Kohli versus Dhoni as IPL begins with a clash of two of India's greatest cricketers

NEW DELHI (AP) — Virat Kohli against MS Dhoni. For the lucrative Indian Premier League and its billion-plus audience, the head-to-head encounter is a perfect prime time opener for the eight-week season.

Kohli and Royal Challengers Bengaluru go to Chennai on Friday to face Dhoni and the defending champion Super Kings.

Kohli returns to action after missing international cricket for nearly two months — he skipped India’s test series win over England owing to the birth of his second child.

Dhoni returns from 10 months out. He surprised on Thursday when he gave up the Chennai captaincy he's mainly held since the league started in 2008. Ruturaj Gaikwad has the armband.

Dhoni previously wasn't captain briefly in 2022, but was restored and continued in 2023 when he led Chennai to a record-equaling fifth IPL title. He announced then his intention to retire at the end of this season.

“He (Dhoni) is the greatest ever captain, and I am very lucky that I have spent some time with him over the years,” Bengaluru skipper Faf du Plessis told broadcaster Star Sports. “That’s probably the biggest thing in my career, my years at Chennai. It shaped me from a leadership perspective, just observing MS. As a young leader, it was special to my growth.”

Three-time runner-up Bengaluru has never won the IPL but its women’s team ended the franchise’s trophy drought by winning the Women’s IPL last Sunday.

Meanwhile, India captain Rohit Sharma has made way for a new skipper at Mumbai Indians. Allrounder Hardik Pandya was brought in through a high-profile player trade with Gujarat Titans in November.

Pandya, who played for five-time champion Mumbai from 2015-21, signed with Gujarat ahead of the 2022 IPL. He captained the new franchise to a maiden title that season and they finished runner-up to Chennai in 2023.

Mumbai won all five of its titles under Sharma, the last in 2020. A barren three-year run prompted a first regime change after 11 years, which has sparked backlash among the Mumbai fan base.

“This team has achieved all of its glory under him (Rohit), so it won’t be any different because he will always be there to help me out if I need his help,” Pandya told a news conference. “From now on, it will just be me carrying forward what he has started."

Shubman Gill has the captaincy at Gujarat Titans in his first major leadership stint.

Meanwhile, wicketkeeper-batter Rishabh Pant has been declared fit for cricket at the highest level. Pant has recovered from knee and back injuries since being in a car accident in December 2022. He will lead the Delhi Capitals again, having previously led them to the 2020 final.

Yashasvi Jaiswal, who scored 712 runs against England in the recent five-test series, will pair at the top with England's Jos Buttler for Rajasthan Royals.

Australia pace duo Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins became the two most expensive IPL players during the auction in December.

Starc returns to the IPL for the first time since 2015, when he played for Bengaluru. Kolkata Knight Riders have paid Starc about $3 million for his services.

Sunrisers Hyderabad shelled out nearly $2.5 million for Cummins, who will lead the team.

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AP cricket: https://apnews.com/hub/cricket