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Spotlight on Super Kings

Abu Dhabi: Distracted to an extent by off-field furores surrounding them, two-time champions Chennai Super Kings (CSK) would look to bring the focus back on their cricketing prowess when they take on a revamped Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) in their IPL opener, here, on Friday.

The Super Kings, the most dominant team over the past four seasons, are still facing the heat of the spot-fixing scandal due to which some of their top officials and a few players find themselves under the scanner.

Coach Stephen Fleming has been candid enough to admit that off-the-field issues cannot be just brushed aside and are like a distraction for the team, which under normal circumstances, comes across as a well-oiled machine on a mission.

“There’s a lot going on, I won’t lie. There are a lot of distractions (leading up to the tournament). I think we were all uncertain about how it was going to play out,” Fleming had said in a subtle reference to the betting controversy, which is now under a Supreme Court-monitored investigation.

But keeping the spot-fixing controversies aside, the Super Kings, led by India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, can safely be called one of the most consistent teams in the IPL.

Besides, the captain himself, the likes of Suresh Raina and Dwayne Bravo have been instrumental as well in winning matches aplenty for their team.

This season, they have at their disposal the New Zealand swashbuckler Brendon McCullum, while in the bowling department, West Indies leg-spinner Samuel Badree could prove to be an important player given his sky-high confidence after finishing as the third highest wicket-taker in the recent World T20.

Badree’s inclusion further boosts their spin department, which features Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, both of whom are key members of the Super Kings squad.

On the other hand, the Kings from Punjab, too, are ready to bring it on when they square off against their Chennai counterparts. The franchise has managed to instil balance and add sheen to the team by making some smart purchases at the auction.

Led by Australian George Bailey, the Kings XI were able to snap up Virender Sehwag.

Even though Sehwag is no longer in his prime but on his day, the Delhi-dasher is an enthralling game-changer capable of mortifying opposition attacks.

“No doubt, he will have a big impact. Having him around the group is a great thing. It will be great for him to go out and play with freedom,” Bailey said the other day.

The masterstroke by the Kings XI at the auction was the purchase of Mitchell Johnson. The Australian speedster is at the form of his life and is likely to be worth every penny of Rs 6.5 crore that the franchise splurged on him during the auction.

Besides, the team also managed to bring back Australian batsman Shaun Marsh.

Fitness permitting, Marsh has a decent track record in the IPL and could prove to a vital cog in the KXIP wheel.

Given the way the two teams match up on paper, it promises to be a battle of the equals.

Besides, Kings XI could set themselves up with a real chance if the in-form Johnson can get the better of their rivals' explosive batting line-up. No wonder the left-arm pacer is the best should Bailey's men keep Dhoni and Co. at bay.