Chennai Super Kings undoubtedly the most consistent team in the tournament will take on Mumbai Indians in the first qualifier of the Indian Premier League season eight at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. Chennai had secured their place in the top four much before playing their final league game, but their crushing win in the last match ensured they finished first. Mumbai on the other pole vaulted from a position of being eliminated to end at number two. The last time these two teams met, Brendon McCullum and Dwayne Smith absolutely murdered the Mumbai bowling. But, the latter's fortunes have turned around since. Also, Mumbai had defeated Chennai in the 2013 IPL final, which will give them confidence.
Match: Chennai Super Kings vs Mumbai Indians, Qualifier 1 at Mumbai
Time: Match begins at 8 PM IST | 14:30 GMT
Toss: Mumbai Indians, who chose to bat first
One major setback for Chennai as they head into the qualifier is that their best batsman Brendon McCullum will not be available for the rest of the season, as he has left to resume his national duty. McCullum has been critical for Chennai at the top of the order, providing them with blistering starts consistently. His partnership at the top of the order with Dwayne Smith in the first half of the season was electrifying. Since, Smith has lost form, and McCullum will most probably be replaced by Mike Hussey. The veteran Aussie featured for Chennai in the team's last match, but did not look in any sort of rhythm. It remains to be seen how he responds to the challenge.
Chennai strength has been their all-round ability, and they would look to stick to the tried and tested formula. They have a highly potent batting line up comprising the likes of Suresh Raina, Faf du Plessis, MS Dhoni and Dwayne Bravo. Of them, Raina is yet to flourish as we have seen him do in the earlier editions. The southpaw will be keen to make up for lost time. Du Plessis has been consistent as always, and Dhoni too has found form as the tournament has progressed. In Bravo, they have a high-quality all-rounder, who can turn around matches with both bat and ball. Ravindra Jadeja and Pawan Negi are two other useful all-rounders in the side.
Inconsistency has been the hallmark of Mumbai this season. And yet, they have finished second in the league table. This says a lot about the brutal strength that Mumbai possesses. They had a horror start losing four matches in a row, then recovered to hit an unbelievable winning streak, before losing their way again. Just when it seemed they were going down the wrong path, they recovered to thrash Sunrisers Hyderabad and book their place at number two in the league standings. Be it Kieron Pollard's last over against KKR or Hardik Pandya's dashing knocks down the order, Mumbai have managed to drag themselves out of tense situations.
Like Chennai, Mumbai too are filled with abundance of talent. Their skipper Rohit Sharma can win a match on his own, on a given day. In Lendl Simmons, they have an opener who exceeded expectations at the top with his consistent scoring. Ambati Rayudu too has got into the act lower down the order. His ability to play match-winning cameos is a big plus. Parthiv Patel has looked good, but his consistency remains a question mark. In the bowling department, the experienced campaigners Lasith Malinga and Harbhajan Singh have stood out. But, it has been Mitchell McClenaghan, whose introduction in place of Corey Anderson has been a massive plus for Mumbai.
Difficult to predict favourites when two teams are so well balanced.
--By A Cricket Analyst