Chennai Super Kings are the undisputed giants of Indian Premier League. The only team to have won the tournament twice, Chennai have been the most consistent side since the inaugural edition of IPL in 2008. Their dreams of a third title though face a daunting challenge from a team that not many would have backed at the start of IPL 7. After all, Kings XI Punjab have been the perennial underdogs till all of that changed this season. (Related: Game of thrones as Chennai Super Kings battle Kings XI Punjab)
Kings XI Punjab stormed their way to the top of IPL 7 points table with 11 wins from their 14 league matches. Punjab may have lost to Kolkata Knight Riders in the first qualifier but the solitary blemish in their otherwise fantastic performance can make the side even more determined. Against Chennai, the team has not just registered wins but have triumphed with big margins in the two league matches earlier this season. (Also read: Glenn Maxwell threat looms over Chennai in second qualifier)
Punjab beat Chennai by six wickets
When the two teams took each other on in the third match of IPL 7, it was batting carnage at its destructive best! The Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi would have hardly seen such explosions as Punjab went past Chennai's 205/4 in 18.5 overs. (How Chennai eliminated Mumbai)
Glenn Maxwell was the undisputed hero of the match. The Aussie power-hitter smashed 95 off 43 - his first of several stunning knocks to come in the season. He partnered David Miller (54 off 37) to blow Chennai's bowling attack to smithereens. Such was the power of the batting on display that even Mohit Sharma - who is currently in the race for the purple cap - was not just wicket-less but also went at over 12 an over in his 2.5. (Suggested read: Raina praises bowlers for fight vs Mumbai in eliminator)
It was Chennai's 100th IPL match. It was Suresh Raina's 100th IPL match. Still, it was one that Chennai hoped to put behind them quickly.
Punjab beat Chennai by 44 runs
Sequels are usually not as grand as the epic originals. This was hardly the case though when Punjab and Chennai locked horns for the second time in the tournament - Cuttack's Barabati Stadium hosting this clash.
Chennai had batted first in their last match against Punjab. This time though, Punjab came out to set a target - eventually posting a mammoth 231/4! It was 'mauler' Maxwell once again who milked the bowlers with his 38-ball 90. With eight sixes and six fours, fans at the Barabati stadium got their money's worth irrespective of the team they were backing.
Mohit Sharma appeared to have learnt from his previous tryst against Punjab batsmen. He claimed two wickets but with an economy of 9.50, he was a small highlight in an otherwise shattered bowling line-up.
Chennai's reply with the bat was not as dismal as their bowling had been. With Faf du Plessis hitting a 25-ball 52, the team did fight but their best in the day - 187/6 - was not good enough to even come close to the target.
Chennai still hold the edge in IPL head-to-head
Punjab may have thwarted Chennai Super Kings twice in the ongoing tournament but Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men continue to have a better record in overall head-to-head IPL clashes. With eight wins and six losses against Punjab, Chennai would hope to get lucky the third time.
Chennai's overall win percentage - 61.50 - is also superior to that of Punjab - 52.40. While numbers are only a minor indication, Chennai would be hoping to come good on their much-acclaimed status as champions.
Will Wankhede decide the winner?
Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium will host the second qualifier between Chennai and Punjab. It is a venue where Chennai have fared better than Punjab, courtesy their four-wicket win against home-team Mumbai Indians.
Batting second and chasing 158, Dwayne Smith's 51-ball 57 motored Chennai to a win in 19.3 overs as the team collected full points from the match.
Punjab - for all their sensational wins this year - failed against Mumbai Indians when they visited Wankhede. Batting first, Punjab set a target of 169 with Wriddhiman Saha hitting an unbeaten 59 and Maxwell scoring 45. The bowlers though were unable to contain Mumbai's batsmen and the match was over with five balls to spare.
Even-stevens in Qualifier 2
For all their past performances in IPL, both Chennai and Punjab would be aware that what matters is how each team plays their knockout match. The virtual semifinal clash is between two of the better teams this year and while one would have to say farewell at the end, both sides would take heart from the fact that they have battled hard this year and deserved to reach the business end of IPL 7.
(With inputs from Rajesh Kumar)