It seems ages ago that Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians faced each other in the first game of IPL 2020. CSK went on to break their losing streak against MI that night after a comfortable win.
Chennai managed to curtail MI to a sub-par total. Piyush Chawla looked like he belonged to CSK and Lungi Ngidi did not let Kieron Pollard breathe fire at the death. Faf du Plessis and Ambati Rayudu milked the spinners while Jasprit Bumrah was off-colour. It did not seem like CSK were missing their key players, while MI looked vulnerable due to the move to UAE.
A lot has changed since. CSK spinners have been the least impactful among all teams. They have played a game of revolving chairs between Ngidi, Josh Hazlewood and Dwayne Bravo. The form of Rayudu and du Plessis has tapered off.
For MI, Bumrah is flying high and their spinners are finding their groove. The dismissal in the first game remains the only occasion Pollard has been out this season.
As the two sides meet for the reverse fixture, they have very different objectives. A win will put MI at the top of the table. For CSK it is a chance to remain alive while also find some ‘missing spark’ that their usually introverted captain admitted to after a loss in the last game.
‘Maybe, we didn’t see the spark’
After another loss where CSK did not show up with bat and ball, MS Dhoni spoke about not giving youngsters an opportunity instead of the struggling veterans. It is a debate for another time if he chose the right words for the world to hear. Based on their experience, there must be some expectations from their end that the youngsters did not meet.
However, the two statements between which Dhoni sandwiched the ‘spark’ hypothesis call for an immediate examination. Before making the remark, Dhoni spoke about giving the guys a fair go and after it, he said how if given an opportunity now, the youngsters can play without pressure.
Both of these raise more questions than providing answers. It seems like the logic of providing a fair chance applies only to seniors. CSK dropped N Jagadeesan and Ruturaj Gaikwad after one and two games respectively. Jagadeesan scored 33 at a rate better than most other CSK batsmen that night against RCB. Not 'spark' enough? Certainly, it will take some divine vision to identify spark in Kedar Jadhav who has played eight matches scoring 62 runs in 66 balls.
Coming to the second statement, now that Dhoni has made it public that they did not find the youngsters competent enough, instead of reducing pressure it amplifies it whenever they take the field next.
It is likely that the next IPL will be in the next five months and without an auction in between. From CSK’s perspective, they need to find or ignite the spark soon if they need to compete the next season.
A dip for Rohit and Kishan, should MI be worried?
Hovering around the top-2 spots MI have looked unbeatable in every game. After the loss against CSK, two of their losses in the next eight games have been in a Super Over.
However, there are a few areas that they will look to improve upon. After playing two match-winning knocks in MI’s first four games, Rohit Sharma has not been able to produce a big innings. In his last five innings he has scored 90 runs at an average of 18 and a strike-rate of 107.1.
Along with him, the story of Ishan Kishan is also the same. He has struggled since a near match-winning knock of 99 in his first game against RCB. In the last five innings, he has scored 94 runs at an average of 18.8 and a strike-rate of 120.5.
This might be due to the pitches slowing up making it difficult for these strokemakers to get going. But, with Hardik Pandya not in his usual beast mode this season, the form of Rohit can be crucial for MI later on.
Can MI use Pollard better?
In MI’s last match against KXIP Pollard came into bat when MI were 116/5 in 15.3 overs. He smashed 34* off 12 balls to help them reach a competitive 176/6. They could have had a few more runs had he batted higher and the game would not have gone into either of the Super Overs.
So far he averages around 15 balls per innings. Based on his form with respect to others, MI can have him bat at five especially at Sharjah against CSK.
With only five main bowling options, there is also a case for MI leaving Kishan out and play Anukul Roy. With the depth in MI’s batting line-up everyone can bat one position higher anyway.
As for CSK, they can take delight in the fact that they have been the only team to stop Pollard’s carnage this season. They did so because of Ngidi bowling lengths that Pollard is vulnerable on. Sticking to those lengths can help them tame the beast in Sharjah.
CSK: Sam Curran, Faf du Plessis, Shane Watson, Ambati Rayudu, MS Dhoni (c & wk), N Jagadeesan, Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Karn Sharma, Deepak Chahar, Josh Hazlewood
MI: Rohit Sharma ©, Quinton de Kock (wk), Suryakumar Yadav, Krunal Pandya, Kieron Pollard, Hardik Pandya, Anukul Roy, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Rahul Chahar, Jasprit Bumrah, Trent Boult