An intense battle is on the cards as the two finalists of IPL 4 - runners-up Royal Challengers Bangalore and defending champions Chennai Super Kings - face off once again on Thursday in the league's fifth season at the M Chinnaswmay Stadium in Bangalore. The battle - which will mark the midway of the round-robin stage - assumes even greater significance as nothing but run-rate separates the two teams, with both on 8 points from 7 matches.
It was one of the most thrilling encounter when these two teams met in the first leg this season, where CSK edged RCB in a last-ball thriller by chasing down 204 runs - this year's highest total thus far. But with both Bangalore and Chennai coming into this match with three wins on the trot, it confirms that after an uncharacteristically scratchy start, the 'Big Daddies' of the IPL are back in business.
Looking at the bigger picture, RCB's batting could hold the key in this return match, as we have already seen Chris Gayle and AB de Villers sending oppositions into submission mode. To add to RCB's delight, Tillakaratne Dilshan regained his lost touch against Rajasthan, which should make the sound of warning bells even stronger for Chennai. But Virat Kohli's dismal form remains a concern for the Bangalore skipper Daniel Vettori despite giving him a chance to open the innings against Rajasthan. Kohli has only scored 129 runs at an average of 18.42 but he can take a leaf out of Dilshan's book whose longish stay at the crease allowed him to rediscover his touch.
On the bowling front, KP Appanna's four-wicket haul against Rajasthan has added more firepower to Bangalore's bowling attack, especially the spin department, which will be spearheaded by skipper Vettori himself in the absence of Muttiah Muralitharan, who is expected to be benched again. Though Zaheer Khan and Vinay Kumar have not been as effective as one would want them to be, they are expected to perform a few notches higher as the league enters its business end.
Story for Chennai has been much the same as Bangalore. After a disappointing start to the season, three consecutive wins have allowed CSK to gain some momentum. Chennai's opening pair has been instrumental in their team's win in a couple of matches. Faf du Plessis has been a revelation with the bat and has been well supported by fellow opener Subramaniam Badrinath since his promotion to the top in place of out-of-form Murali Vijay.
But the form of Suresh Raina and the absence of allrounder Albie Morkel, who was away in South Africa to attend his friend's funeral, has been felt badly. Morkel is expected to be back in time for the game and will possibly replace the Sri Lankan Nuwan Kulasekara. But skipper MS Dhoni would want Raina, who has been leading the middle order in the past four IPL seasons, to get his game up to the desired standards. Other than that, Dhoni and Dwayne Bravo have been perfect in performing the role of a finisher, which adds meat to the lower middle order.
In bowling, Chennai have an exciting mix of pace and spin. The pace attack, led by Doug Bollinger, has been in decent form, especially with able support from allrounders Bravo and Morkel. R Ashwin remains Dhoni's trump card as the skipper has the confidence of using him at the top, in the middle as well as at the death. Shadab Jakati has performed the role of a container pretty well, and Chennai's only buy for IPL 5, allrounder Ravindra Jadeja, remains Dhoni's choice to lead the attack in the middle overs as well as play the role of a floater in the batting order.
Chennai Super Kings: 1 Faf du Plessis, 2 Subramaniam Badrinath, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 MS Dhoni, 5 Dwayne Bravo, 6 Albie Morkel, 7 Wriddhiman Saha, 8 Ravindara Jadeja, 9 Ravichandran Ashwin, 10 Shadab Jakati, 11 Doug Bollinger
Royal Challengers Bangalore: 1 Chris Gayle, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 AB deVillers, 5 Mayank Aggarwal, 6 Saurabh Tiwary, 7 Daniel Vettori, 8 Zaheer Khan, 9 Vinay Kumar, 10 KP Appanna, 11 Harshal Patel