Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals propped up the points table in IPL 2020, finishing seventh and eighth respectively, but their seasons have contrasted in 2021: CSK were the first team to secure their knockout spot when they beat Sunrisers Hyderabad on Thursday while Royals’ hopes are hanging by a thread.
Super Kings’ success has been built on two key factors: stability and batting depth. With the luxury of lower-order hitters like Shardul Thakur and Deepak Chahar carded at No. 9 and 10, their batters have had license to play aggressively throughout, particularly in the period immediately after the powerplay when most teams have looked to play low-risk shots. They resisted a complete overhaul after last year’s disappointment and have instead backed a similar core of players, using only 14 across the season (four fewer than any other team).
Royals, meanwhile, have struggled to cope with the absence of three key overseas players in Jofra Archer (elbow injury), Jos Buttler (paternity leave) and Ben Stokes (mental-health break). Evin Lewis and Mustafizur Rahman have both impressed but Chris Morris has struggled in the UAE leg and Liam Livingstone is yet to make an impact from the middle order.
By the time they get onto the pitch for the second game of Saturday’s double-header, they will have a much clearer picture of their chances of qualifying but the message from the camp has been that anything less than three wins from three is unlikely to be enough. Their final two games are against Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians, both pushing for a qualification spot; they need to win on Saturday to ensure they still have a realistic chance ahead of those two fixtures.
In the news
With their season on the line, will Royals stick to their guns or make changes? Kumar Sangakkara, their director of cricket, admitted after their defeat to Royal Challengers Bangalore that Morris “has not done the job as well as he would like to or we would have liked him to in the second half – he knows it and we know it”. Oshane Thomas and Tabraiz Shamsi are the candidates to replace him. Livingstone, meanwhile, could come under pressure for his spot from Glenn Phillips or David Miller, and Riyan Parag is clinging onto his spot after 93 runs in 10 innings across the season.
Super Kings may take the opportunity to rest a couple of players after sealing their qualification, with Sam Curran a candidate to return to the side if Dwayne Bravo or Josh Hazlewood’s workloads are managed, though head coach Stephen Fleming said they “won’t be too experimental” as they look to confirm a top-two finish.
Rajasthan Royals (possible): 1 Evin Lewis, 2 Yashasvi Jaiswal, 3 Sanju Samson (capt&wk), 4 Liam Livingstone, 5 Mahipal Lomror, 6 Riyan Parag/Shivam Dube, 7 Rahul Tewatia, 8 Chris Morris/Oshane Thomas, 9 Chetan Sakariya, 10 Kartik Tyagi, 11 Mustafizur Rahman
Chennai Super Kings (possible): 1 Ruturaj Gaikwad, 2 Faf du Plessis, 3 Moeen Ali, 4 Suresh Raina, 5 Ambati Rayudu, 6 MS Dhoni (capt&wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Sam Curran/Dwayne Bravo, 9 Shardul Thakur, 10 Deepak Chahar, 11 Josh Hazlewood
Super Kings have scored 8.67 runs per over in the middle overs this season, second only to Rajasthan, and are the fastest-scoring team at the death in the competition. With that in mind, could Royals find a way to pick Oshane Thomas as a middle-over enforcer? Thomas bowled with pace and hostility in the recent CPL season and his short balls could match up well against Moeen Ali and Suresh Raina in the post-powerplay phase.
Moeen has only bowled four overs in four games for Super Kings in the UAE leg of the season but could be a good option on Saturday. Lewis has scored at a strike rate of just 102.76 against offspin since the start of 2019 and with a left-handed opening partner in Yashasvi Jaiswal, it would be no surprise to see Moeen thrown the ball inside the powerplay to turn the ball away from the outside edge.
Stats that matter
Deepak Chahar has been the leading powerplay bowler in IPL 2021 by a distance. He has taken nine new-ball wickets, four more than anyone else.
Royals’ squad contains the three most prolific six-hitters in T20 cricket this calendar year: Glenn Phillips (87), Liam Livingstone (82) and Evin Lewis (72).
MS Dhoni has won five tosses out of 11 this season, and Super Kings have won all five of those games.
Sanju Samson has scored 452 runs in IPL 2021, and needs 71 more to break KL Rahul’s record for the most in a single season by a wicketkeeper-captain.