After Chennai Super Kings (CSK) emotional return after a four-year-long hiatus earlier in the week, the Men in Yellow are back in the city to face a stern test against the Rajasthan Royals (RR).
Two of the most lethal spin-bowling units will lock horns in a mid-week blockbuster on April 12, aiming to gain two vital points and go on top of the points table.
While the Super Kings stuttered against the defending champions Gujarat Titans (GT) in the IPL 2023 opener, they bounced back in a commanding fashion to record emphatic wins over Lucknow and Mumbai in the last two fixtures.
The four-time champions have won 41 out of the 57 matches at home and have a win percentage of 71.9, the most by a team at a venue and dare I say, the Royals would be tested to the absolute hilt once they arrive in the city.
Apart from their spinners weaving magic and the presence of MS Dhoni, the reason behind Chennai's dominance at home is the unconditional support and love they garner from the people in the stadium and across the nation, making it challenging for the visiting side.
Well, ask Mark Wood, who was slammed for two sixes by Dhoni and was at the receiving end from the crowd once the skipper walked in to take centre stage.
"The noise when he came out to bat and hit those two balls were definitely the loudest I have played in front of. It was eye-opening but a great experience to look back on," he said in the post-match press conference.
Well, the crowd will be right behind the home team as they face their toughest challenge in the form of Rajasthan Royals, possibly the strongest team on paper, aiming to conquer the fortress.
With two comprehensive wins in three games and a nail-biting loss against Punjab Kings, the Royals have looked like a settled unit and one of the favourites to clinch the coveted title.
Things to watch out for
Onus on Boult, yet again
One of the significant reasons behind the Rajasthan Royals' impressive performance in this edition of the Indian Premier League has been the early inroads courtesy of Trent Boult's masterclass.
The left-arm seamer rattled the opposition with two double-wicket maidens to set the tone for the Royals in the first over. In the absence of Prasidh Krishna, the onus will yet again be on the Kiwi pacer to lead the attack with some early wickets.
The 33-year-old has been lethal with the new ball and scalped 19 wickets in the powerplay, the most by a bowler since IPL 2021, making him the go-to person for Sanju Samson in the first six overs.
With the formidable opening combination of Ruturaj Gaikwad and Devon Conway set to stride out to the middle for Chennai, the onus will be on Boult to break this partnership early and help the team get off to a dream start.
Injury concerns cripple Chennai
While the Royals seem to have their opening bowler in prime form, the same cannot be said about the home team, as they suffered a massive blow during their win against the Mumbai Indians.
Deepak Chahar suffered a hamstring injury five balls into the first over of the game, and walked off the field after barely managing to complete his over.
The 30-year-old has endured a dismal run with injuries, and the latest one is set to put the fortunes of CSK and Indian cricket in jeopardy, especially with the ODI World Cup later this year.
The right-arm pacer is not the only injury concern for MS Dhoni, as Ben Stokes and Mooen Ali also missed the game against Mumbai. While Stokes will be out for a week with a suspected toe injury, Moeen was unavailable due to a stomach infection.
The off-spinner is expected to recover before this much-awaited clash and, in all likelihood, return to the playing XI.
Can the hosts halt the Buttler-Jaiswal carnage?
The opening combination of Jos Buttler and Yashasvi Jaiswal have been the standout performers for the Royals in their two wins this season. The duo have smashed 183 runs in two innings at an average of 91.5 and a strike rate of 212.8, the highest by a pair for the first wicket with a minimum of 50 runs.
With the inexperienced pace attack of the home team, Dhoni will rely on his spinners to spin a web around the duo in the early stages of the game.
However, it will be challenging as the England skipper has been dismissed only once by a spinner in his last 20 IPL games and will hold the key for the visiting side.
Pitch & conditions
We are talking about the MA Chidambaram Stadium, and there is bound to be assistance for spinners in this clash. While the first game against the Super Giants was a high-scoring affair, with both teams breaching the 200-run mark but expect the spinners to come into play a lot more as we progress in the tournament.
The pacers conceded at an economy rate of 11.2 runs per over compared to 8.1 by the spinners in the last game, and overall in IPL since 2019, the numbers are 8.2 by fast bowlers and 6.6 by tweakers.
Battle of two Englishmen
Jos Buttler does not have any major chink in his armour and is regarded as one of the greats in the shortest format. However, the right-handed batter has struggled against his countryman, Moeen Ali, in franchise cricket.
The 32-year-old has been dismissed by the off-spinner thrice in 33 deliveries and has an average of 14.7. A match-up that could prompt Dhoni to bring in his ace spinner early in the powerplay.
Samson ought to get over the Super Kings hurdle
RR skipper, Sanju Samson will be keen to make amends for his poor record against the Super Kings. The right-handed batter has scored 197 runs in 12 innings at an average of 16.4, the worst for him against any opposition.
However, Samson has been sublime in his strokeplay against spin, and he will be hoping to bring it to force against a spin-heavy opposition.
The 28-year-old has a strike rate of 159 against spinners since IPL 2022, the third-best among batters with a minimum of 150 runs.
Chennai might opt for a couple of changes to their playing XI, with Maheesh Theekshana coming in place of Sisanda Magala, purely based on the conditions on offer.
With Moeen also fit to play, the all-rounder will replace Dwaine Pretorius, and Rajvardhan Hangargekar might return to the playing XI in place of the injured Deepak Chahar.
Chennai Super Kings: Devon Conway, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, MS Dhoni (Captain & wk), Shivam Dube, Moeen Ali, Rajvardhan Hangargekar, Tushar Deshpande, Maheesh Theekshana, Mitchell Santner
Rajasthan Royals are expected to field an unchanged XI, with Murugan Ashwin likely to come in as an impact substitute depending on the toss.
Rajasthan Royals: Jos Buttler, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Sanju Samson (Captain & wk), Riyan Parag, Shimron Hetmyer, Ravichandran Ashwin, Jason Holder, Trent Boult, Sandeep Sharma, Yuzvendra Chahal