There has been delay. There has been discussion. There has been a great deal of expense, across the board. There has been fear. At every turn, there has been a challenge and the IPL has come through it. While it may not look like any IPL we are used to, it might just help us forget how broken our world is right now, at least for three-four hours every evening (give or take a Super Over). And it all starts with "El Clasico".
In the news
While Mumbai Indians have been based in Abu Dhabi all this while, Chennai Super Kings will only get their first taste of the conditions they face tomorrow... tomorrow. And that's not good. Even coach Stephen Fleming said so to the CSK website: "I must admit, going to Abu Dhabi without seeing the wicket or assessing the conditions is going to be one of the big challenges to start with."
The IPL made a breakthrough on Thursday when it negotiated varying quarantine periods for the players coming in after playing in the bio-secure bubble in England, which means, Josh Hazlewood, who was quite a handful in very different, fast-bowler friendly conditions, will be available for selection for Super Kings.
Chennai Super Kings: 1 Shane Watson, 2. Ambati Rayudu, 3 Faf du Plessis, 4 MS Dhoni (capt, wk), 5 Kedar Jadhav, 6 Dwayne Bravo, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Piyush Chawla, 9 Deepak Chahar, 10 Shardul Thakur, 11 Imran Tahir
Mumbai Indians: 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 Quinton de Kock (wk), 3 Suryakumar Yadav, 4 Ishan Kishan, 5 Kieron Pollard, 6 Hardik Pandya, 7 Krunal Pandya, 8 Nathan Coulter-Nile, 9 Rahul Chahar, 10 Trent Boult, 11 Jasprit Bumrah
He's managed to recover from Covid-19, so what's a little powerplay battle with one of the IPL's greatest batsmen? Deepak Chahar has dismissed Rohit Sharma two times in six innings in the first six overs of a T20. Given away only 29 runs in 24 balls too. The only question is - can he somehow conjure some swing out in the desert?
Mumbai are perhaps one of the few teams who wouldn't be fretting the death overs, even when facing a giant like MS Dhoni. They have at least two bowlers who have been able to both keep him quiet and take him out. Jasprit Bumrah has dismissed the Super Kings captain three times in the slog overs (16 to 20) of a T20, while conceding only 39 runs in 33 balls. Nathan Coulter-Nile's record is: 23 balls, 25 runs, two wickets.
Stats that matter
Totals in the UAE don't usually turn out to be too big. The norm for the first innings of a T20 in Abu Dhabi over the last one-and-a-half years is less than 140.
Mumbai have this thing with the opening game of a season - they haven't won one of those since 2012. But that could change in a matter of hours given their outstanding record against Super Kings - eight wins in the last ten games.
Mumbai's spinners put together (Krunal Pandya, Rahul Chahar, Jayant Yadav and Anukul Roy) have a total of 61 IPL wickets between them. Ravindra Jadeja alone has 108. CSK will sense a big opportunity here.
Kieron Pollard was invincible in the CPL: 207 runs at an average of 51 and strike rate of 204. Given he played most of those games on slow pitches, it seems a safe bet he'll be able to showcase those destructive tendencies for Mumbai as well. Super Kings could try to mitigate his threat by using Imran Tahir, who has a favourable head-to-head record against the West Indian powerhouse: four wickets in 16 T20 innings, with a dot-ball percentage of 50.
Super Kings' bowing attack relies heavily on early success. In fact, since 2018, they have picked up 56 wickets in the powerplay, the best among all teams. Chahar is responsible for 25 of them, again the best among all teams. Early wickets on slow pitches means Dhoni can control the game so much better with the spinners to follow. Question is, will that work against Mumbai, who have a hitter as dangerous as Hardik Pandya lurking as low as No. 6.