Man-to-man, Delhi Capitals seem to have a slight edge, more so in the spin department, with the trio of R Ashwin, Amit Mishra and Axar Patel streets ahead of their counterparts from the Mohali-based side. Ashwin will enjoy additional focus in this game as he captained the Kings XI Punjab in the previous edition of the tournament and is likely to lead the spin-bowling attack for DC this season.
Spin is expected to play a big role on the UAE pitches.
On the batting front, the Capitals have one of the best assortments of India internationals, comprising Shaw, Iyer, Pant, Dhawan, besides West Indian Shimron Hetmyer. In this scenario, India Test vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane (strike-rate below 120), who was bought from Rajathan Royals, may be left out.
For KXIP, Glenn Maxwell's confidence must be sky high after his ODI series-winning century (108) against England in Manchester. He also had a memorable run the last time the IPL was held in UAE, albeit partially, in 2014 when he hammered 552 runs in 16 games.
The KXIP have a dangerous opening pairing in Gayle and Rahul with Mayank Agarwal to follow. But it remains to be seen whether the 40-year-old Gayle will continue to be a regular feature at the top of the order this time around.
The Capitals may come up with a surprise by picking Big Bash League's highest wicket-taker Daniel Sams along with Kagiso Rabada, leaving out senior India pacer Ishant Sharma, who has had an underwhelming IPL over the years. This is where KXIP may have a slight edge, as India's strike bowler across allt he three formats, Mohammad Shami will spearhead the pace department.
However, it is in the slow-bowling department that the KXIP could face problems. They don't have any big names following the departure of Ashwin. Mujeeb Zadran is the sole established name. Ashwin, on the other hand, would like to leave behind all the talk about 'Mankading' and focus on the job at hand alongside Mishra, who is the IPL's second highest wicket-taker with 157 scalps.
History, though, favours KXIP who have won four out of the last five matches but it was the Capitals who emerged victorious in the last match between the two sides in the 2019 season.
Delhi Capitals Squad: Prithvi Shaw, Shikhar Dhawan, Shimron Hetmyer, Shreyas Iyer(c), Rishabh Pant(w), Marcus Stoinis, Axar Patel, Ravichandran Ashwin, Kagiso Rabada, Sandeep Lamichhane, Ishant Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Amit Mishra, Harshal Patel, Mohit Sharma, Alex Carey, Avesh Khan, Tushar Deshpande, Anrich Nortje, Daniel Sams, Lalit Yadav, Keemo Paul
Kings XI Punjab Squad: Lokesh Rahul(w/c), Chris Gayle, Mayank Agarwal, Nicholas Pooran, Glenn Maxwell, Deepak Hooda, Mandeep Singh, James Neesham, Jagadeesha Suchith, Mohammed Shami, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Chris Jordan, Karun Nair, Murugan Ashwin, Krishnappa Gowtham, Sheldon Cottrell, Hardus Viljoen, Ishan Porel, Sarfaraz Khan, Tajinder Singh, Darshan Nalkande, Arshdeep Singh, Simran Singh, Harpreet Brar, Ravi Bishnoi