Venue: Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi
Commences: Friday, April 18
Start time: 11:30 a.m. BST/2:30 p.m. local
Weather: The Weather Channel is predicting a mostly sunny day, with the temperature expected to hit a maximum of 36 degrees Celsius, along with a humidity of 45 per cent.
"There are a lot of distractions," Stephen Fleming, coach of the Chennai Super Kings, told ESPNcricinfo ahead of the tournament. "All we can do is try and be consistent again but yeah, it [controversy] is there, we acknowledge it."
Fleming would, of course, be foolish not to accept the dense cloud of controversy surrounding his team leading up to the tournament.
For a team that has reached five finals in the last six seasons and won two of them, the fairytale almost turned into a horror story towards the end of last season. The spot-fixing and betting saga that engulfed the tournament, reported by the BBC—and which even threatened its continuity—had its epicentre within the Chennai camp.
Two days ahead of Chennai's first fixture of the seventh season, it was revealed (per sports.ndtv.com) that an independent committee appointed by the Indian Supreme Court to probe the case had named N Srinivasan, former Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president and managing director of India Cements—the company that owns CSK—in its report.
Gurunath Meiyappan, allegedly the former team principal, has already been arrested and later freed on bail, per ESPNcricinfo. The name of captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has also cropped up, with the prosecution accusing him of concealing Meiyappan's identity.
But controversy isn't new to Dhoni. Last year, barely a month after the scandal broke, he led India to victory in the ICC Champions Trophy. Last month, when his name did the rounds in the papers in connection with the case again (per sports.ndtv.com), he took India to the final of the 2014 ICC World T20.
If there are any nerves beneath that rapidly greying hairline, he is concealing them well.
That being said, Chennai are a slightly different side compared to the previous few seasons. The player auction for the seventh season has resulted in them losing some of their seasoned campaigners such as Michael Hussey, Murali Vijay, Albie Morkel and Subramaniam Badrinath.
However, they still have the Indian core of Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin, along with Trinidadian Dwayne Bravo.
Chennai have stocked up their batting by purchasing the hard-hitting Brendon McCullum and Dwayne Smith. They've got a decent spin-bowling line-up with Samuel Badree joining Ashwin and Jadeja.
However, an area that opposition teams will look to exploit is their rather weak fast-bowling department, which includes Mohit Sharma, Ishwar Pandey, Ashish Nehra and Ben Hilfenhaus.
Punjab, on the other hand, have been among the smartest buyers in the auction, picking up the power-packed Australian foursome of Mitchell Johnson, George Bailey, Shaun Marsh and Glenn Maxwell.
Their batting has been bolstered by a wounded giant in Virender Sehwag, who will be itching to prove his worth to the Indian selectors, especially with Shikhar Dhawan not in the best form.
Add to that the talented Indian youngsters Manan Vohra and Mandeep Singh, the Australian trio of Bailey, Marsh and Maxwell, the game-changing David Miller and you've got yourself an impressive and aggressive batting formation.
However, bowling is an area where Punjab could slip up. They will do well not to rely heavily upon Johnson to get the job done. Thisara Perera, Lakshmipathy Balaji, Parwinder Awana, Rishi Dhawan and Sandeep Sharma can be expected to share the burden. The experience of the wily slow left-arm spinner Murali Kartik will also be a boon.
Chennai Super Kings
MS Dhoni (c/wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Suresh Raina, Faf du Plessis, Dwayne Bravo, Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Smith, Mohit Sharma, Ben Hilfenhaus, Ashish Nehra, Samuel Badree, Matt Henry, Mithun Manhas, Baba Aparajith, Ishwar Pandey, Vijay Shankar, Pawan Negi, Ronit More, John Hastings.
Kings XI Punjab
George Bailey (c), Virender Sehwag, Anureet Singh, Manan Vohra, Parvinder Awana, Lakshmipathy Balaji, Rishi Dhawan, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Mitchell Johnson, Beuran Hendricks, Karanveer Singh, Murali Kartik, Mandeep Singh, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, David Miller, Thisara Perera, Akshar Patel, Cheteshwar Pujara, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Sandeep Sharma, Shivam Sharma, Shardul Thakur.
Players to Watch
Chennai Super Kings
Matt Henry, the new Kiwi recruit who took four wickets on his debut against India recently, could be the man to watch out for in the Chennai camp, should he get enough games.
He has the potential to light up this year's tournament, especially in the United Arab Emirates where we saw a lot of live grass on the surface at Abu Dhabi in the first fixture between Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders. Henry is a bowler who can thrive in such conditions.
Raina will be playing his 100th IPL match on Friday and will be looking to make it an even more special occasion. The leading run-scorer in the tournament (2,802 runs) has the ability to put the game far beyond the opposition's reach and will be one to watch out for as well.
Kings XI Punjab
All eyes will be on Virender Sehwag to see if he can spark a comeback. This is the first time that Sehwag won't be playing in the Delhi colours, and he will be desperate to perform.
The red-hot Mitchell Johnson, purchased for $1.2 million, is, of course, the other show-stopper in the Punjab line-up. With a remarkable Ashes series recently behind him, Johnson had to sit out the T20 World Cup due to a toe infection, so he will be restless to get a run.
Chennai have had Punjab's number in this tournament, winning eight of their 13 encounters so far.
However, the new-look Punjab will want to shed their perennial underachievers tag and start the tournament with a bang. What better way to do it than by beating the most successful team in the competition?
However, if Chennai can push away all the off-field distractions and play like two-time champions, Punjab have their work cut out.
We're going with a Punjab win—but only just.
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