Chennai and Bangalore battle for top spot
Sunday, May 22, Bangalore
Start time 1600 (1030 GMT)
The IPL has had its share of low-key games, and the top four teams are already decided, but the final day of the round-robin stage will decide who takes on whom in the play-offs. Chennai Super Kings square off against Royal Challengers Bangalore in the first of two metropolitan battles, and the equation is simple: win the game and go to the top of the table. Defeat, on the other hand, will impact the teams differently.
If Bangalore lose, they will most likely finish third in the league, and lose the luxury of a second chance at making the final, which the loser of the play-off between No. 1 and 2 will enjoy. Chennai, though, could finish in the top two even if they lose to Bangalore, on the basis of their strong net run-rate.
Chennai and Bangalore are the IPL's form teams at present with four wins in their last five matches. Both teams, however, still have something to prove in this high-stakes game. Bangalore were humbled by an Adam Gilchrist blitz in their previous match and have almost been a one-man show, ten men playing support roles to lead actor Chris Gayle. Chennai have not been the best travellers this season, losing four of six away games.
There is one other factor to consider in this race to the No. 1 spot - the weather. Rain has washed out one game in Bangalore and shortened another, and there are light showers forecast for Sunday. A washed-out match will keep Chennai on top, but leave Bangalore's final standing dependent on the outcome of the Kolkata-Mumbai tie.
Form guide (most recent first)
Chennai Super Kings: WWWLW (first in points table)
Royal Challengers Bangalore: LWWWW (second in points table)
Chennai have had an unchanged XI in their previous three games, with Dwayne Bravo pushing out offspinner Suraj Randiv since his arrival from the Caribbean. If they decide to play only one spinner on the batsman-friendly Bangalore pitch, Shadab Jakati could sit out, making way for Joginder Sharma.
Bangalore's captain Daniel Vettori is back in India after going to New Zealand to have his injured knee examined. Vettori had some light practice in the nets on Friday and is likely to play against Chennai, unless the management decides not to risk him before the play-offs. If Vettori plays, Johan van der Wath will sit out. Bangalore tried Luke Pomersbach and Saurabh Tiwary in the opener's slot left vacant by Tillakaratne Dilshan, but neither have come off. Expect a bit of shuffling at the top. Zaheer Khan, who was rested against Kings XI Punjab, should return.
Predict the playing XIs for this match. Play ESPNcricinfo Team Selector.
In the spotlight
Dwayne Bravo could be a vital cog for Chennai, especially with Albie Morkel not quite living up to his billing in this season. Apart from his batting down the order, Bravo's slower bouncers could come in handy, provided he gets his lines right, unlike in his spell against Kochi Tuskers Kerala on Wednesday.
With Bangalore's top three, Gayle, Dilshan and Virat Kohli, firing most of the time, AB de Villiers has not had much to do. He has a couple of half-centuries - his season's top score being 65 in a losing cause against Chennai the previous time these teams met - but he's yet to produce a game-changing knock. Will this be the match? Also, fitness permitting, he might be asked to resume wicketkeeping duties, after makeshift keeper Arun Karthik struggled in the game against Punjab.
- Bangalore's bowlers feature three times in the list of this season's most expensive spells. Zaheer is second on the list, for conceding 53 runs in four overs against Kolkata at Eden Gardens. van der Wath appears two times. There is no Chennai bowler on the list.
- Gayle, whose 38 off 12 balls against Kolkata came at a strike rate of 316.66, tops IPL 2011's best strike-rates in an innings. He appears two more times in the list, while MS Dhoni, at No. 11 for his 41 off 19 balls at 215.78 against Rajasthan Royals, is the highest-ranked Chennai player.
"The confidence of a bowler in the wicketkeeper is important. If a bowler is worried about the 'keeper's skills, that will restrict the former's options, particularly the variations."
Bangalore coach Ray Jennings indicates Bangalore could do away with a makeshift wicketkeeper.
"The swift manner in which he [Dhoni] reads the game is to be appreciated. Besides his abilities in captaincy, it helps in his batting as well."
S Badrinath on Chennai captain MS Dhoni.© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.