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Captains and senior players of the nine Indian Premier League teams with the trophy ahead of the season 16 opener at Narendra Modi Stadium. Image Credit: Source: IPL

Dubai: All eyes will be on England all-rounder Ben Stokes as he begins a fresh stint with the Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League Season 16 opener against defending champions Gujarat Titans at Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on Friday.

The conservative Super Kings broke the bank to secure the services of the England Test captain, who has been pivotal in the Three Lions winning both the whiteball World Cups. His presence in the Yellow dugout will be a big boost for the four-time champions, who will be eager to move up the ladder after finishing ninth in the 10-team table in the expanded season 15.

With Stokes still recovering from a treatment to his troublesome knee, the left-hander primarily will be playing as a specialist batter at least in the early part of the tournament. So what will be his role is the biggest question among the Chennai fans?

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England all-rounder Moeen Ali leaving for a practice session on the eve of the opener against Gujarat Titans in Ahmedabad. Image Credit: Source: CSK Twitter

Ideally, the left-hander should be at No 3, a slot famously held by Suresh Raina, hailed as the ‘chinna thalai’ (deputy leader), by the ardent Chennai fans. Raina was once the highest run-scorer in IPL and now stands fifth in the list despite missing out on the 2021 and 2022 seasons. Such was his impact for the Chennai outfit.

Perfect fit

Ruturaj Gaikwad has cemented his place as the opener, while New Zealander Devon Conway has been a perfect replacement for the dependable Faf du Plessis, who has been bought by Royal Challengers Bangalore last year. Another England all-rounder Moeen Ali has been in and out of the No 3 slot.

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Stokes will be perfect fit for the spot, which requires a good technique to play the spin and pace and his wide-range of strokes will give him the advantage. The left-hander, arguably one of the best in shorter formats in the world, getting more overs should also help CSK wrest the advantage, while Moeen Ali, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja could give the finishing touches.

However, Chennai, who have lost both their previous meetings with the Titans in thrilling close contests, will have to be on top of their game against the defending champions, who are led by Hardik Pandya, who’s tactics and approach is similar to that of his idol and former Indian captain MSD.

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Hardik Pandya has played a big role with the ball, getting some key breakthroughs. The Gujarat skipper dismisses Rajasthan's Jos Buttler in the final last year. Image Credit: Sportspics/BCCI

Potent bowling

Gujarat have a variety in batting, filled with some dangerous finishers. The inclusion of Kane Williamson, who has rediscovered his touch for New Zealand, will lend stability to their batting. However, the smart tactics and the way Pandya has used his arsenal to good effect have played a big part in the debutants’ winning the league last year.

Titans have a more potent bowling that revolves around Rashid Khan, Mohammed Shami, Ravisrinivasan Sai Kishore and Afghanistan chinaman bowler Noor Ahmed, and the variety could test even the best.

Gujarat, playing at the same venue where they won the final against Rajasthan Royals almost a year ago, have the potential to extend their stunning run this season, but their rivals will be ready with counter-offensive, that might pose a few tricky questions for the Titans.

Still, Pandya and Miller, who has failed miserably in the past before redeeming himself in the last season, need to reproduce their same form with the bat, when they pulled their team out of the woods on several occasions. Will they achieve it? Wait for the umpires to call play.