Defending champions Chennai Super Kings and 2010 finalists Mumbai Indians go head to head in the IPL 5 Eliminator at Bangalore’s Chinnaswamy Stadium on Wednesday. The losers will exit the tournament, while the winners will play the losers of the first Qualifier between Delhi Daredevils and Kolkata Knight Riders for a place in the final on May 25.
Chennai have been lucky to reach the playoffs. It was Royal Challengers Bangalore’s choke in a chase of a modest 133 against Deccan Chargers in their last match that paved the way for Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team, which won just eight of 16 games in the group stages.
Chennai’s season got off on the wrong foot with an eight-wicket loss against Mumbai but improved as the tournament went by, if unspectacularly and well below expectations of a champion Twenty20 team. The highlight for them so far has been their chasing down 206 against Bangalore early in IPL 5. Chennai won three matches on the bounce before capitulating to Kings XI Punjab in their last match, threatening to end their campaign, but Bangalore’s loss to Deccan proved to be manna from heaven for Dhoni and his team.
However, all that is a thing of the past now. Chennai have got a golden opportunity to redeem themselves. If they can pick themselves up in the playoffs and find form, they can complete a hat-trick of titles. They have the resources; it’s just poor form of their batsmen that has had their campaign in stutter. Their batting woes get magnified by the fact that there have been just five fifties from their batsmen this season, and three of them from the South African Faf du Plessis who may not play in this match as Michael Hussey is set to retain his place. It's high time Hussey, Murali Vijay, Suresh Raina, Dwayne Bravo and Dhoni himself came up with weighty contributions with the bat. Their bowling has faired better but still there is room for improvement.
On the other hand, Mumbai will go into the contest in much better shape. The Harbhajan Singh-led team won 10 out of its 16 league matches. Mumbai never really faced the threat of missing out on the final four, but their odyssey to the playoffs has been far from perfect. Sachin Tendulkar got injured at the start of their campaign and then Harbhajan copped a lot of flak for not leading with propriety. With the team’s blow-hot-blow-cold run in IPL 5, things looked ominous at one time. But Tendulkar returned just in time to put everything back in order. He may not have scored big runs but his presence has acted as a tonic for others and all of a sudden, Mumbai look formidable. They also seem to have sorted out their opening woes.
Mumbai have unearthed a star in West Indian Dwayne Smith, who opened to score an unbeaten 87 against Rajasthan Royals in the last league match. Also, in a previous encounter against Chennai, he hit Aussie fast bower Ben Hilfenhaus for two fours and a six to turn the last-ball thriller in his team’s favour. Then there is Rohit Sharma, who is among the five players to have hit a hundred this season, while Ambati Rayudu and Dinesh Karthik have been quite handy. The presence of Kieron Pollard gives them a different dimension altogether.
Their bowling is no less threatening. Lasith Malinga, their spearhead, remains a man-mountain. The Sri Lankan has taken 22 wickets in 13 matches at a miserly economy rate of 6. RP Singh and Munaf Patel have been good in patches and Harbhajan, after a poor start to the season, has hit top gear in the last few matches and that makes the bowling equally potent.
On paper and form, Mumbai go as favourites into the match but in this format we have witnessed unexpected things happen. They have to be cautious against Dhoni’s men who seem to have lucky stars shining on them.
Chennai Super Kings: 1 Michael Hussey, 2 Murali Vijay, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 5 Dwayne Bravo, 6 Ravindra Jadeja, 7 Albie Morkel, 8 Srikkanth Anirudha, 9 Ravichandran Ashwin, 10 Ben Hilfenhaus, 11 Vijaykumar Yo Mahesh
Mumbai Indians: 1 Sachin Tendulkar, 2 Dwayne Smith, 3 Rohit Sharma, 4 Ambati Rayudu, 5 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 6 Kieron Pollard, 7 James Franklin 8 Harbhajan Singh (capt), 9 Lasith Malinga, 10 Munaf Patel, 10 RP Singh