Match day 1- Chennai SuperKings v/s Mumbai Indians
MA Chidambaram stadium, Chennai
Head-to-head IPL record: 4-4
Bade Miyan, Chotte Miyan
Chennai SuperKings, led by Mahendra Singh Dhoni, have clearly been the most consistent team in IPL history. They have not only reached the last 4 in all 4 editions, but have also reached 3 finals and won 2 of them. They are defending Champions. They are the masters at pacing themselves through the tournament. Atleast twice, they have been in dire straits in the group stages, only to bounce back in their last few games and carry the momentum into the crucial knockout stages. Quite obviously, retaining a core group of players within the same team has served them well, and their decision to not give in to fan requests and pressure at each IPL auction has been important. Not coincidentally, they have made the least amount of transfers and buys since 2008, and have gelled together so cohesively as a unit that they resemble the mighty yellow Australian submarine once they go past the never-ending group stages. Dhoni, going through the toughest period of his young career, often complains about the IPL scheduling and how international players get affected. He was supported by Gary Kirsten last year- and this was Kirsten’s parting shot, before India slid down the rankings under the weight of a gold-encrusted 23 year-in-the-making Cup. But this time, Dhoni hasn’t said a word. One gets a feeling he is beyond words, and will do whatever it takes to remain in the scheme of things- to remain in the eyes of an adoring country.
Remember me? Bhooley toh nahi na?
He has always had a problem facing one team throughout the group-stage competition though- Mumbai Indians, led by his idol Sachin Tendulkar. In Group stage play, where each team is looking to stamp some kind of authority and fire a warning shot- Mumbai Indians lead the head to head 4-3 against their more illustrious counterparts. Chennai have won the only final between them, in Mumbai’s very own backyard 2 years ago. That was a resounding statement, of course, but the tide seems to be changing again. The concept of Home and Away rarely seems to matter for both these teams when they face eachother, and the matches they play are often close, stubborn low-scoring affairs. In IPL 2010, in South Africa, one still remembers the game that kickstarted the edition. Chennai, overwhelming favorites were facing a new-look low-on-confidence Mumbai side that had done their reputation no good by qualifying 6th in the first edition. Wonder of Wonders, Mumbai set the tone for a topsy-turvy tournament- an important 19 run win that starred old Mumbai warhorses Tendulkar and Malinga. The SuperKings never seemed to have mentally recovered from that blow, losing to a lesser-fancied Bangalore team in the semi-finals.
9 to 5 job
Mumbai Indians: (Winners CL 2011)
Sachin Tendulkar is fit and raring to go- and one isn’t sure whether that is a good or bad thing for a Mumbai outfit that won the Champions League without their regular captain. Sachin does tend to get stuck in while fulfilling his role of trying to bat out half the innings for his team, but if players like Rohit Sharma, Rayadu, Jacobs, Karthik, Pollard, Levi down the order, there is never a danger of going after the bowling too early. An Anchor position would be well-suited if they were a one-day outfit, with nobody better than the Master understanding the pacing of an innings, but he hasn’t come to terms with the modern-day pacing of a T20 innings- despite finishing as the Orange Cap holder twice out of 4 editions. It also explains why his only T20 IPL century was a loss for his team against the lowly Kochi outfit last year, with Sachin reaching his century on the very last ball of the innings. Harbhajan Singh will be looking to prove a point to the selectors once again, after proving to be an able captain-mentor to a bits-and-pieces team that are defending Champions in the largest Club tournament in the world. Player to watch out for: Richard Levi – The Best buy of the IPL- The Ambanis forked out a generous amount after his record-breaking single innings in New Zealand. The bulky South-African swats the ball away with the ease of Chris Gayle and the dismissive air of Brendon McCullum, and seems to be a mutant creature brought to this Earth only to turn around an ailing South African T20 team. Without any doubt, he will be a name to watch out for in the coming years.
Time to seal the deal
Chennai SuperKings: (Winners IPL 2010, 2011)
A team that seems to have aged before your very eyes, The SuperKings have finally made a few additions to their elite line-up. They can still boast of the maximum first-team Indian limited overs International players, and can claim to have boosted the fortunes of young players like Raina, Vijay, Ashwin and Albie Morkel. It is worth noting though, that these players cannot make their respective test teams anymore. They have all been given extended opportunities- more than a series to prove themselves- but have failed to perform consistently in White. Raina stands out as the major disappointment, despite being one of the best ODI players in India. T20 effect, maybe? It was only a matter of time before Dhoni made his love for Ravindra Jadeja official, now drafting him in as the most expensive (and worst) buy this year. The 10 crore man, currently out of favour in the ODI scheme of things- losing a long race to Yusuf Pathan- will look to finally discover his own identity, much like Ashwin is doing lately at the cost of his poor International team: Jadeja is a bowler who can bat a bit, and Ashwin is a batsman who can bowl a bit. His astounding fielding abilities at crucial moments in a match further drives home the fact that he is nothing but a top-order batsman in disguise. Harbhajan Singh will be fancying his chances in this game. All he has to do is advice his players to hit the ball to that nervous-looking lanky man at the boundary. See if he spots it.
Player to watch out for: Subramaniam Badrinath – The domestic warhorse proved beyond doubt that he can be a nifty strokeplayer if needed, in the last edition. He was one of the most impressive middle-order bats last year, and one suspects that it is nothing but determination- bordering on the line of desperation to get into the main team- that is driving this man on. A plethora of half-centuries in his bag, he is still looking for that defining innings.
Prediction: A Mumbai win. They have way too many players in form, and way too many youngsters looking to prove themselves. However, if this game is repeated at the latter half of the tournament, one would have to put their money on the more experienced/calm-under-pressure Chennai SuperKings. But for now- Malinga, Pollard, Rayadu and Sharma can take the stage.