Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians go head to head in the Indian Premier League at the Wankhede Stadium on Sunday. After a not-so-convincing start to their campaigns, both the teams have improved a bit of late, but a lot more is needed for both to feel secure about their play-offs qualification, more so in Chennai's case.
This will be the second time this season that both the teams are playing each other. In the season opener at the Chidambaram Stadium, Mumbai had come out on top in a low-scoring contest. They have been the two best teams over the last four seasons but are sailing in a rocking boat this time around, with Delhi Daredevils and Kolkata Knight Riders making all the headlines.
Both the camps have had their share of problems. Mumbai's batting has been a real concern. In the last two matches – against Pune Warriors India and Deccan Chargers - the weakness in their batting has come to the fore. Against Pune, they could only score 120 for 9, but superb bowling from Lasith Malinga and company saw them home in a close contest. Against Deccan, they took more than 18 overs to chase down 101. True that the pitches in both the matches were unfavourable for batting, but Mumbai batsmen also didn't apply themselves.
Since his return from injury, the former Mumbai captain Sachin Tendulkar has struggled for runs. He has played six matches this season, but a fifty still eludes him. He is the second-highest run-getter after Suresh Raina in the IPL history, but his poor run with the bat this season is affecting the team's morale. Mumbai have won six out of their ten matches and are likely, at this stage, to make it to the knockouts, but the way they have won so far – in most cases – is what is disconcerting for their fans. Rohit Sharma, Ambati Rayudu and Kieron Pollard have shone in patches, and an extension of their inconsistent run could cost the team dear in the matches to come.
However, skipper Harbhajan Singh's return to form in the last two matches could be a sign of good things to come. He looked all at sea until the last two matches where he took four wickets in all. And with Malinga and Munaf Patel in the midst of a purple patch, the bowling wears a formidable look.
In Chennai’s case, it’s the bowling that has been their undoing, even though the batting hasn’t been the best either. They won their last match against Deccan to make it five wins and five losses for them, with one game washed out. But that's not saying much as most the teams have won against Deccan, the whipping boys this season. Chennai's previous two matches – against Kolkata Knight Riders and Kings XI Punjab – have been a losing cause and they have to win on Sunday to boost their chances.
Like Mumbai, Chennai have also lacked the X-factor this season. Raina hasn't fired with the bat, as is the case with skipper MS Dhoni. Murali Vijay was given another chance in the last match against Deccan, but he failed to come out of his bad patch. Michael Hussey has played one of the two games since he joined the team from the West Indies and could come back into the eleven. But if he were to return, Ben Hilfenhaus may have to make way for his fellow Aussie team-mate. Faf du Plessis is the only consistent bright spot in Chennai's batting, with allrounder Dwayne Bravo rescuing the team on a few occasions. That leaves work for the likes of other middle-order batsmen, namely S Badrinath, Ravindra Jadeja and Albie Morkel, to shore up Chennai's dwindling batting.
If Hussey were to replace Hilfenhaus, Dhoni will have to think of including an Indian paceman keeping in the mind the four-foreigner cap. That may provide an opportunity to either Yo Mahesh or Sudeep Tyagi.
Looking at the bigger picture, a loss on Sunday will put MS Dhoni's men in a must-win situation in the remaining matches. So clearly there is a lot at stake for them. Mumbai's record at the Wankhede hasn't been great this season. Out of the five matches so far here, the home team has been victorious only twice and that should give Chennai a lot of confidence.
Chennai Super Kings: 1 Faf du Plessis, 2 Murali Vijay/Michael Hussey, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 5 Subramaniam Badrinath, 6 Ravindra Jadeja 7 Dwayne Bravo, 8 Albie Morkel, 9 Ravichandran Ashwin, 10 Shadab Jakati, 11 Ben Hilfenhaus/Sudeep Tyagi/Yo Mahesh
Mumbai Indians: 1 James Franklin, 2 Sachin Tendulkar, 3 Rohit Sharma, 4 Ambati Rayudu 5. Dinesh Karthik 6 Robin Peterson, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Harbhajan Singh (capt), 9 Lasith Malinga, 10 Pragyan Ojha, 11 Munaf Patel