It will be a clash of mid-season favourites when defending champions Chennai Super Kings host Shane Warne’s sprightly Rajasthan Royals as the Indian Premier League crosses its halfway stage at the MA Chidambaram stadium on Wednesday.
While the evergreen Warne will attempt to rouse his underrated team to yet another upset win, MS Dhoni’s side would be keen to continue its unbeaten home run this season.
Both teams have won three matches on the bounce, the CSK taming Pune Warriors home and away before seeing off Deccan Chargers at home on Sunday and the Royals prevailing over Kochi, Mumbai and Pune respectively.
While Wednesday’s match will be the first of two back-to-back matches against the CSK for the Royals, the men in yellow have a game in hand over Warne’s boys and will travel next up to Kolkata to face the Knight Riders on May 7.
It remains to be seen if Elizabeth Hurley, the Royals’ lucky mascot, turns up to support her boyfriend Warne at the Chepauk stadium, but the Aussie wizard will be hoping his top order turns up at the big match because barring South African Johan Botha, none has scored a half century nine matches into their IPL season.
Botha has played some crucial knocks to hand his side the momentum when needed but Rahul Dravid, Aussie Shane Watson and the young Ashok Menaria have failed to build on starts.
New Zealander Ross Taylor, bought for $1 million in the IPL auction, finally proved his value in Royals’ win over Pune in their previous match with a 35-ball 47.
While Siddarth Trivedi and Amit Singh, two former bright prospects of Indian cricket, have pocketed nine and seven wickets respectively, the story of the Royals’ season has been Warne.
Four years after his retirement from international cricket, his offerings are as sinister as ever.
Pushing 42, Warne still cares. And it is reflected in the bowling leaderboard, where he is joint second with 11 wickets at a superb economy rate of 6.03.
If there is a place CSK’s batsmen can confidently take guard against Warne, it’s at home, where they are seeking a fifth successive victory.
Though CSK coach Stephen Fleming has denied that the team looks at matches on a ‘home’ and ‘away’ basis, he also agreed the team was at an advantage at the Chepauk because they are familiar with the conditions and know how to handle them.
CSK’s biggest positives from their last match, against Deccan on Sunday, was the return to form of Suresh Raina, who smashed a half century, and South African Albie Morkel, who took 3/38 and thumped a six-ball 19 to win the man of the match award.
Australian Michael Hussey also continued his splendid run with the bat with a fluent 47 while R Ashwin, Doug Bollinger and Shadab Jakati bowled beautifully to contain Deccan on a slow, dry pitch that played much better than expected.
The Teams (from):
Chennai Super Kings: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (C), Murali Vijay, Suresh Raina, S Badrinath, Ravichandran Ashwin, Shadab Jakati, Michael Hussey, Albie Morkel, Ben Hilfenhaus, Doug Bollinger, G Bailey, Tim Southee, F du Plessis, Suraj Randiv, Nuwan Kulasekara, Joginder Sharma, Yo Mahesh, A Mukund, Wriddhiman Saha, Scott Styris, Sudeep Tyagi, K Vasudevadas, G Vignesh.
Rajasthan Royals: Shane Warne (C), Swapnil Asnodkar, Stuart Binny, Johan Botha, Deepak Chahar, Ankeet Chavan, Aakash Chopra, Aditya Dole, Nayan Doshi, Rahul Dravid, Samad Fallah, Faiz Fazal, Ashok Menaria, Sumit Narwal, Jacob Oram, Pankaj Singh, Amit Paunikar, Ajinkya Rahane, Abhishek Raut, Dinesh Salunkhe, Pinal Shah, Amit Singh, Shaun Tait, Ross Taylor, Siddharth Trivedi, Shane Watson and Dishant Harendra Yagnik.