Dogged by myriad controversies but glamorous nonetheless, the sixth edition of the Indian Premier League will kick off today with what promises to be a glitzy opening ceremony featuring Bollywood stars and international rapper Pitbull. Flying drummers, Chinese percussionists, fireworks, and some of the biggest film stars in the country, including Shah Rukh Khan and Katrina Kaif, will perform at the ceremony at the Salt Lake Stadium. Never before in cricket has any private tournament been as successful as the IPL and it is expected to be a rollicking affair once again when the nine franchises lock horns for the coveted title. The Shah Rukh Khan-owned Kolkata Knight Riders, the defending champions, have earned the right to host the opening ceremony.
KKR will also host the IPL opener, tomorrow, when they take on Delhi Daredevils at the Eden Gardens that will also witness the summit clash on May 26. Sunrisers Hyderabad will make their debut replacing Deccan Chargers, terminated by the IPL Governing Council following a breach of contract. Known for controversies, the upcoming IPL has already made headlines for all the wrong reasons following Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalitha's ban on Sri Lankan players' involvement in the Chennai leg of the tournament. Jayalalitha, in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, refused to host the Lankans in view of the growing political tensions, stemming from the treatment of ethnic Tamils in Sri Lanka. Bowing to the intense political pressure, the IPL GC asked the 13 Lankan players, three of them franchise captains, not to play in Chennai that will host 10 matches, including two eliminators.
Continuing the controversy trail, in a setback for KKR, the Mumbai Cricket Association affirmed that the ban on the team's principal owner, Shah Rukh, would remain. The actor allegedly manhandled security and hurled abuses in an inebriated state after being stopped from entering the ground last year. A miffed MCA had subsequently imposed a five-year ban on the Bollywood star. All eyes on CSK Amid the glitz and glamour, all eyes would be on the most successful IPL side, two-time champions Chennai Super Kings, who have also been two-time runners-up. That four of their players — skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Ravichandran Ashwin, Murali Vijay and last season's recruit Ravindra Jadeja — played a big role in India's historic 4-0 whitewash against Australia just over a week back would be a big morale-booster as they take fresh guard.
Off-spinner Ashwin and left-arm spinner Jadeja had a combined tally of 53 Aussie wickets to fall in the four-Test series, while opener Vijay was the leading run-getter (430). Dhoni's double century (224) in Chennai set the tone for India's four wins on the trot. Add Suresh Raina, a finisher in the limited overs, to the quartet and CSK look an intimidating force this time around as well. High on popularity quotient thanks to Shah Rukh, KKR have found their lucky charm in Gautam Gambhir following a controversy-ridden first three seasons. Sunil Narine, the West Indies mystery spinner, foxed the big names last time while the likes of Jacques Kallis, Brendon McCullum, Bhatia, Manoj Tiwary and Laxmi Ratan Shukla also chipped in. In the final, KKR found an unlikely hero in Manvinder Bisla. In a nutshell, it was a team that clicked as a whole in the fifth season.
With a new addition, 'One Team One Pledge', to their slogan — Korbo, Lorbo, Jeetbo — KKR will hope to do an encore. With no Wasim Akram, the former bowling mentor, Aussie pacer Brett Lee will double up in the role. They have new acquisitions in Lankan offie Sachithra Senanayake and South African all-rounder Ryan McLaren and KKR is hoping that the former will do a Narine in IPL Six. Star-studded Mumbai Indians will be keen to win the title for the first time. Mumbai will look towards their high-profile signing Ricky Ponting, who will captain the side, and it would be a treat to watch him alongside Sachin Tendulkar. Also there would be Glenn Maxwell, the off-spinning all-rounder from Australia, who was bought for a whopping $m in the players' auction.
Setback In a big setback for the Delhi Daredevils, Kevin Pietersen, who played a key role last season, has been ruled out with a knee injury, while New Zealander Jesse Ryder too will be missed after a brutal assault. Underdogs Rajasthan Royals, champions of the first IPL, are known for their inspirational show and it would be no different this time. Under Rahul Dravid, who will be assisted by former team India mental conditioning coach Paddy Upton, the Royals will look for a fresh start after a forgettable last season. Alongwith talented Ajinkya Rahane, Dravid formed a perfect opening for the Royals as the duo will look to give a good start. The good news for them is that they would get explosive Aussie all-rounder Shane Watson for the entire season.
Royal Challengers are another side who are yet to win the title despite a high profile line-up. Bangalore's best performance has been their runners-up finish in the second edition when they lost to Deccan Chargers. West Indian maverick Chris Gayle, who was the Orange Cap (leading scorer) holder in the last two seasons, will once again be a vital cog in the RCB wheel. New signing Muttiah Muralitharan and R Vinay Kumar will add sting to the attack, while Zaheer Khan's fitness would be looked upon. The senior-most India pacer had sustained a calf injury during Mumbai's Ranji Trophy game against Gujarat last December and was dropped from the Indian Test squad against England. Kings XI Punjab have been the most under-performing side as the Preity Zinta co-owned side would look towards former Aussie wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist who will be assisted by compatriot Darren Lehman, the team coach.
In fact it's a team of veterans with Azhar Mahmood (38), Dimitri Mascarenhas (35), David Hussey (35) and Ryan Harris (33) forming the core of the side and there would be questions about Gilchrist's fitness at 41. Three-year-old Pune Warriors India would be captained by Angelo Matthews this season with Yuvraj Singh being the cynosure of all eyes as he was missed last season because of his cancer treatment. Pune will look to turn the tide after abysmal performances in the last two seasons. Newcomers
Newcomers Sunrisers Hyderabad will miss the services of Shikhar Dhawan especially after his record-breaking 187 in the Mohali Test against Australia. Dhawan, who is recovering from a fractured hand, will be missed in the first few games.
IPL II winners Deccan Chargers have made way for the Sunrisers owned by the Sun Group, who have retained 20 players from the last season along with skipper Kumar Sangakkara. The Sunrisers have a fine pace attack led by Dale Steyn who would be partnered by Ishant Sharma with Amit Mishra looking after the spin department. The team will also look to benefit from the rich experience of mentor VVS Laxman who will be assisted by former selection committee chairman Krishamachari Srikkanth.The IPL Six offers a total prize purse of Rs250 million that includes Rs100 million for the winners and Rs75 million for the runners-up.