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Rivalries set to be renewed as CSK take on GT in tournament opener

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Kolkata: The opening game of the IPL 2023 is set to write a fresh chapter in one of the newest rivalries in the tournament’s history when MS Dhoni-led Chennai Super Kings will collide with Hardik Pandya’s Gujarat Titans at the iconic Narendra Modi Stadium on March 31.

Having lifted the coveted trophy in the debut season, in what was their first and only match at home in IPL 2022, the Gujarat Titans will be looking to kick off the season with a bang against a team which has one of the best fan sides in the history of the league.

While Hardik Pandya will be banking on the home support and the unbeaten record against Chennai Super Kings in the IPL, CSK – under their talismanic skipper MS Dhoni – will be looking to set the records straight in the new season. In the two games played between these sides, Hardik Pandya secured clinical wins on both occasions and got the better of the Yellow Brigade, which had a forgettable IPL 2022.

The Titans functioned like well-oiled machinery in their debut season and coach Ashish Nehra will want his boys to begin their campaign on an emphatic note against his former franchise. However, getting past CSK isn’t going to be easy for the hosts this time around especially with MSD back at the helm from the start of the season.

The Chennai-based franchise’s decision to hand over the team’s reigns to senior pro Ravindra Jadeja two days prior to the start of the previous season didn’t yield the desired result, forcing the team management to go back to their trusted general, Dhoni, halfway through the tournament. Under the leadership of the legendary India captain, Super Kings – who were the IPL 2021 champions – will be raring to prove their mettle.

With the burden of captaincy taken away from his shoulders, Jadeja – Dhoni’s most trusted lieutenant – will be looking to give his best in the season. Former India spinner Harbhajan Singh – who lifted the IPL 2018 title with CSK – has high hopes from the Saurashtra all-rounder.

Speaking exclusively to Star Sports, former India off-spinner Harbhajan Singh said, “One player who I am going to have my eyes on will be Ravindra Jadeja. I want to see what kind of batting he’s going to do for CSK. I think he’ll be pushed higher up in the batting order (this season). As well as his four overs with the ball (will be key). If you look at world cricket currently, there’s no better all-rounder than him. So, I am looking forward to seeing Ravindra Jadeja performing in the IPL.”

Coach Stephen Fleming’s side did some fine-tuning to the squad in the IPL 2023 Auction and once again showed faith in experience when they acquired the services of a maverick from England, Ben Stokes. Bought at a staggering INR 16.25 crore bid, the all-rounder emerged as the most expensive buy for the franchise in its auction history.

Former Australia cricketer Matthew Hayden – who is also a former Super King – has backed Stokes as the X-factor for the franchise in IPL 2023. Hayden also conceded that the New Zealand-born England all-rounder hasn’t completely realised his potential in the premier T20 tournament and reckons this could be his year as the CSK regime might suit him.

Speaking exclusively to Star Sports, former Australia cricketer Matthew Hayden said, “The X-factor for CSK this season is their new signing – Ben Stokes who has never realised his potential in the IPL. And he’s one of those players and we see him play all over the world. He’s got that match-winning ability. Now under a CSK regime where it’s all about cricket. I think that he’s got the big chance to be the X-factor this season.”

Gujarat Titans, on the other hand, will be aiming to bank upon the performance of their main players, who did tremendously well in the previous edition. Gujarat Titans’ core from the IPL 2022 remains intact and that should be a big confidence booster for the side.

Speaking exclusively to Star Sports, former India cricketer Sanjay Manjrekar said, “They had the worst performance in the IPL 2022 auction but ended up winning the title. There were huge gambles they played. Take the decision of appointing Hardik Pandya as the captain for that matter. Who’d have imagined he’d become such a brilliant captain? David Miller, a long-term flop show in the IPL, suddenly had the best season and he carried that form into his international career. So, it’s a team built and supported by realists. So they are going to adjust fine and win games and I expect them to carry the same kind of confidence they had last season. The team hasn’t changed that much from the previous season.”

While highlighting the biggest strength of Gujarat Titans, Harbhajan Singh credited the team’s flexibility saying it gives them an edge over others.

Speaking exclusively to Star Sports, former India off-spinner Harbhajan Singh said, “One thing which they’ve done better than the rest is that they’ve been very flexible. They’ve never been rigid about who bats where. We saw Hardik Pandya coming up in the batting order and scoring those runs and he wasn’t just slogging the ball, he played like a proper batter for Gujarat Titans last season. He was very smart last season. Jonty Rhodes once said ‘a happy team is a winning team’ and that’s the formula this team applied. From what I gathered from Ashish Nehra and the entire team management, they were a very-very happy team.”

Former India all-rounder Irfan Pathan listed three reasons which will be crucial to Gujarat Titans’ successful campaign in IPL 2023.

Pathan said, “First of all the confidence from the previous edition as they played like a champion side and won the trophy. Second, Hardik Pandya, as he’s also leading India. This gives him an extra mental boost. And thirdly, Rashid Khan, who is always a key to success for any team in this format.”

Speaking exclusively to Star Sports, former India cricketer Murali Vijay picked up three big reasons for CSK’s success in IPL 2023, and said, “The first factor for CSK’s success will be MS Dhoni and captaincy. I think it will be crucial for CSK this season. Secondly, they are going to play matches at Chepauk which will be very crucial for us, because that’s the way this team is built up and hopefully we can utilise that advantage. The third factor should be there are a lot of all-rounders on the side this time. Hopefully, these three factors will help them qualify for the playoffs.”

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