Apr 152014

ABU DHABI: Mumbai Indians 10, Kolkata Knight Riders 2. That’s the head-to-head count of the result of matches between these IPL heavyweights.

Going by figures alone, there won’t be much debate over who the favourite is for Wednesday’s league-opener at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium here.

In fact, those who’ve been queuing up for tickets here have no doubt that Mumbai Indians are the one to watch out for.

They’re the defending champions, have been title-favourites last four years on the trot, have retained proven-match winners at the auction and arrived here with the necessary arsenal – attacking batsmen and a good set of spinners.

The Knights, on the other hand, have been quite unsteady at all times except for the year they won the title. From underdogs to wooden-spooners, they’ve seen it all, have let go of useful T20 players like Brendon McCullum and Eoin Morgan and may have to start from scratch yet again.

But if statistics and auction-strategies are kept aside, Mumbai Indians technically can’t claim the ‘favourites’ tag, simply because neither team has played a match at this venue before. For the same reason, the Knight Riders aren’t exactly in a spot because of what the head-to-head count reveals.

The pitch, the outfield, the weather – it is unbearably hot — and the toss will be important. As MI and KKR do battle, they’re likely to set a precedent for other teams to follow at this venue over the next two weeks.

“It (conditions) is the same for everyone so and I suppose it depends on how the teams handle it. We won’t know until the first few games are out of the way,” says Knight Riders coach Trevor Bayliss. “But it will be good to leave the UAE with a number of wins under your belt before we get back to India.”

While MI have retained the core of the team and have brought back Zaheer Khan at the cost of letting Mitchell Johnson leave, the Knight Riders have roped in some good young hands in Robin Uthappa and Manish Pandey.

The crowds, nevertheless, aren’t flocking to the stadium just to watch these two teams — they will also keep a keen eye on two stars who have backroom jobs.

Sachin Tendulkar is back in the Mumbai Indians dressing room as an ‘icon’ and will play a part in building the franchise’s strategy. Shah Rukh Khan is here to cheer for the Knight Riders and capable of swinging crowd support in his favour because of the immense fan-following he enjoys here in the UAE. On Wednesday, expect Tendulkar devotees and Shah Rukh-struck men and women to fill the stands.

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