Mumbai Indians take on SA's Highveld Lions in opener
The glitzy Champions League Twenty20 gets underway on Friday under the watchful eyes of the International Cricket Council's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) and the shadow of the spot-fixing scandal that has shaken the core of the game.
Featuring the top three Indian Premier League teams and the top two from Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, South Africa and the West Indies, the two-week tournament opens with Indian Premier League runners-up Mumbai Indians taking on Highveld Lions (South Africa).
Organisers say the tournament will have strict anti-corruption measures in place to ensure that the menace of spot-fixing, which led to the suspension of three Pakistani cricketers, does not find a mention in the event.
Image: Mumbai Indians team
IPL teams were unimpressive last year
Apart from Mumbai, the other Indian teams in the fray are IPL champions Chennai Super Kings and third-place finishers Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Australia will be represented by South Australian Redbacks and Victorian Bushrangers, while South Africa are represented by Warriors and Highveld Lions.
Central Stags (New Zealand), Wayamba Elevens (Sri Lanka) and Guyana (West Indies) are the other three teams that make up the competition.
None of the IPL teams could make an impression in the event last year and the three playing this year will be looking to make amends for the flop-show in the previous edition.
Image: Royal Challengers Bangalore
'The biggest challenge is getting acclimatized to the conditions'
Leading the pack is Mahendra Singh Dhoni's Chennai Super Kings, which has a formidable line-up of big-hitters like Matthew Hayden, Mike Hussey, Suresh Raina, Albie Morkel and Justin Kemp. And with leading Test off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan in their blowing line-up they are favourites to advance to the semi-finals from Group A, which also comprises Warriors, Victoria, Wayamba and Central Stags.
Bangalore, who were in the field even the last time around, also have a strong batting line-up to boast of, with the ever-reliable Rahul Dravid, explosive New Zealander Ross Taylor and the versatile South African Jacques Kallis.
Their bowling is led by inspirational skipper Anil Kumble, with Dale Steyn adding zing to the pace attack.
Kallis normally plays for Warriors, while Taylor pads up for Central Stags, but both were bought by the IPL franchise after paying US $200,000 compensation to their respective state teams.
"The biggest challenge is how quickly you acclimatize to the conditions and the need to start well in the tournament," said Kumble.
Image: Chennai Super Kings' captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni (left) with teammate Albie Morkel
Underdogs Lions will look for winning start
Sachin Tendulkar's Mumbai, on the other hand, also have a formidable look, their batting having the firepower of South African big-hitter JP Duminy and West Indies sensation Kieron Pollard.
Their bowling has pacers Zaheer Khan and Sri Lankan Lasith Malinga, and ace spinner Harbhajan Singh.
"We have champions from all cricketing nations, so it's as tough as it can get. It is competitive ... and we have world-class players participating," said Tendulkar.
Mumbai is grouped with Bangalore, the Highveld Lions, South Australia and Guyana.
Highveld Lions, who they face in the opener, can be tagged as underdogs. They will be banking on batsmen Alviro Petersen and Neil McKenzie to match up to Mumbai's might.
The matches in the tournament will be played in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Port Elizabeth, with the final on September 26.
Image: Sachin Tendulkar (left) greets Mahendra Singh Dhoni