There’s a tinge of overconfidence, arrogance even, about most things the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) do in the IPL. Almost as if the situation of the match, their position in the points tally or even the external pressures are simply incidental. They don’t matter. Or so it seems. Maybe they wear an invisible coat that shields them. For, rarely will you see a CSK unit fazed. They always seem to strut with poise. They don’t even need to swagger. Much like their skipper. The aura is indomitable. There always seems to be a way out. There’s always a hero on the horizon.
In some ways it’s understandable. No other franchise has made the playoffs in eight out of eight IPL seasons. No other franchise has made consistency a buzzword in a format that breeds fickleness and also thrives on it. And if you talk of IPL and history, there’s only one team that can lay claim to it. Such has been CSK’s aura. It intimidates.
In contrast, the Mumbai Indians are forever in a state of flux. If CSK are the suave former champions, their rivals on Tuesday at the Wankhede Stadium have a penchant to self-destruct. It’s not that Mumbai, trophy-holders in 2013, do not possess the firepower or quality that CSK do. Maybe the two just wear their money and might differently.
And like it has been over the years, there weren’t many doubts about CSK making the playoffs. It always seemed inevitable. This despite being the first time when only one of their batsmen features in the top-15 highest run-getters of the season.
It was only a question of who’d join them there. Mumbai, true to their history, were never one of the favourites. In fact, they looked all but out of contention after they’d won only one of their first six matches. But like they did last season, they’ve found a way out too. Ironically and rather uniquely, they’ve also managed to find some stability along the way.
To the extent that, for once, it will be Rohit Sharma & Co. who will enter the contest with a more settled outfit, at least in terms of their personnel. For years, they’ve desperately sought an opening partnership that could prop up their top-order. And in Lendl Simmons and Parthiv Patel, they finally seem to have hit upon a prize-catch. In their own way, the two have been largely responsible for the dramatic turnaround in Mumbai’s formerly dwindling fortunes.
Life without McCullum
CSK, meanwhile, have already foregone of their batting mainstay, Brendon McCullum, who flew to England where he will captain New Zealand in a Test series. And it’s they who will have to rebuild their batting line-up to make do without the one batsman who’s kept their stocks in order despite the batting irregularities that have riddled their IPL 8 campaign. The fact that the inconsistent MS Dhoni is second on their run-maker’s list is symbolic of how indiscernible their batting might has been over the last month-and-a-half. Suresh Raina, for one, has hardly come to the party, which by his lofty IPL standards is a cause for worry.
If anything, it’s their bowlers who’ve paved the way for CSK this time around, with Dwayne Bravo and Ashish Nehra having picked up 38 wickets between them. Still, their generally dominant spinners’ noteworthy performances have come in flickers rather than bursts. Except R Ashwin, who’s gone at less than 6-an-over.
Mumbai’s bowling, however, has only grown from strength to strength, and especially so with the inclusion of Mitchell McClenaghan. The Kiwi pacer, like he did against Sunrisers Hyderabad in the do-or-die match in Hyderabad, has provided wickets for his skipper every time he’s asked for them. Lasith Malinga and Harbhajan Singh, too, have had their best IPL seasons in a while. In Hardik Pandya, the hosts now possess an X-factor that they have lacked alongside Kieron Pollard.
This, then, might be a rare occasion that Mumbai enter a playoff encounter against CSK where they aren’t the underdogs.