The UAE leg of the IPL can be called a success. The grounds were more or less packed right through the first leg and there was entertaining cricket on offer too. Now it’s the homecoming of the tournament and the battle resumes at Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s hometown, Ranchi, with the match between the Chennai Super Kings and the Kolkata Knight Riders on Friday.
Chennai are one of the form teams of IPL 7 with four wins in five matches in the Middle East. Kolkata have been inconsistent, with the latest loss coming in the Super Over against against Rajasthan Royals. It’s not easy to get over the shock after losing a match on boundary count and the frustration showed as skipper Gautam Gambhir abruptly cut short a post match TV interview following the defeat against Rajasthan. If they needed a fresh start, they have been given the opportunity as the IPL returns to India.
Home away from home
The problem for Kolkata, though, will be that Ranchi may well be considered a home venue for the Super Kings, thanks to their captain’s connection to the city. The JSCA International Cricket Stadium has a capacity of 39,000 and a full house is expected to cheer on Dhoni and the men in yellow. “As the match starts at 8pm, we expect a big turnout. Tickets are priced fairly and the response is excellent. The fans will come and support Chennai because they love Dhoni,” a Jharkhand association official said.
By all accounts, the pitch is expected to be full of runs. At the same time, the Ranchi wicket can be unpredictable. This venue played host to two IPL matches last year. The first one, between Kolkata and Bangalore was a low-scoring affair with the latter limping to 115 for nine batting first and Kolkata winning with only four balls to spare.
The next one saw Pune and Kolkata score 333 runs between them. Chennai spinners revel in their home conditions at Chepauk and though the conditions here may be different, the team seems to have players for all occasions. Medium pacers Mohit Sharma and Ishwar Pandey have impressed while Brendon McCullum and Dwayne Smith looked to be in imperious batting form during the first leg. Whatever the conditions, Chennai must feel they have a settled unit. Coach Stephen Fleming echoed similar feelings. “Mohit Sharma’s seam bowling is one of the reasons why we’ve won four games in UAE. Of course, the openers have been outstanding but we very much have an Indian bowling line-up except Hilfenhaus and they’ve been performing very well as a group,” he said.
One man army?
Sunil Narine has already moved to his customary position at the top of the bowlers’ chart with nine wickets from five matches. But he hasn’t had much support. Narine has gone wicketless in 10 matches in all IPLs and Kolkata have lost eight of them. Steve Smith and company handled the mystery spinner well in the last match and the others couldn’t make up for his off day. Morne Morkel and Piyush Chawla are joint second in the list of wicket-takers for Kolkata with five each. Compare this with Chennai — Mohit leads the tally with eight wickets; Ben Hilfenhaus and Ravindra Jadeja have six each while Ravichandran Ashwin has five. Young Pandey has kept it tight with his economical spells, going at just 5.86 runs an over. Overall, unlike Kolkata, it has been a collective bowling effort from Chennai.
Again, unlike Chennai, Kolkata have troubles in the opening department. They’ve already used three different combinations in five matches with Gautam Gambhir and Manvinder Bisla being the latest to bat upfront. After scoring a hat-trick of ducks followed by a single, Gambhir made 46 off 45 balls in the last match, but he never looked comfortable. The lone bright spot has been Suryakumar Yadav, who has scored 110 runs at a strike-rate of 177.41, despite coming in with only few balls to spare. Chennai, on the other hand, have two in-form openers. McCullum has scored 240 runs in five matches at a strike-rate of 143.71, while Smith has made 193 at a strike-rate of 127.81. It would be interesting to see if Gambhir brings on Narine early to unsettle the pair.
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