Momentum is an incorrigible buzzword in T20 cricket. Ironic, considering this is a format where the outcome of every contest is also said to depend on how a team performs on the given day.
Momentum anyway had little to do with why and how last year’s finalists ended up in Wednesday’s Eliminator at the Brabourne Stadium. For, both Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings got there by virtue of two flashes of individual brilliance. Two displays of immense brutality that managed to briefly stretch the realms of what was thought to be possible and what was not in the shortest format of cricket.
Yes, Mumbai did go into their final league encounter against Rajasthan Royals on the back of a few impressive wins. But the only reason they made it past the league phase was Corey Anderson and his pyrotechnics with the bat at the Wankhede Stadium. Just like Chennai slipped down to third on the table in spite of a characteristically consistent run, exclusively as a result of Yusuf Pathan regaining his mojo and finding an additional gear to his already breakneck batting strike-rate.
In terms of momentum, you might say Mumbai have the advantage with their record on Indian soil in IPL7 coming into the playoffs as it is better than that of Chennai, having won seven off their nine matches as compared to their opponents’ five off nine. But none of that should count for much as they prepare to face each other in the first knockout match of this year’s IPL with the diktat of the ‘better team winning on the day’ sure to take precedence.
Mumbai and Chennai will know that as they are no strangers to this stage of the competition. Chennai are the only team to have made it past the league phase, when the IPL buzz reaches a crescendo, every single year of the tournament. Meanwhile, Mumbai are the defending champions. In addition, they have also faced each other on four occasions in the business end of the IPL previously with CSK leading that head-to-head 3-1.
Incidentally, the two teams found themselves in the same situation couple of years ago with MS Dhoni leading his team to a resounding win. Dwayne Smith and Michael Hussey had opened the innings for their respective teams back then at Bangalore’s Chinnaswamy Stadium, with both playing impactful innings at the top. They will be expected to produce an encore at Brabourne, even if they might have interchanged their respective colours with Smith in yellow and Hussey in blue this time around.
They do come into the match having had contrasting seasons with the bat. Smith has been CSK’s man of the tournament so far while Hussey has struggled to find his feet since making the shift from a team he represented for the first six seasons of the IPL.
There will be a Hussey wearing the canary yellow on Wednesday as well, but it will be interesting to see whether CSK decide to stick with David H now that Brendon McCullum has returned from New Zealand following the birth of his child. CSK have ridden on the opening salvos that the Kiwi-Bajan pairing of McCullum and Smith have produced with great consistency, with the duo having scored over 900 runs between them.
Mumbai on the other hand have continued to play musical chairs with their top-order combinations, like they do every year, before settling on the Trini-Aussie pairing of Lendl Simmons and M Hussey.
CSK coach Stephen Fleming was candid when talking about the headaches that his team management face in terms of finding the right XI for Wednesday’s clash, considering the new conditions they will encounter at Brabourne. While Chennai can afford to leave out the Hussey in their mix, considering the might of their middle-order, it remains to be seen where Mumbai will stick with theirs having played an all-Indian bowling attack for the game against the Royals.
With the Brabourne not having seen IPL cricket for four years, Fleming & Co will also have to take a gamble on whether it will be the spin of Samuel Badree or the pace of Ben Hilfenhaus that will add muscle to their bowling arsenal. With all four previous clashes between the two sides in knockout matches having gone in the favour of the team batting first, the spinners are sure to come into the picture. And it will be an interesting clash between the pairing of Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha against Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja — the pair who replaced them in the Indian team.
Overall, it’s been a game of snakes-and-ladders for the defending champions in IPL 7 as they’ve tried their best to overcome a horror start to their campaign while Chennai have been on cruise-mode throughout. And for once, you can be rest assured that there will be no talk of momentum once the dust settles on Wednesday.
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