As the round-robin stage of IPL 5 draws closer to an end, every team is jostling for a place in the playoffs. And just like the last few games, the contest between Kings XI Punjab and Chennai Super Kings in Dharamsala on Thursday holds special significance.
The hopes of both teams to reach the knock-out stage hang by a thread, as both need a win to enter the last four. With 17 points from 15 matches, Chennai have to win their last match so that they remain ahead of Rajasthan Royals, supposing the latter will win their last two remaining matches. Punjab have just 14 points from 14 games, and only wins in their last two encounters can give them a chance to progress ahead.
Chennai come into this match after a last-ball thriller against Kolkata Knight Riders at Eden Gardens. Despite a mediocre show in the first-half of the tournament, they made a strong comeback in the latter stage, winning four of their last five matches. Their batsmen seemed to have found the form that deserted them for the most part of the tournament. The opening combination of Mike Hussey and Murali Vijay has also started working for Chennai.
The middle order, comprising Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja, has also found its groove. Anirudha Srikkanth didn’t get a chance to bat against KKR but hit an unbeaten 18 from just six balls to win Chennai the game against Rajasthan. The headache CSK face is whether to go with Faf du Plessis, who has scored 398 runs so far in the competition, or the allrounder Albie Morkel who has been in their squad for four seasons and is a proven match-winner. Considering the high Himalayan altitude of Dharamsala and the ability of the ball to do a bit more than in Mohali, Morkel has a slight advantage over his countryman. The spin duo of R Ashwin and Shadab Jakati bowled well against KKR, while Bel Hilfenhaus has proven a good buy with nine wickets from five matches and two Man-of-the-Match awards.
Punjab, on the other hand, suffered a five-wicket loss against Delhi Daredevils in another crucial game on Tuesday. Despite a back-breaking effort from their bowlers, it was their batsmen who surrendered cheaply against the pace of Varun Aaron and Umesh Yadav. And there was little wonder then that David Hussey blamed the batsmen for defeat. “We bowled well to defend the total. Our batting really let the bowlers down again,” Hussey said after the loss in Delhi.
Despite a below-par showing by the batsmen, it’s hard to see Punjab making a change in the batting department, with the exception of the experienced Abhishek Nayar replacing young Gurkeerat Singh.
As mentioned by Hussey, Parvinder Awana has been the “find of the tournament for Punjab”. The pace bowler from Delhi, who has regularly clocked 145 kmph, has been their highest wicket-taker among the fast bowlers with 15 scalps to his name so far. It depends on the team’s think-tank whether to use the extra pace of Ryan Harris or an extra batsman in David Miller.
Kings XI Punjab: 1 Shaun Marsh, 2 Mandeep Singh, 3 Nitin Saini (wk), 4 David Hussey (capt), 5 David Miller/Ryan Harris, 6 Azhar Mahmood, 7 Gurkeerat Singh/Abhishek Nayar, 8 Piyush Chawla, 9 Praveen Kumar, 10 Parvinder Awana, 11 Harmeet Singh
Chennai Super Kings: 1 Mike Hussey, 2, Murali Vijay 3, Suresh Raina, 4 Faf du Plessis/Albie Morkel, 5 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 6 Dwayne Bravo, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Anirudha Srikkanth, 9 R Ashwin, 10 Ben Hilfenhaus, 11 Shadab Jakati