MS Dhoni did not score a single run against Mumbai Indians but the Chennai Super Kings skipper still played a massive role in his side's five-wicket win in the Indian Premier League 2020 opener. The likes of Ambati Rayudu, Faf du Plessis, Piyush Chawla and Sam Curran did the majority of the groundwork but they were all maneuvered by the master tactician himself. On paper, Chennai might look like a "bunch of oldies" but they have a captain who knows how to get the job done with whatever resources he has in his arsenal.
Mumbai dominated the first half of both the innings but thanks to Dhoni's shrewd tactics, Chennai managed to emerge victorious in the first game of the season. The Men in Yellow will be high on confidence and would fancy their chances against Rajasthan Royals who will be without Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler. The former won't be available at least for the first half of the tournament, while Buttler will be forced to miss Rajasthan's first game of the season, against Chennai on Tuesday (September 22) in Sharjah.
The wicketkeeper-batsman from England is currently serving his mandatory quarantine period after having arrived in the UAE with his family. Rajasthan don't have a single Indian superstar in their squad and rely a lot on their overseas players. In Buttler, Steve Smith, Stokes and Jofra Archer, Rajasthan arguably have the best set of foreign players but they will have to make do without two of them against Chennai. Rajasthan, however, do have quite a few exciting young Indian talents who will be expected to deliver from the word go.
In the absence of Buttler, Yashasvi Jaiswal will have to get Rajasthan off to a fiery start. The young batsman from Mumbai was the leading run-scorer in the 2020 Under-19 World Cup by a country mile and will be eager to prove his worth on the big stage. Rajasthan don't have a solid middle-order and have the lowest scoring rate (8.2) in between overs 7-20 since IPL 2018. Their skipper Smith can score runs on a consistent basis but the former Australian skipper does that at a below-par strike rate. Smith however has a strike rate of 146.6 in the 10 T20s he has played this year and will have to hold that middle-order together.
This season will also be crucial for Sanju Samson who generally blows hot and cold in the IPL. The right-hander, along with Smith, will have to shoulder the responsibility of scoring the majority of the runs in the middle overs. The inaugural champions lack depth in the middle-order and they will have to make do with Riyan Parag at No. 6. The teenager showed glimpses of promise last season, with three 40+ scores in five innings, and will once again be expected to provide that much-needed firepower down the order.
In the bowling department, Rajasthan will be heavily dependent on Jofra Archer and Shreyas Gopal. Their spin attack is a bit one-dimensional, with three Indian legspinners in the mix, while the likes of Tom Curran, Andrew Tye and Oshane Thomas aren't really consistent. Meanwhile, Jaydev Unadkat will enjoy bowling on the UAE surfaces after struggling in the last two seasons. The left-arm seamer was paid big bucks in the last two editions but the Saurashtra captain struggled big time. There is no such pressure this time around as he was bought for INR 3 crore, and to add to that, Unadkat will be confident having led Saurashtra to their maiden Ranji Trophy title this year.
Meanwhile, some of the Chennai players looked a bit rusty against Mumbai but like they do every time, they found a way to win. The opening duo of Shane Watson and Murali Vijay didn't fire, but the Chennai team management will be delighted with the way Rayudu and du Plessis performed under pressure. The two left-handed all-rounders Ravindra Jadeja and Curran will be used as floaters and unlike Rajasthan, Chennai have enough depth in their batting line-up. The likes of Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav didn't have to do anything against Mumbai and that tells you how formidable Chennai's batting unit is.
Dhoni only used five bowlers against Mumbai and they might go with a similar formula against Rajasthan, with Jadhav as the sixth option. Chennai will start as clear favourites and Rajasthan will have to punch above their weight if they want to topple Dhoni and Co.
Dhoni has an average of 42 against Rajasthan, while Watson too has done well against his former franchise. The latter even has a century against Rajasthan and has scored at an average of 39.5 and a strike rate of 150.5 in the four encounters he has played against them.
Samson has an average of 11.29 against Chennai, his worst against any IPL team (minimum two games).
Rajasthan Royals: Now that Buttler is out of the equation, Jaiswal will get to open the innings alongside either Samson or Robin Uthappa. They would want Smith and David Miller in the middle-order, while two of the three Indian legspinners should feature in the XI.
Playing XI: Yashasvi Jaiswal, Robin Uthappa, Steve Smith (c), Sanju Samson (wk), David Miller, Riyan Parag, Shreyas Gopal, Mayank Markande/Rahul Tewatia, Tom Curran, Jofra Archer, Ankit Rajpoot/ Varun Aaron.
Chennai Super Kings: After clearing two Covid-19 tests, Ruturaj Gaikwad has resumed training and is back inside the team's bio bubble. However, it's still unclear if he is eligible for selection or not. If yes, the top-order batsman might get a look-in ahead of Vijay. Dhoni doesn't really make too many changes and Chennai might go with the same XI that played against Mumbai.
Playing XI: Murali Vijay/Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shane Watson, Faf du Plessis, Ambati Rayudu, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni (c & wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Sam Curran, Deepak Chahar, Piyush Chawla, Lungi Ngidi.