With just two more matches left in this 12th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and out of eight, only three teams are remaining in the title contention, we have finally reached the business end of this competition. And on Friday night, in a quest for their maiden appearance in the grand finale, a rejuvenated Delhi Capitals (DC) will lock horns against the defending champions Chennai Super Kings (CSK) in the Qualifier 2 in Vizag.
Having lost both their league games against MS Dhoni's men, Delhi will go into this game as the second favourites and considering CSK's previous track records in the Playoff matches in IPL, one should admit that Shreyas Iyer and his boys need to play out of their skins to go past the most consistent team in the IPL history.
In the meantime, here’s a look at some of the key battles between the top players from both sides that could eventually end up determining the outcome of this knock-out fixture.
Shikhar Dhawan vs Harbhajan Singh
Despite being a good player of spin, Shikhar Dhawan should expect to face a few overs of quality off-break stuff from Harbhajan Singh inside the Powerplay. And when these two teams met on the last occasion at Chepauk on 1 May, the tweaker had the better of the southpaw. The batsman was castled while attempting an expansive sweep shot.
Dhoni is a street-smart captain. Especially on sticky, slow low pitches, he maneuvers his spinners beautifully. So, he will definitely challenge the ego of Dhawan by introducing Harbhajan early into the attack. The left-hander is Delhi's in-form batsman and if CSK can get rid of him early, it will put immense pressure on their relatively inexperienced middle-order. Being the most experienced batsman in this Delhi line-up, Dhawan would aim to make a significant contribution in this crunch game.
Rishabh Pant vs Imran Tahir
With 23 wickets in 15 matches and a strike-rate of 16.52, Imran Tahir has been CSK's most impactful bowler this season. In the non-Powerplay overs, the leggie has a mastery of getting important scalps for his team and in this second Qualifier, if he can get the better of Delhi's flamboyant Rishabh Pant without much damage, the 40-year-old will certainly brighten his team's chances of making it to yet another IPL final.
Pant, with his power-hitting, can quickly take the game away from the opposition and the left-hander is fresh from his match-winning 21-ball 49 against Sunrisers Hyderabad the other night. However, against someone like Tahir, with the ball coming in, Pant will take his chances. So, it will be an interesting battle to watch out for, if these two get the opportunity to face each other.
Suresh Raina vs Trent Boult
For Chennai, Suresh Raina has always been a special player. Despite a patchy form this season, he is still CSK's second-highest run-scorer after Dhoni with 364 runs in 15 innings. Furthermore, in the past, we have seen that at the knock-out stages Raina likes to come up with his 'A' game. So, having missed out against Mumbai Indians in the previous match, the left-hander will look to make this innings count.
And to counter him, Delhi should use pace. Someone like Trent Boult seems to be their best option for this job. He can keep the square leg back and bowl a hard length on that two-paced surface. Also, let's not forget that this particular ground is quite big. So, the top edges and miscued pull shots should not go out of the fence.
MS Dhoni vs Amit Mishra
Dhoni has remained unbeaten in the previous two innings against Delhi this season. With his mature batsmanship, the CSK skipper has been the backbone of this batting line-up. He takes control in the middle-order and tries to remain at the crease till the end.
Here, the Delhi think-tank needs to be a little more proactive and should look attack him as soon as he arrives at the crease. Often, at the start of his innings, Dhoni has a tendency plugging his front-foot forward while trying to work the spinners through the on side. So, with someone like Amit Mishra, who can bowl a deceptive googly, Delhi should target Dhoni's front-pad.
Shreyas Iyer vs Deepak Chahar
The in-form Iyer missed out in the last game. So, coming into this game the Delhi skipper should not repeat the mistakes that he committed against Sunriders Hyderabad. Batting at No 3, his job is to anchor the Delhi innings.
Meanwhile, with his accuracy and variations, Deepak Chahar has been nothing short of a revelation for CSK. He has 17 wickets under his belt, that too with an economy rate of 7.57. The youngster bowls stump to stump channel and on a slow wicket, it is a difficult proposition for any batsmen to counter him. So, if a wicket goes down early and Iyer comes out at No 3, he needs to be extra cautious against Chahar's medium pace.
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DC missed Pant on Sunday as they slumped to a five-wicket defeat against defending champions Mumbai Indians and lost the top place in the points table.
Speaking on Star Sports' Select Dugout, West Indies great Brian Lara said that Rishabh Pant needs to move his feet and head closer to the balls delivered outside his off-stump to be able to use his power in the shots.
The left-arm seamer, who was roped in by Mumbai Indians as a replacement for the experienced Lasith Malinga, scalped four wickets —three in the powerplay—to set up his team's 10-wicket win over Chennai Super Kings on Friday.