Mumbai Indians, the most successful team in the history of Indian Premier League (IPL), will begin their title defense Friday, April 7, in the opening match of the 11th season against former champions Chennai Super Kings.
Rohit Sharma will lead the three-time champions in the new season. The Mumbai-based franchise is already being tipped as one of the favorites for the title in what is expected to be a closely-fought tournament.
MI, like in the previous seasons, have packed their squad with the all-rounders they had retained in the lead-up to the 51-day league.
Star-studded batting line-up
While Hardik Pandya was retained for Rs 11 crore ahead of the IPL auction in January, MI bought back the likes of Krunal Pandya (Rs 8.8 crore) and Kieron Pollard (Rs 5.4 crore) and managed to hold on to the core that has led them to glory in the previous seasons.
The Mahela Jayawardene-coached side has some power-hitters like skipper Rohit and West Indies star Evin Lewis at the top of its batting order. In Pollard, Hardik, and Krunal, MI have a middle-order that is rich with experience.
South Africa batsman JP Duminy, who has been in fine form in the recent past, might not even find a place in the playing XI, at least for the first few matches.
The wicketkeeping duties will be handled by former U-19 India captain Ishan Kishan, who had a decent season with Gujarat Lions in 2017 — a total of 277 runs at a strike rate of 134.46.
Bumrah, Cummins leaders of strong pace unit
Their pace department is filled with superstars. Club legend Lasith Malinga was not retained or bought back but he returns to the team as bowling coach. The onus to deliver will be on in-form pacers Jasprit Bumrah and Pat Cummins.
MI will be hoping Mustafizur Rahman returns to form in the upcoming season. Big-hitting all-rounder Ben Cutting can also give his captain a couple of overs in the middle if needed.
However, the Indians' spin department looks depleted in the absence of Karn Sharma and Harbhajan Singh, both of whom will be playing for Chennai Super Kings in IPL 2018. A lot depends on Sri Lankan mystery spinner Akila Dananjaya, who was bought at the eleventh hour of the two-day auction in Bengaluru earlier this year.
Young leg-spinner Rahul Chahar has a good opportunity to prove his mettle while Krunal will be expected to play a key role to keep opponents quiet in the middle overs.
Players to watch out for
Rohit has been in fine form in the limited-over formats of the game for the Men in Blue. The 30-year-old has hit six ODI centuries, including a double ton, since IPL 2017.
The skipper is heading into IPL 2018 on the back of two half-centuries in India's title-winning campaign in Nidahas Trophy 2018.
The onus will be on Rohit to get his team off to flyers as he will be opening the batting in the upcoming edition. The presence of Lewis at the other end will also be a big boost to the India opener, who tends to take time before hitting the big ones.
Despite the presence of the likes of Bumrah, Cummins and Mustafizur in MI's bowling line-up, all eyes will be on Dananjaya, who is their only overseas spinner.
The 24-year-old, who will be backed by coach Jayawardene, has the ability to trouble opposition batsmen as he has plenty of tricks up his sleeve. With the possibility of pitches getting slower towards the end of the tournament, Dananjaya can prove to be a handful for any opposition.
Dananjaya, who was bought at his base price of Rs 50 Lakh, can turn out to be MI's most valuable player in the upcoming season.
Predicted Playing XI — Mumbai Indians, IPL 2018
Rohit Sharma (c), Evin Lewis, Suryakumar Yadav, Hardik Pandya, Krunal Pandya, Kieron Pollard, Ishan Kishan (wk), Pat Cummins, Akila Dananjaya, Jasprit Bumrah, Rahul Chahar.
Rohit Sharma (c), Suryakumar Yadav, Krunal Pandya, Ishan Kishan (wk), Rahul Chahar, Evin Lewis, Saurabh Tiwary, Ben Cutting, Pradeep Sangwan, Jean-Paul Duminy, Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya, Kieron Pollard, Mustafizur Rahman, Pat Cummins, Tajinder Singh, Sharad Lumba, Siddhesh Lad, Aditya Tare (wk), Mayank Markande, Akila Dananjaya, Anukul Roy, Mohsin Khan, MD Nidheesh, Mitchell McClenaghan.