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April 12, 2011
Chennai Super Kings and Kings XI Punjab finished at opposite ends of the spectrum last year, yet they produced two of the most memorable clashes of the season. First, both teams succumbed to the pressure of a tense finish to contrive a tie in Chennai, before Yuvraj Singh's nerveless reverse-sweep against Muttiah Muralitharan sealed it in the Super Over. Next, with a semi-final spot on the line for Chennai, MS Dhoni played out of his skin in Dharamsala, catapulting sixes into the adjoining hills, before jabbing his own helmet in a rare display of boxer-like emotions. Can we expect another close game this time?
That the best and worst teams of the season were separated by so little on the field was the USP of the first three seasons of the IPL. Going by the opening exchanges of 2011, things seem to have changed. The addition of two new teams has led to a visible dilution of talent, and Punjab might be one of the most severely affected. They are aiming at a reprisal of Deccan Chargers' successful 2009 strategy, and have put Adam Gilchrist in charge of a bunch of not-so-big names. Their hammering at the hands of Pune Warriors in their opening game was an apt indication of just how much they will have to lift.
Chennai have begun the season where they left off last year. They had no business winning their opening game after allowing Kolkata within nine runs of victory with eight balls left, but they kept hustling to pull off a last-ball win. The core of the team and the self-belief of 2010 was intact, and they did not let the absence of a few key players affect them. In Murali's absence, Suraj Randiv stepped up to send down doosras from round the wicket. In Doug Bollinger's absence, Tim Southee delivered a raft of made-to-order yorkers without breaking into a sweat. If Dhoni's yellow jerseys are to be beaten, Gichrist might have to roll back the years and do it all by himself.
If Ryan Harris is fit, he has to replace Nathan Rimmington in the Punjab side. With their middle order looking out of sorts against Pune, David Hussey or David Miller could hope to get a game.
In the spotlight
Chennai's decision to retain M Vijay ahead of the auction was a huge vote of confidence for a young batsman. Since then, Vijay has been prodigal with the opportunities that have come his way: his casual footwork led to failures in India's one-day series in South Africa, where a couple of strong performances could have earned him a World Cup spot. He got out playing another lazy shot in the opening over against Kolkata. Can he temper his elegant ways with some discipline at the crease?
Piyush Chawla got only one over in the thrashing against Pune, and in six balls he showcased all elements of his bowling. There was a rank short googly that was heaved for four, an over-pitched legspinner that was carved for six and a lovely wrong 'un that nearly sneaked in. It didn't get him a wicket though, and that over went for 12 runs. Chawla's inability to land six balls on a spot dogged him during the World Cup as well. Can he correct things against Chennai?
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