Their contest could tell us if one of them could enjoy a dark-horse run deep into the IPL
The Rajasthan Royals and the Chennai Super Kings finished IPL 2020 in the bottom two places, and while there have been indications to suggest this season might be different, both remain flawed teams.
The Super Kings bat deeper than possibly any other team in the competition, but none of their batters belong among the elite rung of T20 hitters, unless they were somehow able to turn back time. Their bowling is similar: a large array of useful options, but little in the way of raw pace or – unless Imran Tahir plays – genuine wicket-taking threat in the middle overs.
The Royals possess top-drawer T20 stars in Jos Buttler, Sanju Samson and Chris Morris, but quality is otherwise spread thin across their squad, particularly with Ben Stokes out for the season and Jofra Archer’s participation in doubt.
These drawbacks, however, can recede from view if form, conditions and luck align over the course of a season. There’s enough ability and nous within the Super Kings and Royals squads to be able to capitalise on such a turn of events. Their meeting on Monday, therefore, might give us an early indication as to whether one of them could go on to enjoy a dark-horse run deep into the tournament.
In the news
Lungi Ngidi has completed his quarantine following a late arrival in India – the South Africa quick was on national duty, playing an ODI series against Pakistan – and has joined his Super Kings team-mates in training. He will be available for selection, giving the Super Kings an attacking pace option to replace Dwayne Bravo’s changes of pace if they feel the conditions demand it.
Chennai Super Kings: 1 Ruturaj Gaikwad/Robin Uthappa, 2 Faf du Plessis, 3 Moeen Ali, 4 Suresh Raina, 5 Ambati Rayudu, 6 Sam Curran, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 9 Dwayne Bravo/Lungi Ngidi, 10 Shardul Thakur, 11 Deepak Chahar.
Rajasthan Royals: 1 Jos Buttler, 2 Manan Vohra, 3 Sanju Samson (capt & wk), 4 Shivam Dube, 5 David Miller, 6 Riyan Parag, 7 Rahul Tewatia, 8 Chris Morris, 9 Jaydev Unadkat/Shreyas Gopal, 10 Chetan Sakariya, 11 Mustafizur Rahman.
- There’s a school of thought that MS Dhoni might be best served playing as a specialist wicketkeeper at this stage of his career, with the Super Kings’ plethora of allrounders batting above him. But if there’s one team he might look to bat up the order against, it might be the Royals, particularly if they go in with three left-arm quicks as they did against the Delhi Capitals. Since IPL 2019, Dhoni has scored 138 runs off 70 balls against left-arm seam, with only one dismissal. Of all batsmen in the IPL to have scored at least 100 runs against left-arm seam in this period, only Kieron Pollard (223.72) and Dinesh Karthik (210.20) have better strike rates than Dhoni’s 197.14.
- Then again, Sam Curran (71 off 28 balls, one dismissal) and Ravindra Jadeja (75 off 35, two dismissals) also have superb records against left-arm pace in the same period. Given this, the Royals might want to look at mixing up their bowling options a little more and leave out one of their three left-arm quicks.
- Mustafizur Rahman, however, isn’t a traditional left-arm quick, and that shows in his overall T20 head-to-head record against Jadeja: 18 balls, 16 runs, four dismissals. Match-ups aren’t always entirely straightforward.
- There is a case to be made for the Super Kings to play Imran Tahir. The legspinner has excellent records against the Royals’ two best batters, Samson (20 balls, 21 runs, one dismissal).
Stats that matter
- In five innings against the Super Kings, Buttler has scored 216 runs at an average of 72.00 and a strike rate of 152.11, with two unbeaten half-centuries in winning run-chases.
- Sparks could fly if Chris Morris bowls to his compatriot Faf du Plessis. Their head-to-head record in all T20 meetings: 36 balls, 49 runs off the bat, and four dismissals.
- Suresh Raina needs to clear the fence twice to become the seventh batsman to hit 200 sixes in the IPL.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo