One game each into the IPL 5 playoffs, Chennai Super Kings and Delhi Daredevils have played contrasting games with contrasting results. Having snuck into the playoffs through the back door, Chennai brought their A game to the Eliminator where, inspired by a ballistic MS Dhoni, they crushed Mumbai Indians. Delhi, having topped the league stage, stormed into the playoffs and promptly played one of their worst games of the season against Kolkata Knight Riders. Given one more shot to make the finals – on the basis of being No. 1 in the league – they cannot afford to be remotely as shoddy as they were in the previous game when they face the defending champions in Chennai on Friday.
Delhi's strategy of keeping Ross Taylor back to No. 6 behind Venugopal Rao and Pawan Negi in the first Qualifier was befuddling, and whether they persist with the out-of-form New Zealand batsman remains to be seen. If they look past Taylor, the man to come in could be Roelof van der Merwe who also offers variety with his left-arm spin. But more importantly, Delhi need more from David Warner, Virender Sehwag and Mahela Jayawardene.
Chennai's victory over Mumbai will have given them plenty of confidence. They are two-time IPL winners and know a thing or two about performing in the playoffs. Don't expect them to offer Delhi much.
In what is essentially a semi-final, the key battles in this contest are: Sehwag vs Ben Hilfenhaus; Suresh Raina v Morne Morkel; and Dhoni v Delhi's death bowlers. On a good batting track and in humid conditions that could make for a dewy night, the tussle that could end up being even bigger is at the toss.
Hilfenhaus has been a superb addition to Chennai's squad – he has 11 wickets from seven matches – and his duel with Sehwag could be engaging. In the previous encounter between these two teams, Hilfenhaus extracted Sehwag with a peach of a ball that the Delhi captain termed as "unplayable" en route to the Man-of-the-Match award. Sehwag has since managed scores of 4 and 8 and Delhi's fate hinges on runs off his bat. Sehwag is a nervous starter and Hilfenhaus will have to tempt him into false shots outside off stump.
For Chennai, Raina's indifferent form in IPL 5 – 341 runs with no fifties – has been masked by runs from Faf du Plessis, Dwayne Bravo and Dhoni along with good work from the bowlers, but considering the left-hander is a big-match player Delhi will hope to get him early. Raina has produced match-winning turns in past IPL playoffs and considering he was bowled first ball on Wednesday he would be hungry to leave an impact. In that regard, Morkel – the leading wicket-taker this season – will need to test him with the short stuff. Raina has succumbed to short-pitched bowling several times in 2012 and this has to be a tactic Delhi rely on.
After his robust 20-ball 51 in the Eliminator, Dhoni has roared to life after a series of subdued innings. Like Raina a player for the big occasion, the brutality shown by Dhoni against Mumbai Indians does not bode well for Delhi, whose bowling at the late overs has been suspect, especially from Irfan Pathan and Varun Aaron.
Will Chennai trample Delhi and make their third consecutive IPL final? Can Delhi come back from a crushing loss and reach their maiden final? The answers lie ahead in what could be a fascinating - and somewhat historic, should Chennai lose - match.
Chennai Super Kings: 1 Murali Vijay, 2 Michael Hussey, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 S Badrinath, 5 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 6 Ravindra Jadeja, 7 Dwayne Bravo, 8 Albie Morkel, 9 R Ashwin, 10 Shadab Jakati, 11 Ben Hilfenhaus
Delhi Daredevils: 1 David Warner, 2 Virender Sehwag (capt), 3 Naman Ojha (wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Ross Taylor, 6 Venugopal Rao, 7 Irfan Pathan, 8 Pawan Negi/Shahbaz Nadeem, 9 Morne Morkel, 10 Umesh Yadav, 11 Varun Aaron