M.S. Dhoni is a man of instincts, not data. Friday’s crushing 10-wicket loss to Mumbai Indians had left Chennai Super Kings hanging by a thread in the race for a playoff position. Despite there being a mathematical possibility of qualification, it took Dhoni just moments to declare that the remaining three games of the season were about preparing for IPL 2021. The first of those will come against an in-from Royal Challengers Bangalore in Dubai on Sunday.
It would be an understatement to say that CSK has been just outwitted through this tournament. The team, which has made the playoff every other time it has participated in the competition, has lacked energy and drive. Seldom in the past has the skipper appeared so bereft of ideas. For such a team to motivate itself, even for dead rubbers, will be quite a task.
It remains to be seen how many in the squad are unscarred from the train wreck of a season that has seen the side rooted to the bottom of the table. Kiwi spin-bowling all-rounder Mitchell Santner, speedster K.M. Asif and left-arm spinner R. Sai Kishore may finally get a game. Legspinner Imran Tahir, a former world No.1 bowler in T20 cricket, who featured in all 17 of CSK’s games in the run to the final in 2019, should play his second.
RCB, on the other hand, looks fairly settled. Currently third in the table with 14 points, the three-time runner-up can all but guarantee a playoff spot with a win. Mohammed Siraj’s superlative effort in the eight-wicket victory over Kolkata Knight Riders on Wednesday has given Virat Kohli the flexibility to alternate between the pacer and left-arm spinner Shahbaz Ahmed depending on the nature of the surface.
The spin duo of Yuzvendra Chahal and Washington Sundar has held its own in a tournament otherwise dominated by the quicks. All-rounder Gurkeerat Singh Mann got some much-needed batting practice, coming in at No.3 against KKR, even ahead of Kohli.
However, opener Aaron Finch’s form will be of concern. The Aussie, roped in at the auction to fill the void of a power-hitter at the top, has crossed 20 just once in his last seven innings. His strike-rate of 110.5 is his lowest in an IPL season since his debut in 2010 (minimum 10 matches). With one foot already in the playoffs, RCB would do well not to return to the old playbook of depending on Kohli and AB de Villiers to do all the heavy-lifting.
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