The first playoff between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Chennai Super Kings at the Wankhede Stadium on Tuesday isn’t just a clash between the first and second teams.
It’s a contest between two sides who have been the most consistent. These are two outfits who spent their dollars well at the auctions and bought smart.
Two units who have achieved their goal of finishing in the top two and earn an automatic qualification in the Champions League.
Two teams that have fielded out of their skins of late. Their methods though have been contrasting.
While RCB have depended almost completely on the breathtaking exploits of Chris Gayle (511 runs in 9 matches @85.16), Chennai, like they have done in previous seasons, have booked their spot on the back of solid team work.
True, the industrious Mike Hussey has been their most consistent batsmen (429 runs in 12 games @ 42.90), but they have also been bailed out by different players at various times.
S Badrinath, Suresh Raina, Murali Vijay, Albie Morkel, S Anirudha, Wriddhiman Saha and MS Dhoni himself. All of them have essayed vital roles whenever things have got tough.
With the ball R Ashwin (16 wickets in 14 games @ 21.18, ER 6.16), Doug Bollinger (15 wickets in 11 games @ 18.73, ER 7.02) and Morkel (15 wickets in 13 matches) have helped Dhoni script the impossible of heists and defend even modest totals.
These figures though mean nothing if Gayle decides to do what he did to CSK on Sunday evening in Bangalore. Dial M for Murder. Of course, the Wankhede track will be more bowling friendly than the truer surface of Chinnaswamy.
It will offer more bounce to the quicks and more purchase to the array of spinners that CSK possess. Clearing his leg and depositing balls into the newly constructed stands won’t be as easy for the Jamaican as it was in Bangalore.
What will be in his favour though are the shorter boundaries straight down the ground. There aren’t too many better hitters of the cricket ball in the V than Gayle and he will definitely target the mid-on and mid-off region if the ball is pitched in his half.
Dhoni, though less instinctive these days, than when he started his captaincy career, needs to pull a rabbit out of the bag and surprise the opposition with his tactics. He did that in last year’s final by stationing Matthew Hayden almost behind the bowler (Albie Morkel) to get MI’s Kieron Pollard when the game was in the balance.
What can one expect the Great Gambler to do to silence Gayle? How about putting aside the keeping gloves and rolling his arm over for an over or two at the Pirate from the Caribbean?
If it doesn’t work, Gayle will do to Dhoni what he has done to other accomplished bowlers. Smash him. But if the move clicks, the West Indian would be taking his quintessentially slow walk to the dug out, while Chennai would take giant strides into the final.
Royal Challengers Bangalore: Daniel Vettori (capt), Mayank Agarwal, Sreenath Aravind, Arun Karthik, BN Bharath, Raju Bhatkal, AB de Villiers, Muralidharen Gautam, Chris Gayle, Mohammad Kaif, Abrar Kazi, Zaheer Khan, Virat Kohli, Charl Langeveldt, Abhimanyu Mithun, Ryan Ninan, Asad Pathan, Luke Pomersbach, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rilee Rossouw, Jamaluddin Syed Mohammad, Saurabh Tiwary, Johan van der Wath, Jonathan Vandiar.
Chennai Super Kings: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Michael Hussey, Murali Vijay, Suresh Raina, Albie Morkel, Subramaniam Badrinath, S Anirudha, Ravichandran Ashwin, Doug Bollinger, Shadab Jakati, Faf du Plessis, Dwayne Bravo, Ben Hilfenhaus, Nuwan Kulasekara, Tim Southee, Scott Styris, George Bailey, Joginder Sharma, Yo Mahesh, Abhinav Mukund, Wriddhiman Saha, Sudeep Tyagi, Ganapathi Vignesh and Kuthethurshri Vasudevadas.