Chennai Super Kings, the most successful team in the history of the Indian Premier League, have had a mixed seventh year. Despite losing a few, the Super Kings came back strongly to get in contention for yet another title clash. Despite the defeats in the initial phase, the two-time champions bounced back with resounding victories and it is the margin of these wins that have overshadowed a frustrating start to this season. (CSK vs MI: How it Happened | Match Report)
The way the Super Kings annihilated defending champions Mumbai Indians in the Eliminator on Wednesday is another example of great team spirit and strategy. Mumbai had the home-ground advantage at the Wankhede Stadium, packed with vociferous home supporters but CSK swung the momentum their own way with some brilliant bowling in the second half of the Mumbai Indians innings. (Mumbai Indians will take away lot of positives from IPL 7: Rohit Sharma)
The Super Kings will now need to get the better of the Kings XI Punjab in the second qualifier to be played on Friday. The Kings XI have easily been the best side of the tournament in 2014, winning 11 of their 14 league games to finish on top, before going down to the Kolkata Knight Riders in the first qualifier at the Eden Gardens Wednesday evening.
While the Super Kings will be high on confidence after their comprehensive victory, they will write off the Kings XI at their own peril.
For earlier in the season, the Super Kings, who have played five of the six IPL finals, were shocked twice by Kings XI' Million Dollar baby Glenn Maxwell, who pummeled 95 in Abu Dhabi and 90 in Cuttack to destroy MS Dhoni's men. Maxwell's 95 helped KXIP chase down a mammoth 206 while his 35-ball 90 in the next encounter flattened star spinners R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, inflicting another heavy defeat on CSK.
But if KXIP have Maxwell and David Miller in their ranks, the Super Kings also boast of some serious firepower in their batting ranks.
Chennai made a smart move at the player auctions in February, by buying the big-hitting West Indian Dwyane Smith who was released by Mumbai Indians after he played a few of his match-winning knocks helped them clinch the title last year.
This season, Smith has scored 559 runs for CSK and with New Zealand skipper Brendon Mcculum, he has consistently given his side excellent starts.
The middle-order looked strong with Faf du Plessis and Suresh Raina (382 runs) in great form. The move to include David Hussey, who was on a commentary contract with the broadcasters, has also paid off.
With the likes of MS Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja to follow, Raina has often set up strong platforms after explosive starts from the CSK openers.
It has been heartening to see Dhoni use Ishwar Pandey in critical junctures if the game and the young pacer has responded well to his captain's call each time. The spin-twin of Ashwin and Jadeja have done what they are so good at; they have stifled the opposition, created pressure and that has resulted in wickets.
It is however Mohit Sharma, who has stood out for the second consecutive year, with his effective medium pacers. After collecting 20 wickets on his IPL debut in 2013, Sharma is the current owner of the Purple Cap, with 22 wickets. He has been the captain's go-to-man and the Haryana seamer has rarely disappointed.
The batting has been good, the bowling has improved gradually but the fielding has been excellent with Raina, Jadeja and du Plessis taking some smart catches and making crucial run outs.
Mohit went for 42 runs in his four overs against Mumbai Indians on Wednesday, but he did take the crucial wickets of Rohit Sharma and Ambati Rayudu to stall the hosts and ensure they did not pile up a huge total.
CSK's collective talent is beyond doubt but they will have to ensure that all the wheels fall into place against a powerful side, studded with some of the most formidable T20 players.
Both teams seem equally strong on paper, but momentum and a comfortable victory over the title-holders in their own den, could well give the Chennai Super Kings the upper-hand over the Kings XI Punjab in what would be a virtual semi-final of IPL 2014.