Raipur: Sri Lankan domestic champions Southern Express face the Northern Knights of New Zealand in the opener in Raipur on Saturday.
It will be a first-hand experience for both teams to play outside the comfort zone of home and ply their skills in India. If their performances in the respective T20 competitions is anything to go by, Southern Express versus Knights could seem to be a lop-sided one with the Kiwi side holding the edge.
Where Southern Express managed to win the knockout stages of the Super 4's T20 tournament on the back of two round-robin games that produced no results due to rain, Northern Districts were more ruthless - winning eight out of their 12 league ties to claim the HRV Cup.
After having digested the fact that their star player Lasith Malinga will turn out for IPL side Mumbai Indians, the sudden call by Tillakaratne Dilshan to skip the tournament citing personal reasons have further dented the Sri Lankan outfit's chances of qualifying for the main draw.
However, the T20 side will bank on the experience of players like captain Jehan Mubarak, Farveez Maharoof and Kusal Perera to lead from the front. Southern Express are a young side with most of the players under 25, consisting of a host of bits-and-pieces players and spin-bowling allrounders.
Their strengths lie in their varied spin attack comprising senior side players like Dilruwan Perera, Seekuge Prasanna and Angelo Perera. Maharoof leads an inexperienced seam attack which is their weak link. Rookie Test wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella along with Perera shore up the batting responsibilities.
On otherhand, along with the Mumbai Indians, the Kiwi T20 champions are the favourites to qualify for the main draw. They have a good mix of youth and experience in their line-up. Led by left-handed batsman Daniel Flynn, who topped the run charts in the HRV Cup with 278 runs.
Knights boasts of quite a few international players and the absence of Daniel Vettori is unlikely to bother them too much. New Zealand's Test new-ball partners Tim Southee and Trent Boult lead the bowling line up.
Daniel Harris, the South Australian veteran, brings a lot of Twenty20 experience as an overseas player for the Kiwi side. A top-order right-handed batsman does a job similar to what Lendl Simmons did for Mumbai Indians in IPL 7.
Southern Express: Kushal Janith Perera, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Jehan Mubarak (Capt.), Yashodha Lanka, Angelo Perera, Seekkuge Prasanna, Farveez Maharoof, Dilruwan Perera, Danushka Gunathilaka, Sachith Pathirana, Kasun Madushanka, Ishan Jayaratne, Charith Jayampathi, TM Sampath, Lakshan Rangika
Northern Knights: Anton Devcich, Daniel Flynn (Capt.), Kane Williamson, Brad Wilson, Daryl Mitchell, BJ Watling (wk), Scott Styris, Scott Kuggeleijn, Tim Southee, Jono Boult, Ish Sodhi, Trent Boult, Daniel Harris, Mitchell Santner, G Aldridge
Saturday September 13, 2014 (day/night)
Start time 1600 local (1030 GMT)