Chennai and Rajasthan back in IPL after corruption scandals

Sunrisers Hyderabad cricket player Alex Hales takes a selfie with team members during the unveiling of the team's new signings in Hyderabad, India, Thursday, April 5, 2018. The VIVO IPL T20 cricket tournament is scheduled to begin on April 7. (AP Photo /Mahesh Kumar A.)

MUMBAI, India (AP) Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings, the inaugural champion and runner-up 10 years ago, make their comebacks from corruption scandals when the Indian Premier League starts on Saturday.

Chennai, which reached six of the first eight finals and won two of them, and Rajasthan were suspended from the 2016 and 2017 leagues for match-fixing and illegal betting and replaced by Gujarat Lions and Rising Pune Supergiant.

Pune reached the final last year and lost to the Mumbai Indians by one run but it and Gujarat are gone, and the defending champions stage the opening match against Chennai.

Chennai, led by Mahendra Singh Dhoni, has banked on experience to hit the ground running. It has bought former Mumbai offspinner Harbhajan Singh and in Suresh Raina, Faf du Plessis and Dwayne Bravo, has high hopes of winning a record-tying third title.

Rajasthan was to be captained by Steve Smith, but he and David Warner, who was also to lead Hyderabad Sunrisers, were barred from the IPL after they were issued 12-month bans by Cricket Australia for cheating in a test against South Africa two weeks ago.

Ajinkya Rahane took over the leadership of Rajasthan, which spent a lot in buying Jaydev Unadkat, Jofra Archer, and Ben Stokes to run through allcomers. England allrounder Stokes was bought for a draft-high $1.96 million despite facing a court trial for an alleged street fight last September following a one-day international against West Indies.

Hyderabad replaced Warner with New Zealand captain Kane Williamson, the only non-Indian to lead one of the eight franchises. It has retained 12 of last year’s team which reached the playoffs only to be undone by rain. Afghanistan spin duo Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi could be handy for them on the slow Indian pitches while Shikhar Dhawan will be paired with England’s Alex Hales to open the innings in the absence of Warner.

Mumbai has also kept the core of the champion 2017 side under Rohit Sharma. They feature Jasprit Bumrah, brothers Hardik and Krunal Pandya, and Kieron Pollard.

India skipper Virat Kohli had a forgettable IPL last year when his Royal Challengers Bangalore finished last. Labeled as underachievers, Bangalore has jettisoned Chris Gayle and attracted two more of the best cricketers in the world, Brendon McCullum and AB de Villiers.

Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan’s Kolkata Knight Riders parted ways with captain Gautam Gambhir and brought in wicketkeeper Dinesh Karthik to lead. Kolkata suffered a setback when Australian fast bowler Mitchell Starc was ruled out due to a tibia strain. However, in Chris Lynn and Andre Russell it hopes to make the playoffs on batting.

Gambhir returned to lead his home team Delhi Daredevils. The temperamental Gambhir, who will be working with coach Ricky Ponting, has Glenn Maxwell and Colin Munro as batsmen, but the bowling was handicapped this week when South Africa paceman Kagiso Rabada was ruled out for three months with lower back stress.

Kings XI Punjab has gambled on Gayle, who was picked late after going unsold at the auction. They have the joint second most expensive Indian player in Lokesh Rahul and a new captain in Ravichandran Ashwin. Andrew Tye and Aaron Finch are their most expensive overseas players and they retained bowling allrounder Axar Patel.

The television rights over the next five years were grabbed by Star India for $2.55 billion, of which $4 million is the winner’s prize money following the final at Mumbai on May 27.