No team in the history of the Indian Premier League (IPL) has as much ‘playoff experience’ as the Chennai Super Kings, and as a matter of fact they have more IPL titles than their three knockout opponents combined. They embarked on their IPL 2021 journey wanting to prove a million people and more wrong, and they did so in trademark Chennai fashion by finishing second. Come the playoffs, there will be a sense of familiarity when they step into the big stage; CSK will know that the Capitals, more than anything, will have to overcome the occasion. It is the hardest thing to do in sport.
CSK are familiar with the occasion, but they will have to overcome something they are unfamiliar with: not one, but two losing streaks. You will have to go all the way back to May 2019 to find the last instance of the Super Kings triumphing over the Capitals. That was incidentally in a ‘Qualifier’ too, but since then Ricky Ponting’s side have registered four consecutive ‘Ws’ over the three-time champions. The closest of the four encounters came last week, where either side could have won, but that DC got over the line is indicative of the fact that it is the Capitals who currently have the psychological edge.
Then there’s the overall losing streak, which stands at three, that CSK will need to snap. There was a point in the season where MS Dhoni’s side looked invincible and untouchable, but they started becoming pregnable towards the fag end of the group stages. To the extent that they were mercilessly obliterated by both Rajasthan Royals and Punjab Kings. It is easier said than done, but having relaxed after sealing qualification, CSK will need to bring their ‘A game’ come the Qualifier.
DC, too, will have to bring their A game, having not done so since their first match in the UAE against Sunrisers. Exceptional bowling performances have papered over cracks on the batting front, and their defeat against RCB on Friday was a reminder that the ‘table-toppers’ title matters for little if they don’t play like one.
Can Delhi overcome the ‘big match’ jitters?
It is one thing being consistent over 14 matches in the group stages, but turning up for the big occasion is a completely different story. And twice in IPL 2020, against Mumbai, the Capitals were caught sleeping and were blown away before they could realize.
In Qualifier 1 last season, Mumbai got off to an electric start and batted Delhi out of the game before humiliating the Capitals in the second innings. In the all-important final, MI all but won the game inside the first four overs. DC’s batting flopped on both occasions, with them being reduced to 22/3 and 20/4 respectively. Come Sunday, they could ill-afford to start the game in a similar fashion.
DC have an ongoing winning streak against the Super Kings, but it is worth noting that all four matches have been group games. CSK are quite literally monsters in the knockouts. Since the start of 2010, the Super Kings have lost just twice in knockout stages of the IPL against teams not named Mumbai Indians, with them triumphing on eight occasions. They will very well be aware of DC’s inexperience, and would hence be aiming to pull veteran tricks and trump the Capitals.
The business end of tournaments are as much about the mind as they are about skill, thus DC will have to be switched on and fired-up when they take to the field at the Dubai International Stadium.
Problems aplenty for CSK with both bat and ball
In many ways CSK overachieved in the first part of the season with the squad they had at their disposal, but with every game, more and more cracks are starting to appear. Concerningly, on both fronts.
So much of CSK’s success in the initial part of the season was down to the intent, aggression and consistency showed by its middle-order, but of late the wheels have started to come off. In the last five matches, the CSK middle-order (No.3 to No.6) has averaged just 17.3 runs per wicket, while striking at a mere 105.7. These are figures unrecognizable from the numbers the middle-order batters put up in the first nine games, where they averaged 32.3 and struck at 151.7.
There is an unhealthy over-dependence on the openers Gaikwad and du Plessis, who have scored the lion’s share of runs, be it in a winning or a losing cause. Moeen Ali has lost form, both Uthappa and Raina have failed to make meaningful contributions and Ambati Rayudu seems to have run out of the ‘unlimited intent’ he showcased in the first ten games. Dhoni promoting himself up the order has also impacted the entire batting unit in a negative way.
The bowling unit, meanwhile, has been erratic, inconsistent and impotent barring Shardul Thakur, who has proved to be CSK’s MVP with the ball game after game. While Shardul has taken important wickets, struck regularly and kept the batters on a leash, the rest of the CSK bowling, in the last five matches, has been a punching bag for the opposition batters. The disparity is borderline concerning.
And the weakest link in the CSK attack, in this phase, has been Deepak Chahar, who has taken two wickets across 4 matches and has conceded at almost 10 an over. Chahar’s form is a major concern for the Super Kings heading into Qualifier 1, as DC are a top-heavy side who can hurt any bowling attack in the world if they’re not pegged back early.
If the two-year losing streak against Delhi is to be snapped, the Super Kings would need their talisman Chahar to blow super-hot in the powerplay.
For Delhi, all eyes will be on the fitness of Marcus Stoinis. The all-rounder hobbled off in DC’s first game of the UAE leg, and has since not featured. Stoinis being fit will be a massive boost and he will most likely slot into the side in place of Ripal Patel, should he be ready to go.
DC: Prithvi Shaw, Shikhar Dhawan, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant (c & wk), Ripal Patel / Marcus Stoinis, Shimron Hetmyer, Axar Patel, Ravichandran Ashwin, Kagiso Rabada, Avesh Khan, Anrich Nortje
Suresh Raina has missed CSK’s last two matches due to injury, but his replacement, Robin Uthappa, has not justified keeping his place. Thus, ‘chinna thala’ could slot straight back into the side should he be declared fit to play.
CSK: Ruturaj Gaikwad, Faf du Plessis, Robin Uthappa / Suresh Raina, Moeen Ali, Ambati Rayudu, MS Dhoni (c & wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Dwayne Bravo, Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar, Josh Hazlewood