Captain MS Dhoni and head coach Stephen Fleming may have sounded unusually downbeat after Chennai Super Kings put in a below-par performance in their previous match against Rajasthan Royals, but mathematically the Super Kings are still in the race to maintain their record of qualifying for the playoffs every season. This despite losing the services of allrounder Dwayne Bravo to injury, and with Dhoni's selection choices coming under fire from various quarters. The fact that even three wins from their four remaining games could just sneak them into the top four - provided other results go their way - should give them the necessary spark with the death of the round robin games approaching.
Their immediate opponents Mumbai Indians have suffered a couple of hiccups along the way, but look on course to making the playoffs yet again. They have had an extra day's rest compared to the Super Kings, and considering the drama of their epic encounter with the Kings XI Punjab, they would be thankful for it. Captain Rohit Sharma and Ishan Kishan appeared to suffer injuries during Sunday's match, and their non-availability might not be such a bad thing. With just 13 players used from their roster yet, Mumbai wouldn't mind valuable match practice for those having warmed the bench thus far, especially looking at the business end of the tournament.
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The 2020 season remains the only time when Dhoni is yet to register a score of 50 or more while his average of 27.30 is his lowest for the Super Kings in any season. Dhoni's strike rate of 125 is also the second lowest for the franchise - he had struck 372 runs at 122 in 2015 - and with the middle order a weak link for the Super Kings, Dhoni hitting form is not just crucial but also imperative for their playoffs hopes to stay alive.
If Mumbai choose to rest Rohit, Kieron Pollard can step into the role of captain, as he has in the past for them. This can also allow Chris Lynn and Dhawal Kulkarni - both unused so far - to play at the expense of a foreign seamer. Pollard's form with the bat has been key for Mumbai's continued form this season. After falling to Lungi Ngidi for 18 in the first match of the season, he has rattled up 190 more runs at a strike rate of 211 in six innings without being dismissed. Owing to Pollard, Mumbai average 10.60 in the last 10 overs while batting, and have smashed 20 or more runs in an over at the death for as many as seven times.
It was the very first game of the season in Abu Dhabi. Dhoni used his resources expertly to ensure no Mumbai batsman scored more than 42, as all his bowlers chipped in with wickets and restricted the defending champions to 162. Despite early jitters, Ambati Rayudu and Faf du Plessis spearheaded the Super Kings' reply to bring them their first win against Mumbai following a 4-0 wipeout last season.
Chennai Super Kings: 1 Faf du Plessis, 2 Shane Watson, 3 N Jagadeesan/Ruturaj Gaikwad, 4 Ambati Rayudu, 5 MS Dhoni (capt and wk), 6 Sam Curran, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Deepak Chahar, 9 Shardul Thakur, 10 Karn Sharma/KM Asif, 11 Josh Hazlewood/Imran Tahir
Mumbai Indians: 1 Quinton de Kock (wk), 2 Rohit Sharma (capt)/Chris Lynn, 3 Suryakumar Yadav, 4 Ishan Kishan/Saurabh Tiwary, 5 Hardik Pandya, 6 Kieron Pollard, 7 Krunal Pandya, 8 Nathan Coulter-Nile/Dhawal Kulkarni, 9 Rahul Chahar, 10 Trent Boult, 11 Jasprit Bumrah
The Super Kings promoted Sam Curran to open the batting against the Sunrisers Hyderabad, and while they won that match, his strike rate of 108 at the top pales in comparison to the 219 he was going at previously this season. Curran also strikes at 190 against spin, as opposed to 127 against pace.
Similarly, Ravindra Jadeja currently averages 48.50 and strikes at 164, both being his best returns with the bat in an IPL. Curran and Jadeja can both be employed as floaters - especially keeping the smaller boundaries of Sharjah in mind - to motor along in the middle overs.
Typically, Mumbai use one over of Jasprit Bumrah in the powerplay and another around the 11th or 12th over mark, before holding back two overs for the death. However, his recent form has been terrific - his average and economy have dipped to 11.50 and 5.80 in the last four matches, as opposed to 25.1 and 8.80 in the first five. Besides, his match-ups with Shane Watson (who averages 23.5 and strikes at 87), Dhoni (average 15.7 and strike rate 92) and Curran (dismissed both times they've met while averaging seven) could encourage a break from the norm and more overs in the first half of the innings.
Stats that matter
Matches in Sharjah have followed no set pattern that the teams can go by. If the first four games produced an average first innings total of 219 with four successive teams batting first and crossing 200, that number has dipped to 182 and zero respectively, in the four matches that have followed. Similarly, the economy rate for spinners went from 10.5 in the first four matches to 7.5 in the four played since.
This will be the 200th T20 match for the Super Kings, who have 118 wins from 199 games till now. They will join Mumbai, the Royal Challengers Bangalore and the Kolkata Knight Riders as teams with 200 T20 matches, with only Mumbai (126) having won more matches.
Dhoni needs one six to reach 200 sixes as captain in the IPL.
Bumrah needs three wickets to reach 100 wickets in the IPL and 200 in all T20s.
Krunal Pandya needs 27 runs to reach 1000 IPL runs.