Handed a reality check in their last league fixture, defending champions Chennai Super Kings would bank on home advantage to seal their place in the summit clash when they take on a confident Mumbai Indians in the Qualifier 1 of the IPL today.
After the grueling league phase of the ongoing IPL, the stage is set for the play-offs with CSK and MI clashing against each other for a place in May 12 final. There is hardly anything to differentiate between the two sides as both CSK and MI have won the title three times earlier. The Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led CSK has been patchy after a strong start and finished its league engagements with a six-wicket defeat to Kings XI Punjab at Mohali on Sunday. But CSK will be happy to return to their den to take on table-topper MI, probably its biggest IPL rival, to decide which team seals a spot in the May 12 final.
CSK boasts of a tremendous record at home this season, winning six of its seven games at the M A Chidambaram Stadium here and come Tuesday, it will act as a big advantage for the hosts. A defeat, however, will provide both the teams a second chance in Qualifier 2 on May 10. The CSK top-order has fired in fits and starts in the league phase and will need to come out all guns blazing against a formidable MI bowling attack that includes Jasprit Bumrah (17 wickets), Lasith Malinga (15 wickets), the Pandya brothers (Hardik 14 wickets and Krunal 10 wickets), leggie Rahul Chahar (10 wickets) and possibly Mitchell McClenaghan. Skipper Dhoni (CSK’s highest run-getter with 368 runs from 12 matches, 3 fifties) has been the mainstay of a rather inconsistent CSK batting unit and along with openers Shane Watson and Faf du Plessis and Suresh Raina holds the key as the usually fluent Ambati Rayudu has struggled to get going.
CSK, however, will miss the services of the Kedar Jadhav, who sustained a freak shoulder injury in the match against Kings XI. But Jadhav wasn’t in the best of form and his absence would open up a spot for either Murali Vijay or Dhruv Shorey. Bowling has been CSK’s strong point so far this season and becomes even more potent on M A Chidambaram stadium’s sluggish wicket. Imran Tahir (21 scalps), the second highest-wicket taker this season after Kagiso Rabada (25), has been at the forefront of an effective CSK spin trio, also including veteran Harbhajan Singh and Ravindra Jadeja (both with 13 wickets each). And the success of Tahir & Co against the powerful MI batting line-up could very well determine the course of the match.
MI captain Rohit Sharma (386 runs), the impressive Quinton De Kock (492, third leading run-scorer), Hardik Pandya (380) and Kieron Pollard will be hard to stop once they get going and CSK’s bowlers have a tough task at hand. The onus would also be on the ever-improving Deepak Chahar, who has taken 16 scalps so far, to pick up early wickets for CSK and stifle the rival batting line-up.
Going by the head-to-head record this year, MI holds the upperhand having won both its encounters against CSK in the preliminary phase. MI head coach Mahela Jayawardene would be aware of the job at hand and won’t take CSK lightly despite the Lions’ recent wobbly form.
CSK will certainly receive a boost by playing the Qualifier 1 at home with the crowd fully backing the team in what promises to be a cracker of a contest.