Chennai Super Kings vs Mumbai Indians | Tuesday 21 May | Delhi | 16:30
In the IPL’s characteristically showy manner, instead of the usual format of four top qualifiers meeting in a pair of semi-finals, they’ve found a way to squeeze yet another fixture into the congested tournament. Qualifier 1 sees a battle of equals, as table-topping Chennai Super Kings meet fellow competition leaders Mumbai Indians. They are exceptionally similar, both coming off untimely losses and both relying heavily on their batting units. You will also be seeing both of them again, as the winner of the Qualifier is sent straight to Kolkata for the final, while the loser takes part in the second Qualifier against the winner of the Eliminator. Convoluted, and beginning to sound eerily like “Gladiators”.
Super Kings 9/10
The playoffs come with a familiar pressure for the Chennai Super Kings. They’ve visited them in every instalment of the IPL, and since the rearrangement of the format, have won all except for last year’s final. Interestingly enough, considering they’ve won two of the five previous tournaments, this year is the first that they’ve finished on the top of the table after the league stage. They’ve managed to find a hero for almost every occasion. Mike Hussey has been immense in his first year of retirement from the international game. His 646 runs have come at an average of almost 50.00, and he’s second only to Chris Gayle in the race for the orange cap. With 62 runs between him and Gayle and the Royal Challengers out of the tournament, the prize looks well within his grasp. Murali Vijay has settled as his opening partner and has also been contributing with valuable runs of late. Raina is back in form at three, followed by a combination of the finishers in Dhoni, Bravo and Jadeja. They’ve made chasing relatively out-of-reach targets an art form and are incredibly dangerous.
However, it must be mentioned that Chennai have stumbled towards the end of the league stages. They’ve lost two of their last three games, the win coming against last-placed Delhi Daredevils. Their bowling attack has looked brittle, with the exception of Dwayne Bravo and Mohit Sharma, and they depend on the former getting it right in the middle overs. Ravi Ashwin hasn’t been particularly bad. But he hasn’t been all that good either. They’ll need a rejuvenated performance in this area against a star-laden Mumbai Indians, with a neutral ground perhaps offering the chance for vengeance.
The side from Mumbai may have the psychological edge coming into this one. They’ve beaten Chennai both home and away during the league stages and seem to be the one team with enough firepower to match the former champions. Well, they’ve spent enough money over the years. It’s about time they begin converting spending into trophies. A perfect example of this is Million Dollar Maxwell. So far underutilised this season, he’s had little impact in the middle with time he has been granted at the crease. Whether he will feature against the Super Kings remains to be seen. They’ve turned their home ground into a fortress this season, winning all eight of their fixtures in Mumbai. A feature of their side this season has been their explosive middle-order. Rohit Sharma, Dinesh Karthik and Kieron Pollard have provided the bulk of the runs, which can be looked at as a positive.
I prefer to focus on the worrying aspect of their opening partnership. The season began with Ricky Ponting partnering Sachin Tendulkar and captaining the side, but following his dropping of himself, the Mumbai Indians have yet to find a decent partner for the Little Master. Tendulkar’s own form is poor, and a recent injury has left him out of the side for the last few matches. Aditya Tare was the replacement and has impressed in his opportunities, while Maxwell and Dwayne Smith have been ordinary. If Tare partners Tendulkar, which I believe is the correct decision, there could be runs from the Indians. Mumbai have a potent bowling lineup with Harbhajan Singh at his best and Malinga up to his usual tricks. The surprise has been the vicious form of Mitchell Johnson, with 22 wickets at an average of 17.13 giving a veritable middle-finger to the Australian ashes selectors.
The Feroz Shah Kotla has garnered a recent reputation for producing dodgy strips. However, it has held up pretty well in this season of the IPL and the average score here seems around 160. It should produce a match full of runs, considering the battle lineups on offer. No rain is forecast.
BEST: Team to Make Highest 1st 6 Overs Score, Chennai Super Kings 9/10
With the likes of Hussey, Vijay and Raina, it doesn’t get much more explosive at the top of the order. Although the Super Kings like to bide their time until the final overs, I see them coming out all guns blazing in this one, with Tendulkar awkwardly slowing up the Indians in their first six.
VERDICT: Super Kings 9/10
The bookies won’t take a shine to either side, illustrating the tense, close nature of this encounter. It would take a fool to try and pry these sides apart. But a fool I am, and something tells me the Super Kings will do what they do best, which is winning knockout games. The Mumbai Indians will have their chance in the second Qualifier, and I may be writing about these two sides all over again for the final.
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