New Delhi: The first semi-final of the 2013 Champions League Twenty20 (CLT20) will be a battle between flamboyant performers and studious achievers. The visitors - Chennai Super Kings - overflow with game-changers. The hosts - Rajasthan Royals - believe in striking as a unit, not depending on individual performances. But at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur, CSK will not just be battling 11 men on the field, but an army of home fans off it and a fortress that hasn't been breached in 12 past attempts.
Rajasthan may be slight favourites for the bookmakers, but once on the field, the advantage won't hold as both the IPL teams and their players have enough experience of playing in Indian conditions. The momentum too favours Rajasthan, who have won all four matches en route the final, whereas CSK had to taste defeat at the hands of Trinidad & Tobago in their last group match, which - in hindsight - will help them keep complacency at bay.
It's been 12 matches - IPL included - since any team beat Rajasthan at home, but they will be up against one of the most consistent T20 teams in Chennai, who have won the IPL twice and CLT20 once.
File photo of Chennai Super Kings' skipper MS Dhoni and Rajasthan Royals' captain Rahul Dravid. (BCCI)
In Rahul Dravid, Shane Watson and Brad Hodge, Rajasthan have the experience and class, around whom youngsters like Ajinkya Rahane, Sanju Samson and Ashok Menaria have rallied around effectively. Such is the collective power of their batting unit that despite Dravid having a mediocre tournament at top of the innings, others have realised their responsibility and batted accordingly to take the team home.
Like batsmen, the bowlers too have taken turns to leave their mark on the tournament. If it's Vikramjeet Malik in the one innings, it's Rahul Shukla or Kevon Cooper in the other, or the spin of 41-year-old of Pravin Tambe. Watson and James Faulkner have kept the pressure on by keeping a plug on the runs and a few wickets here and other, which has allowed others to attack.
Chennai largely rely on the depth in their batting and the variety in their bowling attack. In MS Dhoni, they have a skipper who invariably leads from the front. Suresh Raina and Michael Hussey are consistent as ever, while Murali Vijay has shone in patches. Though Ravindra Jadeja has struggled so far, you can't write off his all-round abilities.
S Badrinath can have the calming effect in case of early loss of wickets, while allrounders Dwayne Bravo and Albie Morkel can use the long handle to good effect in the death overs.
The visitors' bowling looks strong in terms of variety and variation. Jason Holder provides pace while Morkel and Bravo can fox the batsmen with their variation. Offspinner Ashwin and left-armer Jadeja are experienced performance in limited-overs cricket and can put brakes on the scoring, which invariably fetches them wickets.
A lot will also depend on which team plays better on the day, as T&T showed that CSK are beatable despite their intimidating aura, and at home, Rajasthan have the best chance to end CSK's campaign and take themselves to the final.
Chennai Super Kings: 1 Michael Hussey, 2 Murali Vijay, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 5 S Badrinath, 6 Dwayne Bravo, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Albie Morkel, 9 Ravichandran Ashwin, 10 Jason Holder, 11 Mohit Sharma
Rajasthan Royals: 1 Rahul Dravid (capt), 2 Ajinkya Rahane, 3 Sanju Samson (wk), 4 Shane Watson, 5 Stuart Binny, 6 Brad Hodge, 7 Ahosk Menaria, 8 Kevon Cooper, 9 James Faulknerm, 10 Rahul Shukla, 11 Praveen Tambe