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Ponting backs Pant in IPL, fans grab all tickets in Chennai

Rishabh Pant wicket keeping skills and batting order may have been under scrutiny in the recent ODI series, but he has the backing of Delhi Capitals coach Ricky Ponting ahead of the IPL. "I think it's actually a big job for me and the coaches when he comes in, to make him forget what's happened in the last few days," Pointing said. "He's probably lucky it happened in the last couple of games. It would have been hard to play all five games under that kind of pressure. Now he's back in a competition where he has dominated in the past. If he can win a couple of games for us then everything will be forgotten. I can't see anyone better than him as a second wicketkeeper in that Indian World Cup squad."

For 11 seasons as ‘Daredevils’, the Delhi franchisee hardly lived up to its name. Armed with very few takeaways from the past decade and now rechristened as ‘Delhi Capitals’, the side eyes a fresh beginning. Daredevils made past the league phase three times in the first five editions. Once the trio of Virender Sehwag, Kevin Pietersen and Mahela Jayawardene left the team, Delhi remained among the also-rans, as finding the right balance was its the biggest struggle. Last year, the team bought Gautam Gambhir to lead and replaced him after the side lost five out of the first six matches. Still, Delhi finished last for the third time.

Since then, Delhi has made some smart choices that have given the team a fair chance to be in the mix for the playoffs. On paper, Delhi looks more balanced than ever. Trading the trio of Vijay Shankar, Shahbaz Nadeem and Abhishek Sharma for Shikhar Dhawan from Sunrisers Hyderabad brought in an experienced opener the side needed. With Dhawan joining Prithvi Shaw at the top, followed by skipper Shreyas Iyer, Colin Munro, Chris Morris and Rishabh Pant, Delhi’s batting surely looks quite formidable. Spinners Axar Patel — bought from Kings XI Punjab despite his ordinary showing in the past season — and Amit Mishra, also lend depth to batting. The pace bowlers — Kagiso Rabada, Trent Boult and Ishant Sharma — complete the line-up capable of upstaging better known title-aspirants.

The Kings XI Punjab started IPL 2018 brilliantly and were on course for a top four finish, but they stumbled in the second part of the league, losing five matches in a row. They eventually finished seventh in the competition. The Punjab team have retained their core players - KL Rahul, Chris Gayle, Ravichandran Ashwin and David Miller. However, some new inclusions to the side such as Nicholas Pooran and Moises Henriques will strengthen their middle order. Skipper Ashwin, after the injury in Australia, will be hoping to regain full fitness and bamboozle batsmen in the IPL this season. After being ruled out of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, Tamil Nadu mystery spinner Varun Chakravarthy is fit again and has joined the Kings XI Punjab camp. A spinner with seven different variations, Varun was bought by Kings XI for INR 8.4 crore (USD 1.17 million approx) at the auction.

At the other end of the country, ticket sales have opened in Chennai for this year's tournament opener between defending champions Chennai Super Kings and Royal Challengers Bangalore on March 23. Super Kings had finished the league stage second last season before beating Sunrisers Hyderabad in the first qualifier as well as the final. With a week left for the opening match, fans have started queuing up and snatched all the tickets within hours.

Without much fanfare Chennai Super Kings skipper M.S. Dhoni kickstarted the final phase of the team’s practice session at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium. The skipper arrived in the city and got down to business immediately, giving tips to medium-pacer Mohit Sharma before having a long chat with coach Stephen Fleming, who also had his first day in office. CSK, which won a record-equalling third title last year after making a comeback after two years in the wilderness, will hope to start its title defence on a winning note in front of home fans. Bowling consultant Eric Simmons was seen guiding pacer Shardul Thakur while batsmen like Suresh Raina, M. Vijay, Ambati Rayudu and few others had extensive hits in the nets with batting coach Michael Hussey keeping a close watch. While most of the Indian players have joined the camp, the foreign players are expected to arrive shortly.

For RCB, last year was yet another season of disappointment as the side finished sixth in the league, winning only six games and failing to advance to the IPL Playoffs. Subsequently, the franchise made wholesale changes, parting ways with head coach Daniel Vettori, batting and fielding coach Trent Woodhill, and bowling coach Andrew McDonald. As many as nine players, including Brendon McCullum, Corey Anderson and Chris Woakes, were released while Quinton de Kock was sold to Mumbai Indians. Mandeep Singh was traded to Kings XI Punjab in exchange for Marcus Stoinis. At the auction, RCB bought nine players, including Shimron Hetmyer and Mumbai all-rounder Shivam Dubey. This time, RCB will hope for a turnaround in fortunes. Stoinis was in great form in the BBL while Hetmyer looks like the most talented batsman to have emerged from the Caribbean since Brian Lara. RCB will also have to consider the availability of overseas internationals with the World Cup around the corner. Kohli and the think-tank have much to ponder.

India allrounder Hardik Pandya has regained full fitness and has joined Mumbai Indians' preparatory camp. Hardik had been rested by the Indian team management for the entire limited overs series against Australia due to "lower back stiffness." During the time away from the national team, Pandya was at the NCA in Bengaluru for rehabilitation. On Thursday, Hardik even tweeted a video of him batting at the nets, asking fans who he was trying to imitate.

The Sunrisers Hyderabad performed exceedingly well in the last season, even though they lost their captain David Warner because of his involvement in the ball-tampering saga in South Africa. Kane Williamson took over as skipper and led them to the final of the tournament, where they lost to Chennai Super Kings by eight wickets. The Sunrisers have retained most of their core players, but the big change for them this time would be the absence of Shikhar Dhawan. He was traded for Abhishek Sharma, Vijay Shankar, Shahbaz Nadeem from the Delhi Daredevils. The management will hope for Rashid Khan, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Siddarth Kaul and Sandeep Sharma to come up with the goods once again.

There were whispers as early as March 2018 that Sourav Ganguly was advising Parth Jindal, the new franchise head, on matters regarding Delhi Capital (formerly Delhi Daredevils). It was announced that Ganguly has been signed as an advisor, although the exact nature of his role is yet unclear. Ganguly was part of KKR's leadership for three seasons, and finished his IPL career with Pune Warriors in 2013.

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