Buoyed by their convincing seven-wicket win over title holders Mumbai Indians, Chennai Super Kings will take on Kings XI Punjab in their second IPL knockout game inside three days here tomorrow with swashbuckling batsman Glenn Maxwell being a major threat to their chances.
Riding on the 25-year-old Australian batsman's incandescent 90-plus run knocks in Abu Dhabi and Cuttack in the group stage of the T20 League, Kings XI Punjab had flattened two-time champions Chennai Super Kings.
Tomorrow's Qualifier 2, the penultimate IPL-7 match, at the Wankhede Stadium will provide Chennai a great platform to avenge those two defeats and leapfrog into the June 1 summit clash against Kolkata Knight Riders at Bangalore.
However, to achieve the feat of entering the final for the sixth time, Chennai will have to stop Maxwell, who simply tore into their bowlers, especially two key spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja on the two previous occasions. Maxwell, the third highest run-getter with 539 runs this season, smashed 95 in 43 balls in Abu Dhabi last month to help Punjab chase down a massive 206-run target set up by the Super Kings.
The Victorian was even more dominating in their subsequent clash earlier this month at Cuttack, where he hit a whirlwind 90 off just 35 balls to power Punjab to an incredible score of 231. Ashwin was smashed for 38 runs without a wicket in just two overs by Maxwell, while Jadeja conceded 37 runs in three overs without any success. The destruction of these two Super Kings' bowlers by Maxwell will certainly come up for discussion by the Super Kings' think-tank ahead of their do-or-die encounter.
But Chennai will certainly look to take advantage of the fact that Kings XI, who had looked almost unstoppable during the group stage, have had their hiccups of late. They were beaten comprehensively by Kolkata Knight Riders at the Eden Gardens yesterday. Kings XI need to not only regroup quickly but also get over the travel fatigue in order to match the efficiency of the Super Kings, who simply outplayed Mumbai Indians here last night. Super Kings changed their opening combination as they sent South Africa's Faf du Plessis along with Dwayne Smith, the second highest run-scorer with 559 runs this season, instead of in-form New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum.
The strategy paid off as the two stitched a half-century stand in quick time to lay a solid platform. Suresh Raina, who hit 33-ball 54 not out and stayed till the end, along with David Hussey (40 not out in 29 balls) then carried the Super Kings past Mumbai's 173 for eight with a breezy unbroken stand of 89 for the fourth wicket. The Super Kings' overall display was efficient without being flamboyant, and they would require another such stellar performance to deflate Kings XI's hopes of making their maiden entry into the IPL title contest.
Super Kings have relied on their Indian bowling trio of purple cap holder Mohit Sharma and two lead spinners (Ashwin and Jadeja), and would hope they can do the trick against the marauding blades of not only Maxwell and David Miller but also those of Virender Sehwag, Manan Vohra, Wriddhiman Saha and captain George Bailey. This explosive batting line up failed to get going against the Knight Riders while chasing a modest 164-run target, and Kings XI would be eager to get over the flop show and put their best foot forward in what is their second and last chance to enter the final.
Kings XI's bowling attack is also good. They have been relying mostly on their Indian players in Sandeep Sharma (17 wickets), left arm spinner Akshar Patel (16 wickets), who has been included in the Indian team for the tour of Bangladesh next month, and seasoned Laxmipathy Balaji (12 wickets), along with Australian left arm pacer Mitchell Johnson (14 wickets). They tried out leggie Karanveer Singh and Parvinder Awana in Qualifier 1, while resting Sandeep Sharma and Balaji, both of whom should be back in the playing eleven tomorrow.
The Kings XI bowlers need to provide the team with some early wickets against the Super Kings, who have the requisite depth and explosive power in their batting that includes captain and world's most envied finisher Mahendra Singh Dhoni, to overhaul big scores. A capacity crowd is expected to witness the season's second last IPL game and they would not like to watch anything less than another humdinger.
Kings XI Punjab: Virender Sehwag, Manan Vohra, Wridhiman Saha, Glenn Maxell, David Miller, George Bailey, Akshar Patel, Rishi Dhawan, Mitchell Johnson, Karanveer Singh, L Balaji, Sandeep Sharma, Parvinder Awana, B Hendricks, Shaun Marsh, Cheteshwar Pujara, Mandeep Singh, Shardul Thakur, Shivam Sharma, Anureet Singh, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, M Karthik.
Chennai Super Kings: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (C), Suresh Raina, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Faf du Plessis, Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Smith, Ashish Nehra, Mohit Sharma, Samuel Badree, Ben Hilfenhaus, Matt Henry, B Aparajith, Mithun Manhas, Ishwar Pandey, Pawan Negi, Vijay Shankar, Ronit More, John Hastings. Match commences at 8 pm.