Updated: September 18, 2021 8:56:19 am
Last year, the best two teams met in the final. Both Mumbai Indians and Delhi Capitals had been dominant during the group phase, notching up nine and eight wins respectively. The fresh pitches in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) suited their world-class fast bowlers and when towards the end the surfaces became sluggish, the teams had a host of good spinners to make full use of the conditions.
This year also, the Indian Premier League’s (IPL) switch to UAE for the second phase should work to the advantage of the franchises that have quality pace attacks. But going beyond speed and spin, a change of scenery could yet again make MI and DC strong favourites because of their depth.
Why Mumbai Indians remain top title contender
MI have six Indian players in their regular playing eleven, who will go to the T20 World Cup next month. Rohit Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah have been their cricketing royalty, but support around them, from Suryakumar Yadav, Hardik Pandya and Ishan Kishan to Quinton de Kock, Kieron Pollard and Trent Boult, is world-class. Batting, pace and spin; they have all the bases covered. This is an all-conditions side that thrives on stability. Placed fourth at the moment with eight points from seven matches, the five-time champions need at least three more wins to reach the playoffs. But MI are always good at upping the ante on the home stretch.
Can Delhi Capitals edge Mumbai Indians this time?
They lost to MI in the final last year in a lopsided contest. But like MI, DC, too, have a fantastic first team and a very strong reserve bench. Last year, four fast bowlers featured among the top five wicket-takers and two of them were from DC – Kagiso Rabada with 30 scalps and Anrich Nortje with 22. Nortje went past the 150kph mark for fun. The South African quick missed the first phase of this year’s IPL in India, while his compatriot, Rabada, was a tad off-colour. Quick pitches in Dubai and Abu Dhabi will help them hit their straps. And spare a thought for Avesh Khan – 14 wickets from eight matches in the first phase. As regards spin, DC have Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel and Amit Mishra as their frontline operators, while their batting offers an embarrassment of riches. Spoilt for choice, DC captain Rishabh Pant’s challenge would be to pick the right combination.
What about Chennai Super Kings?
Chennai Super Kings made a strong start to the tournament this year and with a game in hand they are placed second – 10 points from seven matches. But the three-time champions are now apparently out of their comfort zone. In India, MS Dhoni had been using Ravindra Jadeja and Moeen Ali for his famous spin-choke in the middle-overs. Both conceded less than seven runs per over in the first phase. And the only match that Imran Tahir played, he took 2/16 in four overs. It’s a different ball game in UAE, as was evident last year. Conditions had neutered Dhoni’s spin-choke, with no spinner reaching double-figures in terms of taking wickets. Even someone as miserly as Jadeja had conceded nearly nine runs per over. Yes, missing Suresh Raina was a huge factor last year and the left-hander would be available this term. But he, like his captain, is short of game time, having last played a competitive fixture on May Day. CSK don’t have express pace in their ranks and Dhoni’s use of Deepak Chahar and Shardul Thakur could be a factor. Four to six points from the next seven matches shouldn’t be a problem. After that, CSK’s chances would largely depend on taking wickets in Powerplays.
Now or never for Virat Kohli?
Virat Kohli’s decision to relinquish T20I captaincy after the T20 World Cup has made the situation interesting as regards to his future as RCB captain also. Nine years into the franchise leadership, Kohli would be under pressure to take his side home, else there could well be a knock-on effect. At the moment, he remains unchallenged, for the RCB squad doesn’t have anyone who can assume the captaincy mantle from him. AB de Villiers is 37 years old and not the future. But a fresh auction is scheduled next year and another failure may prompt the franchise owners to think differently, especially now that Kohli has decided to call time on his T20I captaincy. RCB are placed third at the moment with 10 points from seven matches and they need a collective winning mentality to go the distance.
What about the rest?
Kolkata Knight Riders, Punjab Kings, Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad are playing serious catch-up. Royals are heavily depleted, bereft of Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Jofra Archer. KKR will miss Pat Cummins and their progress on most occasions is directly proportional to Andre Russell’s hitting success. Opposition fast bowlers’ these days bowl short and quick into Russell’s body, cramping him for room. Early conditions in the UAE might increase his degree of difficulty. Punjab Kings will be dependent on KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal, while for Sunrisers, how David Warner reacts to his mid-tournament captaincy snub, would be interesting to watch.
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