Mumbai: An intriguing and no-holds-barred battle between two former champions is on the cards when table toppers Sunrisers Hyderabad clash with second-placed Chennai Super Kings in the first qualifier of the Indian Premier League on Tuesday.
A slight net run-rate difference separated the two teams which finished the league stage on 18 points.
The riveting contest at the Wankhede Stadium will spell out who goes directly to the 27 May final, also scheduled at this venue, with the winner guaranteed a spot in the summit clash and the loser left to play Qualifier 2 in Kolkata on 25 May.
The raucous Mumbai fans, thus, could expect a rip-roaring contest.
Super Kings seem to hold a slight edge going into the match as they have not only got the better of their southern rivals twice in the league stage of the competition but also have the winning momentum going into the match on what promises to be a bouncy track.
While Super Kings stopped the aspirations of Kings XI Punjab by overcoming a difficult start last night in their adopted home base of Pune, Sunrisers have been on a three-game losing run, having sealed their play-off spot with a victory on May 10 against Delhi Daredevils.
They had somehow not been able to muster up the intensity shown in the better of their league stage campaign and to some extent their highly-rated bowling attack also looked off-coloured in the previous three games.
It was the Super Kings who halted Sunrisers' six-game winning streak with a comprehensive eight-wicket drubbing on 13 May in Pune.
Sunrisers have depended totally on their captain Kane Williamson, who has been in terrific form to rise to the number two slot in the leading run-getters' list with 661 runs at just over 60 per game.
Only he and Shikhar Dhawan (437 runs), who took some time to get going, have shown consistency with the bat in contrast to their bowling attack which, barring the last few games, has been the talking point of the season.
Sunrisers will need their middle order, especially Manish Pandey, to take up more responsibility to counter the Super Kings' thrust.
In bowling they have depended mostly on seamers Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Sidharth Kaul and Sandeep Sharma as well as on overseas spinners Rashid Khan and Shakib Al Hasan.
The bowling attack needs to come up with an effective plan to stifle Ambati Rayudu at the top of the order who took the game away with a scintillating hundred when the two teams last met. Rayudu made 79 not out in their first leg contest too.
The plus point for Super Kings, who have alternately blown hot and cold in their last six games, is that they have not depended on just a couple of batsmen although Rayudu has been their standout performer with 586 runs.
Shane Watson (438 runs from 13 matches) too has been in top form along with skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The form of key batsman Suresh Raina, who anchored the innings splendidly against Kings XI yesterday with an unbeaten 61, is another encouraging sign.
The outstanding spell of fast bowling by young South African Lungi Ngidi, who grabbed 4 for 10 to take the man of the match award last night, could not have come at a more opportune time for the Super Kings.
With Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar and Dwayne Bravo doing their bit on the pace bowling front, Super Kings will be banking on spin twins Harbhajan Singh and Ravindra Jadeja to deliver in the middle overs.
The match timings have been advanced by one hour for the play-offs.
A women's exhibition game will take place at 2 PM IST before the evening clash with top Indian and foreign players taking part in the experiment.
Chennai Super Kings: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (C), Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Faf Du Plessis, Harbhajan Singh, Dwayne Bravo, Shane Watson, Ambati Rayadu, Deepak Chahar, K M Asif, Kanish Seth, Lungi Ngidi, Dhruv Shorey, Murali Vijay, Sam Billings, Mark Wood, Kshtiz Sharma, Monu Kumar, Chaitanya Bishnoi, Imran Tahir, Karn Sharma, Shardul Thakur, N agadeesan, David Willy.
Sunrisers Hyderabad: Kane Williamson (C ), Shikhar Dhawan, Manish Pandey, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Wriddhiman Saha, Siddharth Kaul, Deepak Hooda, Khaleel Ahmed, Sandeep Sharma, Yusuf Pathan, Shreevats Goswami, Ricky Bhui, Basil Thampi, T Natarajan, Sachin Baby, Bipul Sharma, Mehdi Hasan, Tanmay Agarwal, Alex Hales, Carlos Brathwaite, Rashid Khan, Shakib Al Hasan, Mohammad Nabi and Chris Jordan.
Match starts 7 PM IST.
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