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    IPL begins search for an image makeover in its seventh season

    "When it comes to June 1, it is only cricket that will be uppermost in everybody's mind." That comment by the Supreme Court-appointed Indian Premier League (IPL) boss Sunil Gavaskar left no doubt that standing in front of a mirror, the IPL appears anything but cricket.

    Badly hurt by the spot-fixing scandal, the league will once again try to get back on its legs in the seventh edition that will make its second appearance overseas after 2009 - in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

    The decision to move the initial phase of the league out of India was forced on the BCCI as the Indian govt, amid the ongoing General Elections, couldn't spare security forces for a cricket tournament. Hence, the BCCI had to decide, which it finally did, favouring the UAE over Bangladesh and South Africa.

    But such damaging has been the effect of spot-fixing and betting embarrassment that the opening ceremony was converted to a gala dinner, with lot less glitz and shine usually associated with an IPL curtain-raiser over the last six years. Clearly, Gavaskar wants cricket to take centrestage.

    The UAE will host 20 matches at three venues in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah between April 16 and 30, after which IPL 7 will return to India for its culminiating phase until the final on June 1. But some eyebrows were raised over the choice of UAE as the alternate venue, considering India refused to play there after the fixing fiasco in 2000.

    However, when the curtains are finally lifted on Wednesday, Mumbai Indians will begin their title defence against the 2012 champions Kolkata Knight Riders at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Incidentally, though, the first day of IPL 7 will also witness courtroom drama with another Supreme Court hearing in the IPL scandal due the same day.

    On the field, the league brings with it a golden opportunity for the youngsters to show their mettle and India discards like Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir to press for a national comeback.

    Also on that list will be Yuvraj Singh, who, after his horror show at the ICC World Twenty20, is just one failure away from being once again axed from the India squad, which could be detrimental to his chances of playing the 2015 World Cup. The left-hander will also want to prove that he is worth the Rs. 14 crore Royal Challengers Bangalore splurged on him at the players' auction.

    The Pathan brothers - Irfan and Yusuf - will also be keen to flaunt their limited-overs-cricket skills; and with their all-round skills, it won't be a surprise if they spring back into contention for an India cap after a successful IPL 7.

    India's domestic stars will be out to impress as well and leading that list will be names like Ricky Bhui, CV Milind, Baba Aparajith, Kuldeep Yadav, Ankush Bains, Deepak Hooda, Karn Sharma, Kedar Jadhav and Rishi Dhawan.

    It will also be an important outing for axed England veteran Kevin Pietersen, who, while leading Delhi Daredevils, will like to prove a point to the ECB.

    Among the favourites to win the trophy will be defending champions Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders, who appear to be the most balanced sides on paper with red-hot allrounders Kieron Pollard and Corey Anderson (MI) and Jacques Kallis, Yusuf Pathan and Shakib Al Hasan (KKR) in the mix.

    The side that may turn out to be the surprise package of IPL 7 appears to be Kings XI Punjab. They were talked of as the most intelligent buyers at the 2014 players' auction, bagging Virender Sehwag, Mitchell Johnson and Glenn Maxwell as the leaders of batting, bowling and allrounders' departments respectively.

    RCB's hopes of winning their maiden IPL trophy will rest on their batsmen, with the quartet of Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers and Yuvraj Singh capable of winning games single-handedly. Though lack of depth in bowling may hurt their campaign.

    The Rajasthan Royals will want to come out of the spot-fixing scandal that jeopardised their promising campaign last year. The franchise will continue to weave through the tournament in their customary workman-like fashion, trusting the skills of their enterprising squad mentored by Rahul Dravid and led by Shane Watson.

    Chennai Super Kings are in the same boat as RR, as far as the courtroom battles are concerned, while remaining their formidable-self on the field. CSK retained the nucleus of their squad - MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Dwayne Bravo, Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin - and added more muscle at the auction by buying Faf du Plessis, Brendon Mccullum and Dwayne Smith.

    For Delhi Daredevils, it will be a fresh start with an overhauled set-up that will be looked after by India's World Cup-winning coach Gary Kirsten and led by Pietersen. And their biggest challenge will lie in getting the squad to gel together in a short period of time.

    Sunrisers Hyderabad will want to enhance the reputation they built in their debut season last year. Like CSK, they too managed to keep their good performers from last year together by retaining Dale Steyn and skipper Shikhar Dhawan and by buying back Amit Mishra, Darren Sammy and Ishant Sharma at the auction. Besides, they managed to lap up Aussie powerhouses David Warner and Aaron Finch, which further fortified their squad.

    But the focus will not just be on which team graces the podium on June 1, but how clean a show the league manages to put up to win back the trust it has lost over the last two years.