It will be worth sitting up late on Friday night to watch Indian Premier League Qualifier. On paper, it is a contest between holders Chennai Super Kings and title-aspirants Delhi Capitals. The former are weary at the end of the season, if their defeat in the Qualifier 1 by Mumbai Indians is any indication. And the latter are an enthusiastic bunch who enjoyed the flavour of a maiden play-off win on Wednesday.
Yet, if you are the sort who looks for underlying sub-scripts that come together to make a gripping tale, you will find it fascinating to watch what plans Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the most successful skipper, has up his sleeve for Shikhar Dhawan and Delhi Capitals’ young Turks of batting, Prithvi Shaw, Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant.
Of course, the match is a lot more than just Dhoni’s leadership skills. For, Delhi Capitals have a bunch who have performed superbly through the season, individually and collectively. Dhawan (503 runs), skipper Iyer and Pant (450 each) as well as young Shaw (348) have found the rhythm that has stood the side in good stead, more often than not.
You can be sure that the youthful exuberance of Delhi Capitals and their eagerness to take a tilt at the elusive berth in the final will be on evidence as the takes on the mountains of experience that Chennai Super Kings boast of. Their thrilling victory over Sunrisers Hyderabad in the Eliminator – their maiden win in a playoff game – will have given them confidence that they can go farther.
One area in which Chennai Super Kings hold the edge over Delhi Capitals is the variety of bowlers that Dhoni has at his disposal. If the track makes it difficult for the batsmen to go after spin bowlers as in the Eliminator on Wednesday, Chennai Super Kings can serve 12 overs of quality spin through Imran Tahir, Harbhajan Singh and Ravindra Jadeja.
Delhi Capitals will fall back on Amit Mishra and Axar Patel to do that stifling job in the middle-overs, trusting the seam trio of Ishant Sharma, Trent Boult (or Chris Morris) and Keemo Paul to challenge the Chennai Super Kings batsmen with the new ball. There is no doubt that they will miss their spearhead Kagiso Rabada but they can string together a quality attack.
Iyer – and coach Ricky Ponting – may not want to alter the balance of the side by picking an extra spin bowling option in place of a seam bowler. After Wednesday’s experience, they may be tempted to think in terms of fielding Nepal leg-spinner Sandeep Lamichhane, but it is unlikely that they would go ahead with making that crucial change to the XI.
They could well end up recalling Chris Morris in place of Trent Boult, hoping that the big South African all-rounder would be the one to stop Dhoni from getting away to another flourishing finish.
On the contrary, you can expect Dhoni to not even consider changing the composition of his attack. He will look to draw the best out of the team’s bowling and pose questions to the Delhi Capitals stroke-players to make the match interesting. But he will need his team’s batting to come good if they are to stop Delhi Capitals from setting up the title clash with Mumbai Indians on Sunday.
He is the only Chennai Super Kings batsman who has passed the 400-run mark this season. It tells you of the vulnerabilities of their top batsmen. Faf du Plessis (320 from 10 matches) and Suresh Raina (364) are the others who have had at least two half-centuries this season but the likes of Shane Watson (268) and Ambati Rayudu (261) have made the team wait for them to come good.
Chennai Super Kings lost too many wickets in the Powerplay overs in the Qualifier 1 against Mumbai Indians and, despite some good work in the end by Rayudu and Dhoni, they did not have enough runs on the board. Dhoni will be fervently hoping that the top-order contributes a lot more in this big game against the younger Delhi Capitals outfit.
With five wins in the last seven games, Delhi Capitals will have the better momentum than Chennai Super Kings, who have lost five of their last seven matches. The defending champions appear to have more pairs of tired legs than fresh ones and that can be a big factor if the pitch is sluggish and the batsmen have to run hard between the wickets after the Powerplay overs.
Come to think of it, this game could well turn out to be a contest between the two teams’ backroom staff. Chennai Super Kings looked weary during their loss to Mumbai Indians on Tuesday and flew to Visakhapatnam. Delhi Capitals have had a day to recover after beating Sunrisers Hyderabad. Which of their staff will have worked smarter in getting the men ready for battle?
Viewed from the narrow perspective of this game alone, age may play a role, slowing the Chennai Super Kings down just that bit and lending the Delhi Capitals the edge. Then again, it may end up showing that age is just a number. The experience and the awareness of game situation that it brings along proving to be priceless – something that money cannot buy.
No matter which way the argument ends on Friday night, it will be worth sitting up late.
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Srikkanth was referring to Dhoni's remark that the youngsters in the Chennai Super Kings squad did not show the spark needed to challenge the seniors and break into the playing XI.
Things have gone pear-shaped for CSK since their win over MI in the tournament opener on 19 November.
Dhawan has scored two consecutive IPL hundreds, the first to achieve the feat, and slammed two fifties as well, making it a season to remember for him so far.