Cape Town, April 17: When the glitz and the glamour of the build-up to the Indian Premier League makes way for cricket action on Saturday, past form will not count for much.
Defending champions Rajasthan Royals could find it tough this time around, starting with their opening clash against Bangalore Royal Challengers in the second match of a double header which gets the 2009 tournament underway.
Mumbai Indians meet Chennai Super Kings, who were the runners-up last year, in the early match. The relocation of the world's richest cricket league from India to South Africa means that conditions will be different, with seam bowlers likely to get far more assistance than they did in the inaugural tournament in India last year.
The Royals had an early taste of the Newlands pitch in a warm-up match last weekend when batsmen struggled to play the sort of dominating innings that marked the first IPL.
It is a major blow for the champions will be without all-rounder Shane Watson and left-arm fast bowler Sohail Tanvir, two of the main match-winners for the underdogs who spent the least money on players but carried away the 1.2-million-dollar prize money.
The Royals, who will again be led by veteran Australian leg-spinner Shane Warne, will hope that Indian fast bowler Munaf Patel and South Africa's Morne Morkel can compensate for the loss of the two stars. In contrast to the Royals, the Challengers spent big but achieved little in the first IPL, finishing seventh of the eight teams. They are likely to be an improved side, however, with star English signing Kevin Pietersen leading the team in the only stages of the tournament and tough South African Ray Jennings cracking the whip as coach.
The Bangalore team will be boosted by the signing of Indian batsman Robin Uthappa, while South African fast bowler Dale Steyn is likely to be more effective in his home country than he was in India.
South African all-rounder Jacques Kallis and leading Indian batsman Rahul Dravid will be expected to improve on mediocre performances last time. The battle between the Mumbai and Chennai franchises should get the tournament off to a cracking start.
Mumbai Indians will be led by Indian icon Sachin Tendulkar, who missed most of the first series because of injury. Their squad had a pre-season training camp in South Africa under the direction of Shaun Pollock, appointed as team mentor, and fielding ace Jonty Rhodes.
With teams only able to field four non-Indian players, Mumbai have a stronger core of Indian stars than some of their rivals, with Tendulkar and Test bowlers Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh in their squad. Overseas aces include Sri Lanka's Sanath Jayasuriya, West Indian Dwayne Bravo and South Africa's JP Duminy.
Chennai Super Kings were runners-up last year and will again provide a formidable challenge. Led by the dynamic Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, they have been strengthened by the signing of England all-rounder Andrew Flintoff, who joins Australian batsman Matthew Hayden, South African all-rounder Albie Morkel and Sri Lankan spin bowler Muttiah Muralitharan in what looks a powerful squad.