The Indian Premier League (IPL) is back in India after shifting to South Africa last year because it could not get the expected security as it clashed with the general elections. The third edition of the Twenty20 razzmataz will spring to life on Friday night when the 2009 champions Deccan Chargers take on Kolkata Knight Riders in the opening game in Navi Mumbai.
The tournament has been involved in fresh controversies. First, there were no takers for the Pakistani players at the January mini auction and the IPL authorities and the franchisees came in for severe criticism for not coming up with a satisfactory explanation for ignoring the Twenty20 World champions.
Second, the IPL's restrictive clause on the usage of television footage by the news channels led to their umbrella organisation, the National Broadcasters Association (NBA), threatening to boycott it. The two warring parties are still negotiating and hoping to arrive at a settlement before the first ball is bowled Friday.
The international news agencies also continue to have problems with the IPL.
Then, reigning champions Deccan Chargers had a problem with their home games as they had been shifted out of Hyderabad in view of the Telangana agitation. Eventually, they agreed to move their games out of the state.
The Chargers and the Royal Challengers, who finished at the bottom of the eight-team table in the inaugural edition, bounced back stongly by making the final last year, underscoring the unpredictability of the outcome in the shortest version of the game.
South Africa saw an even contest between the ball and the bat. But India is a study in contrast. The tracks will predictably be batsman-friendly, more so as the pitches would be baked under the summer sun.
Coming to the batsmen's aid are new bats, especially designed for the Twenty20 cricket, for power hitting. Matthew Hayden has come up with the Mongoose bat with a long handle and shorter blade but a bigger sweet spot than the conventional cricket bat. The bowlers are in for a rough ride with the hard-hitting Australian "quite liking" the new bat.
Apart from Hayden, the spotlight would be on a dozen other Australians who have been the star attractions in the last two editions. This time, however, they had to ruminate a lot on safety issues, especially after the Pune blasts, before taking the flight to India.
But quashing all doubts over security, Rajasthan Royals' lastest buy Damien Martyn wrote on his blog: "Our home base has been a fortress. From outside the hotel to inside the grounds, there are policemen everywhere, even to the extent that on each of our floors, there are guards and scanners."
Deccan Chargers' captain Adam Gilchrist feels the relationships forged last year will be the key to success this time around.
"We've got a great bond that is a legacy of last year's victory. It's certainly something that will be an asset for us," Gilchrist was quoted as saying.
The third edition will also see some younger players in action. West Indian speedster Kemar Roach and Mitchell Marsh, the younger brother of Shaun and son of former Australian opener Geoff, have been key inclusions in Deccan Chargers.
"We are very excited about the new players. I am looking forward to playing positive and entertaining cricket again. We've made up for the loss of Fidel Edwards with the inclusion of Kemar -- he was very impressive during West Indies' series in Australia. Then there is young Mitchell, an exciting talent, a hard-hitting batsman and a good bowler,” Gilchrist added.
A new feature in this year’s IPL would be the strategy breaks. The two-and-a-half minute strategy break can be called between the sixth and eighth overs by the bowling captain.
Mumbai Indians’ bowling captain Zaheer Khan feels the new rule will be of help to the bowlers.
"The game is heavily tilted towards the batsmen and this break helps to change the momentum because sometimes the batting team is going after the bowlers and the break helps. Twenty20 cricket is so dynamic and the teams are rushing between the overs. A two-and-half minute break will help to regroup,” Zaheer said.