As the group phase of the Pepsi Indian Premier League winds down, Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals will ready themselves for a crucial clash at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur on Sunday (May 12). For Chennai, a win will be a further step towards a top-two finish in the league stages. Rajasthan, on the other hand, need a win to keep up with what has panned out into an extremely competitive race for a top-four spot.
Chennai have been sitting pretty at the top of the table for a while now thanks to a run of seven straight victories, which ended at the hands of Mumbai Indians on May 5. However, they should be wary of teams creeping up on them. With their win against Pune Warriors, Mumbai lifted themselves to second spot, above Rajasthan on net run-rate, and both sides are just two points behind Chennai.
Despite looking the likeliest team to make the playoffs, it is still technically possible that Chennai would need to resort to a good net run-rate to qualify, assuming they lose their remaining three matches. Having said that, they have enough quality and experience to make use of the advantage they currently hold.
To that end, consolidation is very much their agenda. They come into the game on the back of an impressive 77-run away victory against Sunrisers Hyderabad, the first time Hyderabad had been beaten at home in the current season. It was a thoroughly commanding display, and on that evidence, the two-time champions can firmly be counted as favourites for a third trophy. After a shaky start to the tournament, they have pulled through and it seems the unit is peaking at the right time. The batting charge is led by Mike Hussey, who is currently the season's highest run-getter, and Suresh Raina, whose unbeaten 99 against Hyderabad took him into the top five. Dwayne Bravo, the top wicket-taker with 21 scalps, Mohit Sharma and R Ashwin beef up the bowling unit.
For all their might though, Chennai will have their task cut out. Beating Rajasthan at Jaipur is no mean feat, given they have won all seven home games this season - a record that has been the bedrock of their campaign. In terms of away form, they haven't been as good, losing four of six, although those losses came in between a run of victories and Rajasthan almost always made sure they didn't sprout into a losing streak.
The importance of this game for Rajasthan cannot be overstated, especially with Mumbai leapfrogging them in the table on Saturday. This is their last home game of the season and their remaining two matches are away against Mumbai and Hyderabad, both fellow playoff contenders.
It helps Rajasthan that they've managed to string a run of victories together. They come into the game on the back of three consecutive wins, the last of which, happily, came away against Kings XI Punjab, where they won by eight wickets. Their batting has found form going into the crucial phase of the tournament. The young Sanju Samson has continued to impress, while the likes of Ajinkya Rahane, Rahul Dravid and Shane Watson have all come good. The bowling is in a good spot as well led by James Faulkner, the third-highest wicket-taker in the tournament with 19, and Kevon Cooper, with 14.
How the match pans out is anyone's guess but Chennai's visit will be the litmus test of just how strong Rajasthan's home form is.
Rajasthan Royals: Rahul Dravid (capt), Ajinkya Rahane, Shane Watson, Sanju Samson (wk), Brad Hodge, Stuart Binny, James Faulkner, Ajit Chandila, Sachin Baby, Owais Shah, Rahul Shukla, Kevon Cooper, Siddharth Trivedi, Dishant Yagnik (wk), S Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan, Kumar Boresa, Fidel Edwards, Samuel Badree, Shreevats Goswami, Harmeet Singh, Brad Hogg, Vikramjeet Malik, Ashok Menaria, Kushal Perera, Amit Singh, Shaun Tait, Pravin Tambe.
Chennai Super Kings: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt, wk), Murali Vijay, Michael Hussey, Suresh Raina, Subramaniam Badrinath, Ravindra Jadeja, Dwayne Bravo, Ravichandran Ashwin, Albie Morkel, Dirk Nannes, Jason Holder, Chris Morris, Ankit Rajpoot, Mohit Sharma, Shadab Jakati, Anirudha Srikkanth, Baba Aparajith, Imtiaz Ahmed, R Karthikeyan, Ronit More, Vijay Shankar, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ben Hilfenhaus, Ben Laughlin.