|| AFP ||
Mumbai Indians, armed with big-money signing Cameron Green, will bid for a record-extending sixth title when the Indian Premier League starts on Friday, in what could be Chennai veteran MS Dhoni's swansong.
The 16th edition also returns to its pre-Covid glory days, with 74 matches scheduled at 12 venues over eight weeks.
In the opener at the world's biggest cricket stadium in Ahmedabad, defending champions Gujarat Titans will play Dhoni's Chennai Super Kings.
England all-rounder Sam Curran returns to Punjab Kings after being bought for $2.23 million, making him the most expensive IPL player ever.
Green, 1.98 metres (6 feet and 6 inches) tall, joined IPL's most successful outfit Mumbai after he became the second-most expensive buy at $2.11 million in the December auction.
India spinner Ravichandran Ashwin called Green a "once-in-a-generation" cricketer after the batting all-rounder hit his maiden Test hundred in India earlier this month.
"I think he's a fantastic player. Just the raw materials for a person as tall as him, lovely levers, good batting sense, can bowl and really hit the deck well, moves pretty well on the field," Ashwin said.
Mumbai, led by India captain Rohit Sharma, will be without injured pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah but have been boosted by the return of England fast bowler Jofra Archer, who missed last season due to injury.
Dhoni and Stokes
Chennai are not far behind Mumbai with four titles -- and are five-time runners-up -- and Dhoni's towering presence as wicketkeeper-batsman and captain has been key.
Dhoni, 41, remains a huge star more than two years after his international retirement.
He said he owed a "thank you" to his Chennai fans after last year's IPL, which was held in just two cities in the group stage.
Dhoni apart, the team's success will depend on all-rounders Ravindra Jadeja, Moeen Ali and England Test skipper Ben Stokes, who was bought by the franchise for $1.96m.
According to media reports, Stokes is also being considered as a possible successor to Dhoni as Chennai captain.
Australia's David Warner, South Africans Aiden Markram and Faf du Plessis are the three overseas captains in this IPL.
Warner will lead Delhi Capitals in the absence of the injured Rishabh Pant, who suffered injuries in a car crash in December, as the team again chase their first ever IPL title.
Markram will lead 2016 winners Sunrisers Hyderabad while fellow South African Du Plessis continues as Bangalore skipper after Kohli stepped down.
The league, which began in 2008, has grown to be the world's richest cricket tournament and a huge revenue earner for the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
This year for the first time there was a women's version -- won in front of a packed house by Mumbai Indians.
IPL has overcome corruption and match-fixing scandals to generate billions for the Indian economy each year, and last season expanded to 10 teams with Gujarat and Lucknow Super Giants.
Gujarat pulled off a fairytale title win in their debut season with Hardik Pandya leading the side to victory in front of a record crowd of almost 105,000 fans at Ahmedabad's Narendra Modi Stadium.
The tournament runs until May 28.