It should surprise no one that it is quite tough to call the Indian Premier League (IPL) Qualifier 1 featuring Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on Tuesday. There is so little difference between the two sides and their performances this season that one would have to stick one’s neck out to pick the winner before a ball is bowled.
It may be a remarkable coincidence that Mumbai Indians have won the last three editions of the league contested in the odd-numbered years. They look ready to extend that run but will have to play their best cricket to stop last year’s champions from reaching their eighth final in 10 attempts in IPL’s 12-year history.
With four batsmen scoring more than 300 runs and five bowlers claiming at least 10 wickets this season, Mumbai Indians may be better prepared for the big game. Chennai Super Kings has three batsmen in such prolific form and four bowlers who have scalped at least 10 batsmen this season. The difference may be marginal, more so since a different approach is called for in the playoffs.
The readiness with which Chennai Super Kings players buy into the team leader’s philosophy could off-set that in the big-ticket game. Not that Mumbai Indians are too far behind when it comes to striving to give off their best for the franchise. The slight difference is that most of the Chennai Super Kings team has been around together longer than any other bunch in IPL.
Mumbai Indians won both their games against Chennai Super Kings this season quite comfortably, including becoming the only team that bearded Chennai Super Kings lions in their den. And that should give Rohit Sharma and his teammates enough confidence going into Tuesday’s match that they can do it a third time as well.
Of course, feeling under the weather, Mahendra Singh Dhoni sat out of the last game and his presence can make a difference on Tuesday. He has the ability to not only alter the course of a game single-handedly – with a stumping or his own batting skills – but also lift his own teammates with a show of confidence like few other skippers can.
Besides, past results will have no direct bearing on how the two teams play the first Qualifier. The side that senses and wins the big moments can expect to emerge winners of the crucial match that will earn their players enough time to rest and recover and be ready for the title clash. And both squads are capable of doing that, most of their players adept at seizing the moment.
From Dhoni to Suresh Raina, Shane Watson to Dwayne Bravo, Imran Tahir to Harbhajan Singh, Faf du Plessis to Ravindra Jadeja, Chennai Super Kings have reliable and consistent performers. Mumbai Indians are no different, with exciting players like Rohit Sharma, Hardik Pandya, Quinton de Kock, Kieron Pollard, Jasprit Bumrah, Lasith Malinga and Krunal Pandya.
If the balance tilts slightly in the visiting team’s favour, it is possibly because of the Pandya brothers as they have had a fine season. The two all-rounders have accounted for 549 runs and 24 wickets between them. Chennai Super Kings’ all-rounders Dwayne Bravo and Ravindra Jadeja have not had such success with the bat this season.
Chennai Super Kings may have to find someone to replace Kedar Jadhav in the XI if he is ruled unfit to play the match with a shoulder injury that he sustained in Mohali on Saturday. It will not be easy to find a readymade substitute as neither Murali Vijay not Dhruv Shorey, the Indian batsmen who have got a game each this season, can guarantee a few steady overs with the ball.
The teams are so similar that if you look for whose nucleus has played without being disturbed through the season, you will find that both Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians have six players each who have played all 14 matches in IPL 2019. Curiously, the two captains do no figure in the list of such players who have not missed a game this season.
Indeed, there can be no favourites ahead of the game, either side having the credentials and the form to be able to win on Tuesday and get themselves a break before the May 12 final. Depending on what the ground staff does with the track, it will be a keen battle between well-balanced and set teams, both of which are led by men who have made a mark as astute captains.
There is no doubt that any team that has Dhoni leading it – and, all said and done, his emotional attachment with Chennai Super Kings is deep – will only gain from his incredible game sense. He adds so much muscle to any team’s frame that it is impossible to miss the Dhoni stamp. Then again, Rohit Sharma has shown that he can be a fine leader of men, too.
With such accomplished leaders and hungry performers on either team list, the outcome could well be decided on which of the two teams makes fewer mistakes under pressure on Tuesday evening. And you can expect pressure to be a key factor that will challenge the players to keep their focus sharp through the evening.
What a wonderful match that can be, one that will be decided on who makes fewer errors! It can be an edge-of-the-seat contest around Tuesday’s supper for all those who watch it in Chepauk and on a multitude of screens of varying dimensions, big and small, across the country and beyond. Bring it on, shall we say?