Kohli, Sharma square off in IPL 2021 opener

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It’s only been five months since the Mumbai Indians won their fifth title in Dubai, and the IPL is back already. It’s back, and it’s back home, but the eerie, not-of-this-world feeling that accompanied the 2020 edition of the tournament will persist, simply because the world hasn’t changed all that much in the interim.

The opening game is on April 9, starting at 10:00h (Guyana time), in Chennai. 

You might even ask if India, which has recorded over 100,000 new COVID-19 cases each day since April 4, should be hosting the IPL at all right now.

Time, and the rigorous protocols that cricket has honed over these months of the pandemic, will answer that question. For now, turn your attention to Chennai’s MA Chidambaram Stadium, the first stop in a tournament that will be played entirely on neutral grounds.

If the pitch plays true to its recent nature, it will present Mumbai and Royal Challengers Bangalore a rigorous test of their adaptability.

To different extents, both teams are built for their high-scoring home grounds. Chennai is different. Chennai is all about spin. Of the 11 Indian grounds that have hosted IPL matches since the start of 2018, spinners have both the best average (19.52) and economy rate (6.16) at the MA Chidambaram Stadium.

Unless the pitch has drastically changed in character since India’s Test series against England, expect to see both teams pick a third spinner, and expect a somewhat attritional contest to kick the tournament off.

But it’s still only Match Day One, so no prediction – conditions, selections, form, match-ups – can be made with any confidence. Sit back instead, switch on your televisions, and forget – for a few hours – the world outside your windows.

In the news

If Quinton de Kock and Adam Milne serve the seven-day quarantine in their hotel rooms, they won’t be available for the game on Friday.

However, ESPNcricinfo understands that de Kock flew into India on a charter flight from South Africa, and with entry and exit points that are separate from the regular airport, he may not have to serve the quarantine and is likely to be available for the first match.

Devdutt Padikkal has rejoined the Royal Challengers squad after recovering from COVID-19. The opener trained with his team-mates on Wednesday and should be fit to play. They will also be without Finn Allen and Adam Zampa, who are yet to complete their quarantine upon arriving in India.

Likely XIs

Mumbai Indians: 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 Ishan Kishan (wk), 3 Suryakumar Yadav, 4 Hardik Pandya, 5 Kieron Pollard, 6 James Neesham, 7 Krunal Pandya, 8 Nathan Coulter-Nile/Jayant Yadav, 9 Rahul Chahar, 10 Trent Boult, 11 Jasprit Bumrah.

Royal Challengers Bangalore: 1 Virat Kohli (capt), 2 Devdutt Padikkal, 3 AB de Villiers, 4 Glenn Maxwell, 5 Mohammed Azharuddeen (wk), 6 Daniel Christian, 7 Washington Sundar, 8 Kyle Jamieson, 9 Navdeep Saini, 10 Mohammed Siraj, 11 Yuzvendra Chahal. (ESPNCricinfo)

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