It’s time for the final sprint. For a while now, we have known that Delhi Capitals and Chennai Super Kings are the teams to beat in this year’s IPL. Two completely different teams with separate areas of strength — Rishabh Pant‘s DC and MS Dhoni‘s CSK — now clash for the third time in the season in the first qualifier. A direct spot in the final is at stake.
On the face of it, Capitals seem to hold the aces. They have won both their games against CSK in the league stage and Dhoni’s boys are coming into this one on the back of a three-match losing streak, although all three came after ensuring qualification into the playoffs. CSK, however, aren’t exactly bothered by the worrying stats thrown at them. Rather they are looking to rectify the areas where they felt they were not up the mark in the last few games. Suresh Raina, who was dropped for the last two games, may also be back because his back-up Robin Uthappa hasn’t exactly fired.
There is a sense of acknowledgement in the CSK camp that DC have the best attack in the tournament. The three pacers — Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje and Avesh Khan — have the ability to stifle CSK. The trio, with their burst of pace, can push the likes of Ruturaj Gaikwad, Ambati Rayudu, Moeen Khan, MS Dhoni or even Ravindra Jadeja to the backfoot and stop them from freeing their shoulders for the big shots.
The only player in the CSK top-order who won’t be too worried about the extra pace is probably Faf du Plessis, and it’s important for the three-time champions that the South African veteran finds form.
CSK, during the course of their struggle against DC a few days ago, identified that they were a little too respectful towards left-arm spinner Axar Patel, who had figures of 2-18. It won’t be a surprise if someone in the CSK middle order looks to go after Axar and take him out of the attack. Pant’s team is playing with five specialist bowlers and if one of them is unable to finish his spell, CSK may just be able to figure a window of opportunity.
BATTLE-READY: Chennai Super Kings’ players will have task cut out against Delhi Capitals
The fact that Avesh went for a last-ball six against Royal Challengers Bangalore on Friday that cost them the game could also dent the confidence of the young pacer a little bit. CSK, with vastly experienced players in the line-up, know how to cash in on any little chink in the opposition armoury and Avesh can also be targeted.
But there’s a reason why DC have been able to finish on top of the table and have been consistent both in India and UAE. Much like their bowling, the team’s batting has an excellent mix of youth and experience, with Shikhar Dhawan leading the show at the top of the order.
The left-hander has been a thorn in the flesh for CSK for a while now and the fact that Chennai don’t have an out-and-out pacer has often worked in the senior man’s favour. The likes of Deepak Chahar or Shardul Thakur, who have been so influential against most teams, don’t find it easy against Dhawan.
Dhoni will be desperate to pull something out of his bag and stop DC from getting a decent start. Delhi’s opening pair of Dhawan and Prithvi Shaw has set things up beautifully for the talented middle-order, which has the likes of Shreyas Iyer, Pant and Shimron Hetmyer, all match winners in their own right.
The dynamic DC skipper Pant, who has shown remarkable maturity in his game and decision making, would love to show the world why he is considered by many as the true successor to Dhoni.