The Champions League Twenty20 will get off to a resounding start on Friday when the Royal Challengers Bangalore take on the Warriors, with the first game of the group stage pitting together two sides that are genuine title contenders.
Both teams came close to winning the tournament last year, with RCB reaching the semis while the Warriors ended up as the runners-up. Incidentally, both sides also finished second in their respective domestic T20 leagues this season. So confidence will be high in both camps, though the South African side has the added advantage of having played together as a unit for a longer period.
Home advantage will be with the Royal Challengers, but the absence of experienced pacer Zaheer Khan will hit them hard. Left-arm Australian fast bowler Dirk Nannes can be a replacement, but may miss out due to the restriction on the number of foreign players a team is allowed to field. Abhimanyu Mithun has shown potential, while the likes of Chris Gayle and Tillakaratne Dilshan can also chip in to stem the flow of runs. Still, skipper Daniel Vettori will have to lead from the front, with the veteran spinner capable of making life difficult for any batsman.
The key man for RCB will be Chris Gayle. The explosive West Indian opener’s exploits in IPL-4 almost single-handedly led the Bangalore side to the final, as he finished as the top-scorer with an astonishing 608 runs in 12 matches at a strike rate of 183.13.
Though short of match practice, Gayle can easily take the game away from the Warriors if he gets going. Add to that the likes of wicket-keeper batsman AB de Villiers, opener Dilshan, rising star Virat Kohli and youngster Saurabh Tiwary, and it isn’t hard to see why RCB’s chances will be so dependent on their batsmen’s performance. Dilshan and Kohli are in form as well – Dilshan got a century in the first T20I against Australia, while Kohli also made a hundred in the final ODI in England.