Defending champions Mumbai Indians, captained by Rohit Sharma, will square off against 2012 winners Kolkata Knight Riders, led by veteran opener Gautam Gambhir, in the event-opener at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium here.

The UAE is hosting the high-profile T20 event's first leg from April 16 to 30 owing to a clash of dates with the Indian general elections and security concerns emanating from that.

The tournament will return to India on May 2 after being assured of security in states where voting would be over by that time.

The razzmatazz, which has made IPL a magnet for both the fans and the cricketers world over, is not expected to just vanish because of the unsavoury scandal but the organizers have promised to tone down the glamour bit.

To start with, there would not be any opening ceremony this year, replaced by a gala dinner for the teams where Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan, co-owner of the Kolkata Knight Riders franchise, is one among the stars who is expected to perform.

But when the curtains go up on perhaps the most popular domestic cricket tournament in the world, focus will also be on the off-field matters in the backdrop of the ongoing Supreme Court monitored investigation into the betting scandal in which some big names of the league have been implicated.

For one, BCCI President N Srinivasan and Chennai Super Kings co-owner N Srinivasan has been forced to step aside and the event's COO Sundar Raman is also under the scanner.

Its reputation might have taken a beating but what is likely to remain unchanged is the fans' adulation for the IPL.

Even though UAE is foreign land, finding a fan-base for the tournament has not been much of an issue due to the huge expat population which has shown its support to the event by buying off tickets within a few days of them going on sale.

But questions have been raised about the choice of UAE as a venue to host the event given its history of being a hot-bed of match-fixers. The IPL organisers have tried to justify it by saying that the decision was based purely on logistical grounds.

The negative buzz at the start of the tournament notwithstanding, cricket will take centrestage when the matches start and focus would be on the multi-million dollar buys who would be aiming to justify their fat pay cheques.

Among them would be Indian all-rounder Yuvraj Singh, the costliest buy of this year's auction who coped a massive fan backlash after his flop show in the recent World T20 final.

Bought for Rs 14 crore by the Royal Challengers Bangalore, Yuvraj would be under pressure to prove his worth in the backdrop of the World T20 debacle.
Also, England swashbuckler Kevin Pietersen, bought for Rs nine crore by the Delhi Daredevils, would be aiming for a fresh start after his national career was abruptly cut short when the ECB decided to dump him for issues other then just cricket.

Wicketkeeper-batsman Dinesh Karthik would also be watched closely after Delhi splurged more than Rs 12 crore to hire his services.

Not to forget the domestic players, who would be aiming to come into national reckoning riding on good IPL performances.

The IPL has been nothing short of a boon for them given the quick buck they stand to make besides gaining popularity with just a couple of rocking knocks or magical spells.

The tournament, which will culminate with the summit clash on June 1 in Mumbai, offers a mind-boggling prize cheque of Rs 10 crore to the winning team out of a total purse of Rs 30 crore.

In tomorrow's high-profile clash, which seems perfect to kick off the tournament, Mumbai, despite being the defending champions, are slight favourites even though the impressive balance that KKR seems to have attained after some smart buys in the players' auction.

KKR, which retained just two players from last season's team (Gambhir and spinner Sunil Narine), seems quite solid with the inclusion of some value players such as Australian express bowler Pat Cummins and Indian pacer Umesh Yadav.

(Agencies)

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