When MS Dhoni won the 2007 T20 World Cup with a young Indian team, he changed the way the T20 cricket was played in its short history at the international level. Moreover, Dhoni changed the pathway on which Indian cricket used to think and youngsters were preferred over the more experienced cricketers which paved the way for a golden generation of Indian cricket.
11 years later, in the same format, he was leading a side in which a majority of players were over 30 years old and contrary to all his beliefs in the inaugural edition of the T20 mega event, he was still able to lift the trophy, this time an illustrious third IPL title. On Friday, his side, popularly known as Dad’s Army, with five cricketers on the wrong side of their 30s expected to be in the same XI, will take on a young Delhi Capitals’ side with an average age of the squad below 25 and their captain just 24 years old.
It will be Dhoni’s belief from yesteryears of backing the youngsters vs his mindset at present - age is just a number. The biggest challenge in front of the youthful Delhi team - aiming for their first ever final - would be not to make mistakes against the MS Dhoni-led side. Their game against SRH in Vizag wasn’t a pristine one by any means and a team of experienced lions like CSK could feast upon it to break their heart.
Delhi has faced Chennai twice in the tournament so far, ending on the wrong end both times. One common thing in both those games was the spin-friendly nature of the track which worked more in CSK’s favor than Delhi’s. And if the eliminator game is any indication of the Vizag track, it is not going to be much different again.
Getting grip off the track, spinners were hard to hit and conceded runs at an economy of approximately 6 per over while the fast bowlers went at 9.8. The Visakhapatnam track might not be as low and slow as that of Chepauk but with three spinners in their ranks, CSK may enjoy the pitch more than Delhi who have already played a game there.
CSK spinners have taken 55 wickets in the tournament so far - 24 more than any other side - at an economy of 6.71, the best in terms of economy rate as well. What stands out for CSK is that it has not been a one-man show with each of their three spinners taking over 12 wickets in the season. Imran Tahir has 21 scalps in the middle-phase of the innings only - the highest by any bowler in that phase in any particular season across its 12 editions.
But Chennai’s main exponent against Delhi could well be their veteran offie, Harbhajan Singh who has done a phenomenal job against left-handers.
With as many as five southpaws expected in Delhi’s batting order, how MS Dhoni uses Harbhajan will be interesting to see.
The Vulnerable Spots:
Despite another scintillating season as a team, CSK has carried a few headaches throughout their campaign. One of them has been Shane Watson’s struggle to shine with the bat. As an opener, this has not only been his worst season, but one of the most inferior by any opening batsman in IPL history. Consequently, CSK has been the worst performing side with the bat in the powerplays with an average of only 18.5.
Similarly, the Men in Yellow have not been able to extract much out of their star all-rounder, Dwayne Bravo. Returning from a two-week break post a hamstring strain, Bravo has failed to offer his side much with the ball except an extra seam-bowling option. In fact, he has been wicketless in his last five games - the longest wicketless streak for him.
As discussed earlier, CSK have struggled with their openers but has still managed to score just enough to get over the line in most of the games. Like all of their campaigns, MS Dhoni has once again proved to be the driving force that has taken the innings from the second gear to the fifth on most occasions.
Notably, Dhoni’s transition between these gears happens in the last three overs of the innings. Known to be a slow starter, Dhoni has taken approximately 15 balls to get going. In the first 15 balls, he has batted with a strike-rate of only 101 but later on he has exploded to strike at an astonishing rate of 176.
Dhoni’s importance can be highlighted by the fact that CSK has never won a game since the last edition when Dhoni hasn’t managed a strike-rate of 160. On the other occasions when he has, CSK have won 85% of their games while batting first.
Likewise, batting at the similar spot as that of MS Dhoni and performing the same role, Rishabh Pant has also played a key part in Delhi’s success.
Pant can be the answer to Delhi’s struggle in the middle which has been triggered by the below-par performance of their #5 and #6 who have averaged 14.20, the second lowest this season. The number includes Rishabh Pant’s swashbuckling 78* in Delhi’s season opener against Mumbai and excluding that, the 5-6 average falls down to 11.08 which eventually becomes the worst in the tournament.
Citing MS Dhoni’s invincible form during the slog overs which is capable of taking the game away from the opponent in a flash, Delhi will have to pull their socks up in the death bowling department which has looked weakened in the absence of Kagiso Rabada in their previous encounter. Boult has not been the best of the death overs this IPL blessing the opposition with the much needed big over in the end (conceded 19, 20 and 20 off an over in the last three games), Delhi might want to go back to Chris Morris.
Among all their tried, tested and available pace bowling resources, Chris Morris is easily their best bet statistically to counter the threat of MS Dhoni.
Bringing back Colin Ingram to replace Colin Munro, who clearly did not enjoy the Vizag track against SRH could be another option to ponder upon.
Probable XI: Prithvi Shaw, Shikhar Dhawan, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant, Colin Ingram, Sherfane Rutherford, Akshar Patel, Chris Morris, Amit Mishra, Ishant Sharma
Chennai Super Kings:
As discussed earlier, Shane Watson has not been adding much to the side. Replacing him with the all-rounder, Mitchell Santner and pushing Murali Vijay up to open the innings seems like a viable option. But seeing the style with which CSK has carried themselves, that seems unlikely to happen.
Probable XI: Shane Watson, Faf du Plessis, Suresh Raina, Murali Vijay, Ambati Rayudu, MS Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja, Dwayne Bravo, Deepak Chahar, Harbhajan Singh, Imran Tahir
- If CSK wins this match, this will be their 100th win in IPL. If DC loses, this would be their 100th loss.
- MS Dhoni needs 2 sixes for 200 sixes for CSK as a wicket-keeper.
- Amit Mishra needs 4 wickets to complete 100 wickets for the Delhi franchise.