Every sports league survives on rivalries. These rivalries develop over the years between teams that challenge each other’s domination. As IPL the product moved from the stage of introduction to growth in a decade, the number one rivalry that emerged was the Mumbai Indians vs Chennai Super Kings.
Often the outcome of the two matches in the season between Real Madrid and Barcelona decide the champion in Spain’s major football competition, La Liga. In the IPL, CSK and MI share the same stature as in most seasons, they engage in a title-deciding clash. Both teams share seven out of the twelve titles between them. On four of these occasions, they played each other in the final.
CSK and MI are two teams that suffered the maximum impact due to the Covid-19 crisis. CSK lost their anchor, Suresh Raina. Raina’s contribution extended beyond his ability with the bat. He has always been Dhoni’s co-commander in addition to being a gun fielder. Along with him, the only regular off-spinner in their side Harbhajan Singh also opted out. With Raina not in the mix, this leaves Kedar Jadhav as the only offspinning option for match-ups against left-handers.
For MI, there was a direct impact and an indirect impact. The direct was losing their greatest bowler ever in Lasith Malinga who also chose not to travel. The indirect impact was the effect on their team combination as the tournament moved outside India.
Over the years, MI’s management did a commendable job at developing a solid core. However, their squad with fluent batsmen is better suited on batting-friendly venues in India. Unlike other franchises, they are a pace-heavy unit, built for smaller a ground like the Wankhede. As a result, one-season old Rahul Chahar will have to lead their spin attack. However, with just 40.1% attacking shots played against him, he is the least-attacked spinner in IPL since 2018.
Since the announcement of the shift to UAE, there have been enough conversations around the importance of spin in this season. With their home venue being Chepauk, CSK have always been the side with the best all-round spin attack. As a captain, Dhoni always had more tactical options and impromptu tricks for the spinners as compared to pacers, across formats. In this season as well, they have a pool of leg spinners and left-arm orthodox spinners to choose from.
On the other hand, MI are one of the lighter teams in terms of spin options. Pairing Chahar will be the left-arm spin of Krunal Pandya. Outside these two, MI do not have any acclaimed tweakers in their side. While both sides have numerous hitters in their ranks, very few of them stand out in their ability to attack the leg-break and left-arm orthodox bowlers.
Mumbai’s top-3 – Rohit Sharma, Quinton de Kock and Suryakumar Yadav - have struggled against these two types of bowlers. However, there middle-order has come to the rescue often. The story for CSK is the opposite. Apart from their opener Shane Watson, they do not have anyone to dominate the aforementioned bowling types.
It is not surprising that the player with the best strike-rate against these two varieties of bowlers is a left-hander Ishan Kishan. Here is where Dhoni will miss Harbhajan who would have been an excellent match-up against him. To add to the agony, Raina with a strike-rate of 130.3 against these two bowling types leaves a big void for CSK. His absence leaves CSK with five right-handers in their top-5. Thus, MI will not miss the absence of a quality off-spinner in their rank at least for the opening encounter.
From an overall lens, both MI and CSK have a similar batting style at the start of the innings. Their run-rate in Powerplay is the lowest among all teams. However, while MI start accelerating in overs 7-15, CSK batsmen wait till the final five overs before pressing on. Last five overs is usually the ‘Dhoni time’, when he cuts loose and bats with a strike-rate of around 180.
However, over the years, knowing his importance to their side, MI have been prudent against Dhoni. Unleashing Jasprit Bumrah and leg-spinners against him, MI have managed to keep Dhoni down to an average of 25 and a strike-rate of 102.9, his lowest among all teams since 2016. Even at the death, his strike-rate of 133.8 against MI since 2016 is the lowest as compared to all teams.
For MI, Rohit has an average of around 25 to go with a strike-rate of under 130 since 2017. With these numbers, it is fair to say that he has been an underperformer with the bat. With other hitters in the side, his sub-optimal contribution did not affect them. However, as the pitches in UAE will not allow their middle-order to play as fluently, Rohit’s contribution can decide their fate this season.
By managing to keep Dhoni down, MI have managed to turn the contest against CSK in their favour over the years. This is where other batsmen in the CSK side cannot rely on their usual tactic of waiting till the final overs. They should look to take calculated risks against lesser bowlers while MI keeps the stronger ones for Dhoni. With MI’s 8-2 win record against CSK since 2015, it only Dhoni’s presence that has not let this rivalry look lopsided yet.
MI – Rohit Sharma ©, Quinton de Kock (wk), Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan, Hardik Pandya, Krunal Pandya, Kieron Pollard, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Rahul Chahar, Trent Boult, Jasprit Bumrah
CSK – Shane Watson, Faf du Plessis, Ambati Rayudu, MS Dhoni (c&wk), Kedar Jadhav, Ravindra Jadeja, Dwayne Bravo, Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar, Piyush Chawla, Imran Tahir
Match starts on Saturday - Sep 19, 7.30 PM IST