The Tuesday evening IPL 2023 Qualifier 1 between Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Gujarat Titans (GT) at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai will see tactics, faceoffs, and above all, raw emotions take centre stage. After all, if this indeed turns out to be MS Dhoni’s farewell IPL season, it is Chepauk’s last chance to savour its Thala in action.
Chennai’s key players have found form consistently, most notably the openers Ruturaj Gaikwad and Devon Conway, with their silky wrists, and that uncompromising power-hitter, Shivam Dube, all of whom constitute CSK’s engine room that has churned out success this year.
Much like the Super Kings, the Titans have had every member of their team make a telling contribution at some point in the tournament. They chased down 198 against RCB in the last league game, their highest successful chase, with effortless ease, thanks largely to the silently superb Shubman Gill, who comes to Chennai riding on back-to-back hundreds.
Moreover, GT’s bowling attack suggests greater depth and penetration than its opponent’s. Mohammed Shami’s sprightly pace, coupled with his wonderful displays of seam and swing, has not diminished over the last month, while Mohit Sharma, despite going for 54 in his four overs against RCB, remains composed enough with the ball in his hand to trouble the best batters.
However, it is spin bowling from the resourceful Rashid Khan and Noor Ahmad that gives Gujarat a slight edge in the field. They have bowled more skillfully in the competition than their CSK counterparts. If the ball turns, the duel between Rashid and his opposite number, Ravindra Jadeja, will be a delight.
Rashid’s faceoff with Gaikwad could be crucial. He has dismissed him two times in five T20 innings and conceded only 66 runs in 45 balls. However, Ambati Rayudu has had the edge over Rashid in the IPL, scoring 82 runs off 69 balls without being dismissed. Meanwhile, Matheesha Pathirana, CSK’s death-overs specialist, will pose a stiff challenge for GT finishers David Miller and Rahul Tewatia. He has 15 wickets in 10 games this season.
The M.A. Chidambaram Stadium is the second-slowest scoring venue this season, with a run rate of 8.43. The Titans are scoring at 12.02 rpo between overs 17–20, so it will be interesting to see how they adjust to the slowness of the Chepauk surface.
All said and done, Dhoni, hewn from granite, has seemingly become more indomitable as captain in his twilight, while for Hardik Pandya, a successful title defence could lead to his anointment as India’s future T20I captain. The symbolic importance is not lost in the larger context of Indian cricket.
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