MS Dhoni (l) and Kane Williamson (r) © BCCI
MS Dhoni (l) and Kane Williamson (r) © BCCI

After the IPL 2018 Auctions, social media gave its verdict that Chennai Super Kings (CSK), on their comeback trail, resembled an old-age home. After winning their final league match on Sunday, MS Dhoni admitted that the crux of the side wasn’t getting younger and won’t be around in two years’ time. But the Playoffs are going to be about the present, not the future; and living with the notions and not shedding them off, Dhoni and his yellow brigade, despite not being the most agile in the perceived youth format, dominated the league with experience at fore.

CSK return to Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai, to play table-toppers Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) in Qualifier 1 of IPL 2018 Playoffs. Wankhede is that coliseum where they pulled off an improbable result against defending champions Mumbai Indians (MI) to mark their return to the league after two-year long hiatus.

SRH topped the league stage, riding on their bowlers and Kane Williamson. Without an iota of doubt, David Warner is among the finest T20 cricketers in the world and SRH had to deal with the blow of his absence. Williamson filled in the void by stepping up and scoring almost 30 per cent of SRH’s runs this season, not to speak of his tactics. CSK, however, remain SRH’s Achilles Heel: 2 of SRH’s 5 defeats this season has come against the Chennai outfit.

A tale of two sides

CSK and SRH finished with 9 wins each. A win here will see either of them through to the final on May 27.

CSK have made a final four entry every time (9 times) they have contested in the tournament. With two trophies and six appearances in the final, Chennai know a thing or two about raising the bar at the business end. They are coming to the Playoffs after winning their last game, against Kings XI Punjab (KXIP). They did suffer a minor hiccup against Delhi Daredevils (DD) in their penultimate league match on a sluggish surface but they won 2 of their last 3 matches, which include a win against SRH.

Their bowling was a concern but Lungi Ngidi’s brilliant show in the last 2 games and Deepak Chahar’s rise have strengthened the pace unit.

A win will mean CSK would not have to play at Eden Gardens, Kolkata, a venue where their record isn’t the best. There is a high possibility that the loser of Qualifier 1 may end up playing Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) at their home in Eden. Either will desperately want to avert that.

SRH had 9 wins in 11 matches before suffering 3 defeats last week. The momentum has surely shifted. SRH’s bowling line-up, which took pride in defending paltry totals, has been taken to cleaners of late. There has been a clear decline in Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Rashid Khan and Siddarth Kaul’s performances. Sandeep Sharma’s economy rate used to hover under 5; it has now now shot up to 6.78. Their standby, Basil Thampi, Emerging Player of 2017, went for a record 70 from his 4 overs against Mumbai Indians (MI).

Their batting has been overtly reliant on Williamson (661 runs). Shikhar Dhawan has been second-best with 437, but and then there is a huge gap. Manish Pandey has underachieved, as have Wriddhiman Saha and Deepak Hooda. Yusuf Pathan’s injury only adds more salt to their woes.

Key Battles

Rashid Khan vs Ambati Rayudu: Rayudu knows Wankhede better than most and he has smashed Hyderabad bowlers around the park. He has plundered 38 runs off the 25 balls he has faced from Rashid.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar vs MS Dhoni: Bhuvi, one of the finest death bowlers, will be doing the dirty work again, but he will be up against a finisher of Dhoni’s class. In IPL, Dhoni possesses a strike rate of 185 against Bhuvi.

Likely XIs

Shreevats Goswami came good as an opener for Hyderabad in their last game. Will he continue to open? If that’s the decision they take then Carlos Brathwaite will retain his place in all likelihood in order to fill in for the machismo of Yusuf Pathan. If not, Goswami will be pushed down and Alex Hales will return at the top.

Sunrisers Hyderabad Probable 11: Shikhar Dhawan, Shreevats Goswami (wk), Kane Williamson (c), Manish Pandey, Deepak Hooda, Shakib Al Hasan, Carlos Brathwaite/Alex Hales, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Rashid Khan, Sandeep Sharma, Siddarth Kaul.

Shane Watson should reclaim his opening slot for Chennai. CSK will have to choose in between Sam Billings and Faf du Plessis. If du Plessis plays, will he open? That will mean Rayudu batting in the middle-order. Given that Rayudu has scores of 79 and 100* against the team from his home city (Hyderabad), CSK may go with Faf as the floater in the line-up.

Harbhajan Singh knows a lot about Wankhede, having spent 10 seasons with MI. But has he threatened enough this time? Karn Sharma was brilliant for MI last season and had replaced Bhajji successfully for Mumbai. CSK may be tempted to go add some wrist-spin in their line-up.

Chennai Super Kings Probable 11: Ambati Rayudu, Shane Watson, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni (c & wk), Faf du Plessis/Sam Billings, Dwayne Bravo, Ravindra Jadeja, Deepak Chahar, Harbhajan Singh/Karn Sharma, Shardul Thakur, Lungi Ngidi.

Predictions: Despite the usual sea of blue at the Wankhede, the chants of ‘Dhoni… Dhoni…’ has never faded. CSK will have massive support at their rival venue in Mumbai. Hyderabad are a liked side with hardly any detractors. The contest should be a cracker. Head to head, CSK have a clear upper hand with 6-2 (2-0 this season). It will be a contest between SRH’s bowling and CSK’s batting. The yellow outfit will definitely start as favourites.