With ten points each from seven games, Chennai Super Kings and Sunrisers Hyderabad would appear to be on an equal footing in the Pepsi IPL. However, in reality, that is far from the truth. While Chennai are starting to peak with three convincing victories in as many games, Hyderabad are the underdogs who have scrapped for their wins, the last coming courtesy a dramatic four-wicket over by Amit Mishra against Pune Warriors India.
When Hyderabad resume action after a five-day break, the longest breather so far for any team this season, at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on Thursday (April 25), they will hope rustiness is not a factor. To keep their ambitions of qualifying for the playoffs alive, not only do they need to win have not only to win games but also boost their net run rate, which is currently at -0.104.
The absence of Thisara Perera, the in-form allrounder, and Kumar Sangakkara, their captain, for this fixture makes the task doubly challenging, though Hyderabad have been buoyed by the return and availability of Shikhar Dhawan, who is set to make his first appearance of the competition. Dhawan has recovered fully from the finger fracture he sustained on his Test debut in Mohali against Australia last month, and Hyderabad will be hoping he finds form straightaway to alleviate their batting problems. Sangakkara had dropped himself for the last two game to give Quinton de Kock a go, but Perera has been an influential part of the Hyderabad campaign.
On the three occasions that Hyderabad have batted first, they have failed to go past the 130-run mark twice, while during their three successful chases, they have made heavy weather of paltry scores. Slow pitches have contributed to their batting woes, but it is obvious that the team is overly dependent on the bowlers to set up victories.
Perera has been the singular force de frappe. In six out of seven matches, he has made significant contribution with both bat and ball and has taken the team to victory from difficult circumstances at least four times. His absence will force the team management to induct Darren Sammy, the West Indian captain. It is a like-for-like replacement, but it remains to be seen how quickly Sammy adapts on his IPL debut.
Nathan McCullum, the New Zealand offspinner, is another option but on a Chepauk track that has not offered much turn this season, his inclusion is no shoo-in. With Mishra bowling beautifully and Karan Sharma, the leg-spinner, too coming up trumps, Sammy and Ashish Reddy fit the bill of holding one end up. That will allow Dale Steyn and Ishant Sharma to continue to look for wickets up front.
Hyderabad are one of the better bowling sides though Kolkata Knight Riders have shown that attacking them might be the best option to break their rhythm. The average first innings score in four games at Chepauk this season has been 165 and after having successfully chased down 186 in their last game against Rajasthan Royals, Chennai will believe they have the personnel to get the better of Hyderabad.
An off day for the bowlers will put the pressure back on the Hyderabad batting unit. Barring the steadiness of G Hanuma Vihari, none of the other Indian batsmen have impressed. And despite the return of Dhawan, who hasn't had any game time for more than a month now, the onus will be once again be on the lesser known players to put their hand up. But if Cameron White, who has led the side in the last two games, can produce one of his signature innings, then the momentum would sway in his side's favour.
Staying with momentum, Chennai have once again proved themselves to as a big occasion team. After having lost to Pune at home, they have hit their straps and a Chennai team on the rise is always a dangerous opposition.
The successful chase against Rajasthan was marshalled superbly by Michael Hussey and Suresh Raina, but Chennai can do with a little more from Murali Vijay, who has only fired in fits and starts. If Hussey could ensure that Steyn does not create havoc, then the formidable middle order would have a solid base to capitalise on and bat Hyderabad out of the game.
It will boil down to how less Hyderabad concede and how much Chennai compile. It could end up being a one-sided affair but if the two sides hold on to their strengths and withstand pressure, then a tight finish could very well be a possibility, something both teams are well acquainted with.
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 .
Sunrisers Hyderabad:Cameron White (capt), Parthiv Patel (wk), Hanuma Vihari, Akshath Reddy, Biplab Samantray, Dwaraka Ravi Teja, Amit Mishra, Dale Steyn, Nathan McCullum, Quinton de Kock (wk), Anand Rajan, Chris Lynn, Darren Sammy, Ashish Reddy, Ishant Sharma, Karan Sharma, Sachin Rana, Sudeep Tyagi, Veer Pratap Singh, Thalaivan Sargunam, Ankit Sharma.