Chennai favoured against Sunrisers in Qualifier 1

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, left and Kane Williamson, captains of the Chennai Super Kings and Sunrisers Hyderabad respectively ahead of today’s first qualifier. (IPL website)

(IPL) The Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) and Chennai Super Kings (CSK) will compete in Qualifier 1 – the first of the playoff matches of VIVO IPL 2018.

SRH finished the regular league season at the top of the table, while CSK occupied second place; both teams finished with  nine wins each –  net run rate decided their position in the table.

SRH were the first team to secure a playoff berth; however, Kane Williamson and company have gone off the boil in their last few games. In a format where momentum is a huge factor, SRH are entering this crucial phase of the competition on the back of three consecutive defeats. The SRH camp while upbeat about making the playoffs, must be silently worried about the performance of their bowlers. In their last four matches, SRH have conceded totals of 187, 180, 218 and 173 – an overall economy rate of 9.64, which is in stark contrast to their economy rate of 7.24 from earlier in the competition.

In the first half of the season, CSK clinched thrillers; they won with one wicket to spare, with one or two balls remaining and by 4 runs. However, as they’ve rolled on, CSK have operated like a fine-tuned engine – with all parts playing their role efficiently, as a result often dominating opponents. They have an in-form batting line-up and have bowlers for specific roles and conditions. In their most-recent outing, CSK defeated Kings XI Punjab in the final league match of the season. On a green surface in Pune, Lungi Ngidi landed two deadly blows to derail KXIP right at the start, thereafter finishing with exceptional figures of 4-1-10-4. MS Dhoni’s tactical masterstroke (of promoting Harbhajan Singh and Deepak Chahar to 4 & 5 respectively) and Suresh Raina’s mature innings were the highlights of a successful run-chase.

Both teams experimented with their XIs in the previous match, but one expects they will return to their first-choice XI for this match. Alex Hales should return to the SRH XI, while Shane Watson should be back in CSK’s XI.The Chennai Super Kings will believe they have the psychological edge over their opponents heading into this match, for they’ve already defeated the Sunrisers twice this season. Will CSK make it three out of three, or will Sunrisers be able to put the brakes on their losing streak and sail through to the Final?

Williamson, by himself, has contributed 29.6% of Sunrisers’ runs this season; that statistic by itself explains how important he is to his team. Considered a batsman suited better for the longer formats, the SRH captain has been refreshing to watch this IPL. While he continues to employ the traditional methods to score runs, he has also shed his inhibitions and adapted to the demands of the T20 format, playing strokes which don’t come to him naturally.

Shikhar Dhawan has had an outstanding year with the bat – particularly in the white ball formats; the left-hander has scored three half-centuries in his last four innings and looks hungry for more.

Three CSK batsmen find a place in the top 10 run-getters this season; Ambati Rayudu occupies fourth place with an aggregate of 586 runs, while MS Dhoni and Shane Watson are ninth and 10th respectively with aggregates of 446 runs & 438 runs. Add Suresh Raina, who is nine short of 400 runs for the season, into the mix; the left-hander – an integral part of CSK, scored a responsible half-century in the win against KXIP.

In this high-stakes match, SRH will look towards Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Rashid Khan to do the bulk of the damage. Bhuvneshwar, the Purple Cap winner in the last two seasons, has come in for plenty of tap in his last three matches – 1-51, 0-38 and 0-33. SRH will hope he can raise his game and cause some damage with the ball. Rashid Khan has often dismissed the key batsman in the opposition; his victims this season include Jos Buttler, Aaron Finch, KL Rahul, Rishabh Pant, Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers. SRH will need the leg-spinner to work his magic over.

Deepak Chahar has generally bowled well with the new ball; considering the bulk of SRH’s runs have been scored by their top three, if Chahar is able to knock over a few early on, he will have put CSK in a position of strength. Pitches at the Wankhede Stadium have generally offered good pace and bounce; if it is a traditional Wankhede Stadium surface, Lungi Ngidi, who spewed fire in the previous match, will relish the conditions and could be a handful.

The winner of this contest will progress to the Final of VIVO IPL 2018 – which will be played in Mumbai on May 27. The loser of this match will have a second chance to make the final; they will clash against the winner of the Eliminator in Qualifier 2, which will be played in Kolkata on Friday.

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