IPL 14 opens in style with two huge teams facing off in Chennai and Matt Harris is backing Mumbai Indians to claim the points...
"Virat Kohli and AB De Villiers are key wickets but Mumbai will also need to target Devdutt Padikkal who added vital runs at the top of the order last season."
Mumbai Indians v Royal Challengers Bangalore
Friday April 9th, 15:00 BST
Live on Sky Sports Cricket
Familiar faces for defending champions
Mumbai Indians' starting XI will look familiar as the franchise aims for an unprecedented three IPL wins in succession. There's no reason to change a winning formula so, barring injury and illness, Rohit Sharma, Kieron Pollard, Jasprit Bumrah, Trent Boult and the Pandya brothers will be among those waiting to kick off this title defence.
Quinton de Kock is missing Friday's opener as he passes through mandatory quarantine so Mumbai may bring in Chris Lynn as batting cover with Ishan Kishan taking the gloves. Lynn was underused in 2020 but he's subsequently enjoyed another productive Big Bash and is a reliable back up.
The opening pace unit is backed by good balance among the support bowlers and this is a formidable Mumbai squad that should breeze through the group phase.
Changes at Royal Challengers
While the regular core of RCB's squad remains, there have been a number of changes among the overseas roster. Moeen Ali and Aaron Finch, who played in Bangalore's last match of 2020 have both been jettisoned as the owners look to finally find an effective balance.
Daniel Sams is absent for now but Royal Challengers are likely to give a debut to the exciting Kiwi paceman Kyle Jamieson. His power hitting compatriot Finn Allen is a late replacement for Josh Philippe while Dan Christian and Glenn Maxwell have also been brought in.
Maxwell is under pressure to perform and received criticism from Gautam Gambhir this week over his consistency. Dan Christian may actually be a better option in the late middle order but whoever is picked, they must take some of the batting responsibilities away from Virat Kohli and AB De Villiers.
All clear in Chennai
There should be no issues with the weather on a hot and dry day in Chennai with temperatures peaking at around 33 degrees Celsius. The M.A. Chidambaram Stadium provides a neutral venue for this opening contest but, if we go back to 2019, the trends are good for backers of the reigning champions.
Chennai Super Kings won six of eight matches in their home stadium while both of their defeats came against Mumbai Indians. In contrast, Royal Challengers opened IPL 12 here in embarrassing fashion by making just 70 in a seven wicket loss to CSK.
Overall, the M.A. Chidambaram was one of the lower scoring grounds two years ago. The average first innings score was 144 from those eight games and wins were evenly distributed between the sides taking first knock and the chasing teams.
It shouldn't be a surprise to see Mumbai Indians listed as clear favourites for Friday's game. The defending champions are available at 1.758/11 while Royal Challengers Bangalore trail behind at 2.3211/8. As always, Virat Kohli and AB De Villiers are key wickets but Mumbai will also need to target Devdutt Padikkal who added vital runs at the top of the order last season.
There's some potential for the outsiders to deliver: One big innings from within the Royal Challengers camp has upset many predictions over the years. Mumbai also began last season's title defence with a loss as they went down to CSK while the toss could be vital with the recent trend for T20 matches to go with the chasing side.
You may prefer to wait for that toss but, based purely on the comparative strengths of the two squads, I'm staking on Mumbai.
In the season when Virat Kohli came close to making a thousand IPL runs, I claimed regular profits by backing both the skipper and AB De Villiers in Bangalore's top batsman market. That could be a strategy to consider for 2021 but De Villiers usually offers the better odds.
This time, the two are much closer with Kohli at 2.915/8 and De Villiers at 3.02/1, Devdutt Padikkal was the likely back up in 2020 if the favourites failed and he's currently listed at 4.03/1 with Finn Allen at 4.57/2.
RCB's top batter market is usually contested between a small pool of players and this season should follow that pattern. Kohli is the more explosive but De Villiers is a reliable deputy and the South African is my pick.
Chennai may not offer the highest scoring ground in the competition but Mumbai and Royal Challengers can get IPL 14 off to a fast start. Power hitting and clearing the ropes is the key to most T20 matches and the Most Sixes market has some interesting odds.
Mumbai Indians are favourites once again at 1.774/5 but Bangalore's 2.77/4 is an impressive figure. Kohli, De Villiers, Allen, Padikkal, Maxwell and others can deliver the profit here even if RCB lose the match.