Chennai Super Kings may be two-time defending champions but Mumbai Indians look like the team to beat in IPL 2012. It took a Chris Gayle special to keep them out of the final last season and the franchise has since added to its already formidable squad through astute transfers and auction buys.
One of Mumbai's biggest weaknesses lay behind the stumps, so they acquired Dinesh Karthik, one of India's better keepers and an aggressive batsman. They strengthened their bowling with the additions of RP Singh and Pragyan Ojha, two of the top four highest wicket-takers in the IPL; and when Andrew Symonds abruptly retired, they seized the opportunity to sign the record-breaking South Africa opener, Richard Levi, to partner Sachin Tendulkar at the top of the order, thereby solving another of their problems.
The team will also be brimming with confidence after winning the 2011 Champions League T20 despite missing Sachin Tendulkar and Davy Jacobs, their first choice opening pair. Under the gritty captaincy of Harbhajan Singh, Mumbai pulled off one unlikely win after another before toppling Royal Challengers in the final.
With such an abundance of talent, the biggest challenge for Mumbai will likely be deciding whom to leave on the bench. Kieron Pollard and Lasith Malinga, the Champions League Man-of-the-Tournament, are automatic selections. If Levi opens alongside Tendulkar, that leaves just one more spot for a foreign player from among the likes of Clint McKay, Herschelle Gibbs, Mitchell Johnson, James Franklin and Thisara Perera. As problems go, it's one every franchise would wish they had.
A perennial favourite, Mumbai failed to win the IPL in the first four years, coming closest in 2010, when they lost the final to Super Kings. This season could well be the year they end their drought.
Sachin Tendulkar was Mumbai's leading run-maker by a considerable distance in 2011 and the third highest in the league overall. With the chase for his 100th hundred over, and Richard Levi at the other end potentially providing the fireworks, Tendulkar can concentrate on building his innings and providing the platform from which the team's big hitters can let loose.
The top two wicket-takers last season were Mumbai fast bowlers Lasith Malinga and Munaf Patel. The pair not only took a combined 50 wickets, but they were hard to score off, boasting economy rates of 5.95 for Malinga and 6.58 for Munaf. If they can repeat those kinds of performances, Mumbai will be very hard to beat.