"I feel the coming seven days are the best break we could have. We'll give the guys a bit more match simulation and come back with a clearer picture as to what is the best combination, looking at how everyone is contributing. If you look at the bowling department, they are not all consistent.."
That's MS Dhoni summing up the Chennai Super Kings' situation after their second straight loss of the season, against Delhi Capitals last week. On the eve of their match against Sunrisers Hyderabad, their head coach Stephen Fleming said the Super Kings have used the six-day break "pretty well" and "have got some clarity" around what they need to do. Alarm bells aren't ringing just yet, but this early struggle is unusual for a team that is traditionally one of the best starters in the tournament - they've won nearly 65% of their first seven games of the season over the last four seasons.
It's not just that they've lost two of their three games so far; their last two matches became no-contests less than halfway into their chases. While the imminent return of Ambati Rayudu should help them, their batting seems to be in need of a complete overhaul. And their spinners, who have been key performers for them over many years, are yet to find their groove.
Sunrisers began their season with back-to-back losses, but they picked up an important win in their last match against the Delhi Capitals, pulling off the sort of controlled performance with bat and ball that propelled them to the 2016 title. With Kane Williamson key to that win, and with Rashid Khan back at his his best, it's unlikely they'll change their combination from that game.
Super Kings may have historically performed well against Sunrisers, with nine wins in 12 meetings, but Sunrisers have momentum on their side as they go into the match on Friday.
In the news
Rayudu and Dwayne Bravo, who have been sidelined with injuries, are available for the match against Sunrisers. Rayudu returning would mean either M Vijay or Ruturaj Gaikwad is left out. Vijay has been struggling to get going, making just 32 runs in three games at a strike rate of 74.4. Gaikwad could play in his preferred opening position if Vijay is dropped, with Rayudu slotting in at No. 3 or 4. Rayudu could also open with Shane Watson. Sam Curran has filled in for Bravo and has been one of the better performers in the side, so there's a chance Bravo might continue to sit out.
Chennai Super Kings: 1 Shane Watson, 2 Ruturaj Gaikwad, 3 Faf du Plessis, 4 Ambati Rayudu, 5 Sam Curran, 6 Kedar Jadhav, 7 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Deepak Chahar, 10 Piyush Chawla, 11 Imran Tahir/ Josh Hazlewood.
Sunrisers Hyderabad: 1 David Warner (capt), 2 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 3 Manish Pandey, 4 Kane Williamson, 5 Abdul Samad, 6 Abhishek Sharma, 7 Priyam Garg, 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 T Natarajan, 11 Khaleel Ahmed.
Teams have chosen to chase 36 out of 55 times after winning the toss in Dubai since 2018, though teams batting first have had a slight edge, winning 29 of the 55 games. Teams have opted to field in all four matches at this venue in this IPL season, usually keeping the dew factor in mind, but have ended up on the losing side all four times. Will we see a change in this game?
Watson has great numbers against the Sunrisers, with two fifties and a century in his last five games against them. However, he has an average record against Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the IPL, getting out to him three times and striking at just 94. If he survives the opening burst, though, he would look to attack Rashid Khan, who hasn't gotten him out in the 10 innings they've come face-to-face in. He also strikes at over 140 against the legspinner, so Sunrisers would want Bhuvneshwar to do the job up front.
Stats that matter
Warner has the best frequency of 50-plus scores for a batsman in the IPL - he gets past the half-century mark once every 2.69 innings. He's gone three innings without a fifty this season, though, and if he fails to score one against the Super Kings it will be his longest streak of not making a 50-plus score since moving to the Sunrisers. However, he has an outstanding record against the opposition, with half-centuries in each of his last five innings against them.
According to ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball data, the Sunrisers fast bowlers have bowled 16 yorkers in their three games so far - T Natarajan executed them particularly well in their win over the Capitals. None of the other teams' quicks, however, had bowled more than six each as of September 30.
Dhoni needs to clear the ropes twice to become the third Indian to tally 300 sixes in T20s.
Manish Pandey needs 69 runs to become the 12th Indian batsman to reach 3000 runs in the IPL.