The second match of the October 4 double-header in the Indian Premier League (IPL) will be a battle between a seasoned captain and an upstart, so to speak, whose chances of being a captain hinge on his team’s performance this season.
MS Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings has made the most final appearances for an IPL side while KL Rahul’s Kings XI Punjab has played the final just once and he was not even part of the squad then.
Dhoni had won India a T20 world cup before he took charge of the Chennai Super Kings. For Rahul, his India captaincy ambition will only take off in the earnest after a fine show this IPL. So far, CSK have been stubborn and have avoided any major changes because only Dhoni can afford to have a terrible IPL but Rahul desperately needs a great IPL after his franchise overhauled the team ahead of this season.
In a normal time, a superior head-to-head record (12-9) may have given Chennai an edge over Punjab but Rahul’s team will be more confident than Dhoni’s despite having the same number of points after playing four matches each. Even though both teams have lost three matches each, the manner of defeat puts CSK under tremendous pressure in this bottom-of-the-table clash in Dubai. “We’ve just got to get it right, got to get a bit of confidence and a bit of game rhythm and guys in form-and that can change pretty quickly. But also, if you don't address them, then we’ll just slide away,” head coach Stephen Fleming said.
If CSK has been defiant in persisting with the likes of Shane Watson and Kedar Jadhav, who are having a horrid run, they have inexplicably kept Imran Tahir, the best bowler of the tournament in the previous season, out of the playing XI. Similarly, KXIP’s love-affair with Australian Glenn Maxwell is hard to understand, as he has been struggling since a break-out season in 2014.
Another overseas pro, Jimmy Neesham, has been busy in his favourite place Twitter—arguing with Aaksah Chopra—on the lack of match-winning skills in this format. Punjab’s problems get more complex with the terrible show of Karun Nair, Sarfaraz Khan and Nicholas Pooran, who have managed just 65 runs among themselves in a dozen innings together. And, there is a likelihood of some change in the playing XI.
“Another bowling option would be nice—an all-rounder option who can bat and bowl well. Will be sitting with the coaches to decide if we want to play an extra bowler,” said Rahul after the last game which they lost.
Struggling top order vs superb powerplayers
While CSK’s trouble starts with their top-order batting, KXIP’s best phase is the powerplay overs. Mohammed Shami and Sheldon Cottrell are excellent with the new ball. The Indian-West Indian pair once again will be looking to continue their form against a team whose openers are averaging 12 and have a strike rate under 100, a poor rate for the slam-bang format. “Yeah it is a concern and you don't want to put yourself under pressure. We do need contributions from the top four if we’re going to win this tournament,” Fleming admitted.
Death over concerns vs hope
If Punjab lost three games, which they should have won, most of the blame lies with bowlers who have been awful in the death overs. They have conceded nearly 17 runs in each of the last five overs of the innings. Against CSK, they will be facing Dhoni (close to 600 runs in 21 innings at a strike rate of over 155 and five 50s against KXIP) and Sam Curren (a strike rate of 268 in this IPL).
Kings XI Punjab: KL Rahul (captain-wicketkeeper), Mayank Agarwal, Nicholas Pooran, Glenn Maxwell, Karun Nair, Sarfaraz Khan, Chris Jordan, M Ashwin, Ravi Bishnoi, Sheldon Cottrell, Mohammed Shami
Chennai Super Kings: MS Dhoni (captain-wicketkeeper), Faf du Plessis, Shane Watson, Ambati Rayudu, Kedar Jadhav, Ravindra Jadeja, Sam Curran, Dwayne Bravo, Deepak Chahar, Shardul Thakur, Piyush Chawla
(Vimal Kumar is a senior sports journalist who has covered multiple cricket world cups and Rio Olympics in the last two decades. Vimal is also the author of Sachin: Cricketer Of The Century and The Cricket Fanatic’s Essential Guide.)Follow Moneycontrol’s full coverage of IPL 2020 here