A huge cut-out of Mahendra Singh Dhoni just outside the Sawai Mansingh Stadium boldly proclaims: ‘change the game’. That should set the tone for Thursday’s tie, when Chennai lock horns with hosts Rajasthan in an all-important IPL clash.
Captain Dhoni will also be hoping for a change in fortunes. The defending champions, with 11 points in their kitty, need a victory to stay relevant in the league table. After the last-ball defeat against Mumbai, he can’t even afford to think of anything less.
On the other hand, Rahul Dravid’s men will be seeking revenge against the visitors. After a series of defeats, Rajasthan are back in contention, thanks mainly to Shane Watson. Having accumulated 12 points from as many games, one more win should help them move closer to the playoffs. At the current stage, the one-point difference between the two teams is almost critical.
On individual strengths, Chennai are much stronger on paper. With Faf du Plessis, Michael Hussey, Suresh Raina and the captain himself in the top-order, the batting looks rock solid. And then there is Ravindra Jadeja, who can change the colour of any game.
Rajasthan, though, stand out when it comes to keeping the opponents under pressure. After Watson’s unbeaten 90 against Pune, their confidence will also be high. The Australian all-rounder, and in-form Ajinkya Rahane and Owais Shah make for a fairly formidable troika. Dravid has been chipping in runs at a fair clip at the top.
Rajasthan are likely to stick to the winning combination, although Brad Hodge could come in for Johan Botha. Chennai, interestingly, might finally consider one or two changes. Their bowling has let them down on a few occasions at the death. So, they might want to bring in Doug Bollinger to partner Ben Hilfenhaus.
The big question is if Dhoni might want to risk Nuwan Kulasekara too. In that case, either Bravo or Albie Morkel, who have been useful with both bat and ball, will have to be benched. Rajasthan’s bowling looks much more incisive with Shaun Tait finally regaining full fitness. They had initially struggled on that front but with Watson and Siddharth Trivedi able to share the burden with the pacy Tait, they will be much more competitive.
The key, of course, would be the batting. Whoever takes advantage of the SMS track, which is expected to be a batsman’s paradise, can hope to emerge victorious.