Not many noticed a digital signboard outside the Durban airport, on a windy and overcast Monday, counting down the arrival of what is due in South Africa in “462 days”. People here are not talking about the football World Cup yet. Their eyes are on what started in Cape Town three days ago.
What happens to Italy in their first match next year as defending champions is nobody’s concern now. People are more worried about what happens to defending champions Rajasthan Royals on Tuesday against Mumbai Indians after their huge defeat against last year’s whipping boys Bangalore Royal Challengers in Cape Town on Saturday.
Defeat is part and parcel of the game and Shane Warne’s boys were thrashed in their opening game last year also before turning things around.
What makes things different this year however is the change in personnel. Pillars of the side last year, Shane Watson and Sohail Tanvir, are not around this time and these are big boots to fill.
His bowlers still did a very good job on Saturday but batting is suddenly looking a vulnerable point for Warne’s team. They appear to be depending heavily on Graeme Smith and Yusuf Pathan without someone who can anchor the innings like Rahul Dravid did against them in Cape Town. They now run into Sachin Tendulkar who played that role to perfection in his team’s win over Chennai Super Kings on the opening day.
Having said that, it's not even early days in IPL II yet. We can only get faint clues from what happened on the first two days, no definitive indicators.
To say that the Royals can't bounce back is still very premature. But it can be said with lesser risk that the Mumbai Indians are looking a different side this time, although a question mark remains over their depth in batting too.
Without getting into the complications any further, let's leave it here that like in other T20 matches, this one too begins with the teams on an even keel.
There are strengths and weaknesses on either side. Before things become clearer, we are again saying it's anybody's game. There are no favourites, no underdogs.