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KKR bank on bowlers, MI on the all-rounders

- Spinners set to play key role in IPL VII opener

Calcutta: The tournament that is perhaps closest to the hearts of the modern day Indian cricket fans will be getting underway thousands of kilometres away from the country, in Abu Dhabi, on Wednesday.

It’s not a castaway because of all the negativity that the tournament has attracted in the past one year. It’s just a temporary relocation owing to the electoral necessities of the country.

The opening match of the seventh edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) will feature defending champions Mumbai Indians and 2012 winners Kolkata Knight Riders.

But much before the floodlights of the Sheikh Zayed Stadium illuminate the kick-off of the most glamourous gathering of international cricketers, the spotlights will firmly be turned on the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) as the next Supreme Court hearing is on Wednesday morning.

So, at the backdrop of its parent body trying hard to wipe clean the stains from its image, IPL VII will get rolling.

It’s a different IPL this time around. Different not because the technicalities of the game have been altered, but different because the tournament’s 2014 avatar might not come with the all the exterior decorations that turned it into a festival.

For starters, there’s no opening ceremony this year. As it progresses further, under the watchful eyes of Sunil Gavaskar, expect the extras to be toned down further.

But one hopes that there is no drop in intensity on the field. IPL has always served the cricket enthusiast with awesome entertainment, complete with nail-biting finishes and breathtaking shots. It is likely to stay that way on Wednesday too.

It’s a little difficult to comment on the teams’ strengths and weaknesses after the fresh auction.

For both Mumbai Indians and the Knights, the core remains almost the same. So, everything will boil down to how the new acquisitions fare.

With the wickets in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) mostly being on the slower side, it’s needless to say that spinners will play a vital role. Yes, in a T20 match they get to bowl just four overs each, but even then, the bagful of tricks that a master tweaker possesses can not only earn wickets, they can also produce those priceless dot balls.

The teams are quite evenly matched in the spin-bowling department. While the Knights have Sunil Narine and Piyush Chawla, the Mumbai side will be banking on the expertise of Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha.

The Knights’ bowling squad is exceptionally strong. Besides Narine and Chawla, they also have the left-arm spin of Shakib-al Hasan and an exciting and rare chinaman in Kuldeep Yadav. In Morne Morkel, Pat Cummins, Ranganath Vinay Kumar and Umesh Yadav they also strong fast-bowling options.

So, bowling easily looks to be the Knights’ strength.

The same, however, cannot be said about their batting. Much will depend on captain Gautam Gambhir and old war-horse Jacques Kallis. It also needs to be seen how Yusuf Pathan and Robin Uthappa help out Gambhir and Kallis.

The Mumbai Indians, on the other hand, have some exciting all-rounders led by Kieron Pollard and Corey Anderson. However, fitness is an issue for both the players.

The Knights have hired the services of adventurer Mike Horn to boost their mental fitness. The Mumbai Indians had the gigantic presence of Sachin Tendulkar during their practice session. It just goes on to show that the battle will not just be a tussle between the ball and the bat on the field.

But then, cricket nowadays isn’t restricted to the ground. The ball, at present, is in the court of law.