With a lot of potential off-field distractions, two-time former champion Chennai Super Kings will look to bring the focus back on its cricket when it takes on a revamped Kings XI Punjab in its IPL opener here on Friday.

“There’s a lot going on, I won’t lie. There are a lot of distractions (leading up to the tournament). I think we were all uncertain about how it was going to play out,” said coach Stephen Fleming, in a subtle reference to the betting controversy which is now under a Supreme Court-monitored investigation.

All of that apart, CSK, led by M.S. Dhoni, can safely be called one of the most consistent teams in the IPL.

This year, CSK will be without some of their most reliable stars from the past years, including Michael Hussey and Albie Morkel, after losing them in the auction. But, with a replacement like Brendon McCullum, CSK looks formidable nonetheless.

On the bowling front, West Indian leg-spinner Samuel Badree could prove to be an important player given that his confidence is sky-high after finishing the third highest wicket-taker in the recent World T20.

Up against it is Kings XI Punjab. The franchise, which until the last season had seemed lost, has made some smart purchases in the players’ auction.

Led by George Bailey, Punjab pulled off quite a masterstroke by snapping up Virender Sehwag. Even though he is no longer in his prime, on his day, the Delhi-dasher is an enthralling game-changer.

“No doubt, he will have a big impact. Having him around the group is a great thing. It will be great for him to go out and play with freedom,” Bailey had stated ahead of the tournament.

Another good move at the auction was the purchase of Mitchell Johnson. The Australian speedster is in the form of his life and is likely to be worth every one of the Rs. 6.5 crore that the KXIP splurged on him during the auction.

Besides, the team has also managed to bring back Australian batsman Shaun Marsh. Fitness-permitting, Marsh has a decent track record in the IPL and could prove to be a crucial cog in the KXIP wheel.

Given the way the two teams match up on paper, it promises to be a battle of the equals.

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