A galaxy of stars, including Amitabh Bachachan and American pop star Katy Perry, will set the ball rolling for the fifth edition of Indian Premier League with a glittering opening ceremomy which promises to enthrall the audience here tomorrow.
High-octane twenty20 cricket will get underway on April 4, promising excitement and entertainment for the audience in the next 54 days when nine teams will be competing featuring international heroes and unheralded players. Having proved its success in the past four editions with growing popularity, the Indian cricket board's money spinning event will formally be launched with the IPL Opening Nite.
The dazzling show will be graced by legendary Amitabh Bachchan, Bollywood stars Priyanka Chopra, Kareena Kapoor and Salman Khan among other celebrities. The gala ceremony at the YMCA College of Physical Education would also feature all nine team captains taking the MCC Spirit of Cricket pledge.
Although very little information has been shared on the Opening Nite, whose tickets start from Rs 1,500, the evening is expected to provide a sumptuous feast of dance and music for the fans with American pop star Katy Perry set to perform for the first time in India during the show, which will also have India's dancing sensation Prabhudeva.
The tournament proper will kick off on April 4 with holders Chennai Super Kings taking on last year Champions League winners Mumbai Indians in the inaugural match at M A Chidambaram stadium aiming for a hat-trick of titles. Mumbai captain Sachin Tendulkar will play for the first time before home fans after achieving the great feat of 100 international centuries in Asia Cup.
A total of 76 matches will be played across 12 venues across the country in the run up to the finals on May 27 here. The league stage will comprise 72 ties with each team playing the other eight in a home-and-away format. The play offs would be hosted by Bangalore and Chennai, the finalists from the previous edition.
The edition has been reduced to a nine-team affair after last year entrant Kochi Tuskers Kerala's franchise was terminated by the BCCI in September last for breach of terms of agreement. Expectedly, not many are daring to hazard a guess on the favourites to win the coveted trophy though the M S Dhoni led Chennai and Mumbai are in the fore front. Australian Doug Bollinger was candid in admitting that Mumbai and Bangalore teams were the toughest but did not rule out Kolkata Knight Riders or some other team from springing a surprise.
The run up to the fifth season saw the Sahara Group, owners of Pune Warriors India, pulling out and withdrawing its 11-year old sponsorship of the Indian team over certain grievances. However, the BCCI and Sahara Group reached a compromise after a series of hectic negotiations, enabling Pune to remain in the event. The auction of players for the fifth season was held in February in Bangalore where all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja was the biggest draw for the franchises with Super Kings grabbing him for a whopping Rs 9.72 crore.
Several players have also swapped teams, notable among them is former India captain Sourav Ganguly, who has moved to Pune Warriors from Kolkata Knight Riders and Rahul Dravid, who has retired from international cricket, switching over to Rajasthan Royals from Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Another veteran VVS Laxman remained unsold. The season begins at a time when Indian cricket is at its low with disastrous tours of England and Australia resulting in the team losing top rank in Test after a stupendous performance a year ago when it annexed the world cup title. India also failed to enter the finals of the Asia Cup held in Bangladesh last month. The 'men in blue' also went all the way to Johannesburg to play a one-off twenty20 against South Africa and the continuous cricket has once again raised the issue of fatigue.
However, India and CSK captain M S Dhoni, who went through the bad patch, has dismissed talks about too much cricket saying the players enjoyed playing the IPL. Yet, the tournament has a fair share of injury forced dropouts and late comers. Pune Warriors suffered a blow after South African Test skipper Graeme Smith and Australian all-rounder James Hopes were ruled out of the IPL due to injuries.
In addition, Australia captain Michael Clarke, who is the replacement for Yuvraj Singh, recuperating after treatment of a rare cancer, would join the squad only after April 27 owing to his country's tour of West Indies. Virender Sehwag led Delhi Daredevil will miss its key players Mahela Jayawardena, Kevin Pietersen and injury-hit Ross Taylor at least for the first few games, while CSK opener Abhinav Mukund has been advised rest for ten days after he twisted his ankle during practice. Australians Mike Hussey and Ben Hilfanhus would also be unavailable til April 30 owing to national commitments.
Deccan Chargers' will have to fight it out in the absence of its strike bowler Ishant Sharma, who underwent a surgery last month for a bone impingement on his left ankle. The outfit will also have a stand-in captain in Cameron White as Kumar Sangakkara will join the team only after the end of Sri Lanka's Test series against visting England in the second week of this month. All the teams have been training in the past few days preparing for the tough competition ahead.
The Mumbai team has arrived last evening and would have nets today while Dhoni will join his side today.