And, so this is it! After months of anticipation and build-up, we are finally just a few hours away from the start biggest party of the year 2020- the Indian Premier League [IPL]. And, what better way to start it with cricket’s own version of ‘El Clasico’, right?
The opening game of the 13th edition of the IPL will be an encore of last years final when defending champions Mumbai Indians square off against three-time winners and the most consistent side in the history of the cash-rich league, the MS Dhoni-led Chennai Super Kings.
The build-up to the tournament couldn’t have been starker in the difference for the two sides. While the Mumbai Indians have revelled in their preparations with no real hiccups, Chennai Super Kings have suffered plenty of those ever since they have landed in the United Arab Emirates. Firstly, 13 members of their set-up- including two players in Ruturaj Gaikwad and Deepak Chahar- were tested positive for Covid-19. While 12 of them have recovered from the deadly contagion, the damage was already done as the experienced duo of Suresh Raina and Harbhajan Singh decided to opt-out of the tournament, leaving CSK seemingly hamstrung.
No cricket has been played in the past six months and while that is expected to put every side on level-footing as far as rustiness and lack of match-practice is concerned, in case of CSK, it has been over a year that most of their prime members played any competitive cricket. The likes of Shane Watson, Ambati Rayudu and MS Dhoni are coming off after a long layoff and with Suresh Raina no longer there in the set-up, it will be interesting to see how they fare in IPL 2020.
Will Chennai Super Kings shrug off their recent poor form against the Mumbai Indians?
CSK has been the most consistent side in history and while the leadership of MS Dhoni remains their biggest threat, even they have been unable to scale the winning barrier against the defending champions. Chennai Super Kings lost all of their three encounters against the Mumbai Indians last year and the ‘Dad’s Army’ will be itching to stage redemption this time around.
But will they be able to do it though against a side that has almost every base covered remains a million-dollar question? In Rohit Sharma, Quinton de Kock, Ishan Kishan, Suryakumar Yadav, Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya, the defending champions [Mumbai Indians] have a power-packed batting-unit which can take apart any bowling attack on a given day.
Their fast bowling stocks, even with the absence of Lasith Malinga, are well stocked with high-quality bowlers like Jasprit Bumrah, Trent Boult, Mitchell McClenaghan, James Pattinson and Nathan Coulter Nile. That said, if there is one area where Chennai Super Kings seem to be really well placed is their spin-bowling department. In Imran Tahir, Mitchell Santner, Piyush Chawla, Karn Sharma, the Chennai Super Kings have enough spin-bowling options to make use of the slow and sluggish wickets of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, unlike Mumbai Indians, who barring Rahul Chahar, Krunal Pandya and Jayant Yadav do not have enough variety. Will that prove to be the difference between the two sides in the end?
Chennai Super Kings-
With Suresh Raina not available for the entire 2020 edition, CSK will be hoping that the top-3 consisting of Shane Watson, Faf du Plessis and Ambati Rayudu spearhead their batting-unit and provide them good starts in order to allow the likes of MS Dhoni, Kedar Jadhav, Ravindra Jadeja and Dwayne Bravo to provide the finish touches at the backend.
Deepak Chahar and Shardul Thakur will once again lead the fast bowling unit while the experienced duo of Imran Tahir and Piyush Chawla will spearhead the spinners department.
Probable XI– Shane Watson, Faf du Plessis, Ambati Rayudu, MS Dhoni [C&WK], Kedar Jadhav, Ravindra Jadeja, Dwayne Bravo, Imran Tahir, Deepak Chahar, Piyush Chawla, Shardul Thakur
Skipper Rohit Sharma confirmed in the lead-up to the first game that he will be opening the innings in IPL 2020. That means, MI have a pretty formidable top-6 consisting of QDK, Rohit Sharma, Ishan Kishan, Surya Kumar Yadav, Hardik Pandya and Kieron Pollard. Krunal Pandya and Rahul Chahar will lead the spin-bowling department while Jasprit Bumrah, Trent Boult will lead the pace-bowling unit. There could be a toss-up between Mitchell McClenaghan, Nathan Coulter-Nile and James Pattinson for the third seamer.
Probable XI– Rohit Sharma [C], Quinton de Kock [WK], Ishan Kishan, Suryakumar Yadav, Kieron Pollard, Hardik Pandya, Krunal Pandya, Rahul Chahar, Mitchell McClenaghan/Nathan Coulter-Nile/James Pattinson, Trent Boult, Jasprit Bumrah
The track at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi has traditionally favoured spin. That said, with this being the first game f the season, one can expect the pitch to provide a perfect balance between the bat and ball. In 44 T20s played at the venue, the average 1st innings is 137 while the chasing side have on 25 occasions as compared to 19 by the side batting first.
According to the weather forecast, it is expected to be a bright and sunny day in Abu Dhabi on Saturday. While the temperature is set to hover between 30-37 degrees Celsius while the humidity will be around 49 per cent.
Head to head:
Played – 30
Won by MI – 18
Won by CSK – 12
Stats that matter:
3- CSK are on a three-match losing streak against the defending champions. The MS Dhoni-led unit lost each of their encounters against MI last season.
0-4- Mumbai Indians W/L record in the UAE. Back in 2014, the Rohit Sharma-led unit lost each of its four fixtures in the Emirates.
4- Number of sixes MS Dhoni needs to hit in order to leapfrog AB de Villiers in the list of most sixes hit a batsman in IPL history. Dhoni currently has 209 sixes to his name- the most by an Indian- as compared to ABD’s 212.
Mumbai Indians have held the edge over Chennai Super Kings in recent times and they will once again start as favourites. That said, they are also traditionally slow starters. Also, MS Dhoni is at his best when he pushed to the corner and with CSK under pressure after having lost two of its experienced campaigners in Raina and Bhajji, one can expect that former Indian cricketer to turn around the fortunes of his side against the defending champions and send a strong message to the rest of the teams in the tournament.
Still, Mumbai Indians will start the game as favourites.