The Delhi franchise ended runners-up last season in the UAE and would be aiming to go one better this time and a good start would be what they will be looking for.
Three-time champions CSK had a forgettable season last year, finishing at seventh out of eight teams and they would also be seeking a winning start in their bid to make amends of a poor IPL 2020.
Keeper-batsman Pant, anointed to captaincy in the absence of injured Shreyas Iyer, has said recently that he would put his learning from Dhoni to use in DC’s season opener.
“My first match as captain will be against Mahi bhai (MS Dhoni). It will be a good experience for me as I have learned a lot from him. I’ll apply my own experience and learning from him,” Pant had said recently.
Delhi’s strong batting line up of Shikhar Dhawan, Prithvi Shaw, Ajinkya Rahane, Steven Smith and Pant himself will look to fire on all cylinders right from the opening game.
Dhawan (618 runs) was the second highest run-scorer in IPL 2020 and looked in good touch in the recent ODI series against England. He would be raring to go this season.
Shaw will be itching to prove his worth after amassing 827 runs in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. It is most likely that Shaw and Dhawan would open.
Captain Pant, a hard-hitting batsman, is in the form of his life, having emerged as a match-winner for India in the series against Australia and England. He would like to continue his good run.
The Delhi team also possesses the likes of all-rounder Marcus Stonis, Shimron Hetymar and Sam Billings but will have to get their team combination right, as only four overseas players can feature in the playing XI.
They have enough options to choose from the battery of pacers comprising Ishant Sharma, Kagiso Rabada, Umesh Yadav, Chris Woakes and Anrich Nortje.
Even if the South African duo of Rabada and Nortje misses out the first game as they joined the team just a few days back, DC have enough firepower and experience in the bowling department.
Also, playing a key role on a sluggish Wankhede track would be the spinners — Ravichandran Ashwin and Amit Mishra, though Axar Patel will not be available as he tested positive for COVID-19 last Saturday.
On the other hand, Chennai will be bolstered by the return of the experienced batsman Suresh Raina, who is their all-time leading run-scorer, with 5,368 runs.
Raina will strengthen the top-order, which has the likes of young Ruturaj Gaikwad, South African Faf Du Plessis and Ambati Rayudu.
With the likes of young Sam Curran, who almost pulled off a win for England in the final ODI against India, and Moeen Ali, along with great finisher Dhoni, Chennai also have a stable middle-order.
Their bowling attack will be led by the ever-improving Shardul Thakur, who can also bat, and Deepak Chahar. And then there is Ravindra Jadeja, the wily left-arm spinner, who can also be handy with the bat.
Behind the closed doors at the Wankhede Stadium, which was ravaged by a slew of COVID-19 cases before it was cleared to host matches, it remains to be seen whether Pant is able to outsmart Dhoni, or ‘MSD’ has his way.
Delhi Capitals: Rishabh Pant (c & wk), Shikhar Dhawan, Prithvi Shaw, Ajinkya Rahane, Shimron Hetmyer, Marcus Stoinis, Chris Woakes, R Ashwin, Amit Mishra, Lalit Yadav, Pravin Dubey, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Ishant Sharma, Avesh Khan, Steve Smith, Umesh Yadav, Ripal Patel, Vishnu Vinod, Lukman Meriwala, M Siddarth, Tom Curran, Sam Billings
Chennai Super Kings: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (c & wk), Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, KM Asif, Deepak Chahar, Dwayne Bravo, Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir, N Jagadeesan, Karn Sharma, Lungi Ngidi, Mitchell Santner, Ravindra Jadeja, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shardul Thakur, Sam Curran, R Sai Kishore, Moeen Ali, K Gowtham, Cheteshwar Pujra, Harishankar Reddy, Bhagath Varma, C Hari Nishaanth