Barring their return from a two-year absence, there are not many similarities between Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings. CSK have mastered the art of pacing an innings, while Royals have repeatedly stumbled to sub-par scores. CSK are approaching the playoffs, while Royals are fighting to stay relevant in the race for the playoffs. There were questions about CSK's ageing group of players, but they have held on to catches under pressure, while Royals' season has been marred by costly drops.
The contrasting results are down to critical differences. CSK identified their best combination early, and gave their players well-defined roles. Ambati Rayudu, the floater in the batting line-up, has had his best IPL season, while Shane Watson has provided them firepower at the top and tidy overs with the ball. And MS Dhoni has rolled back the years with his big hitting.
Royals' big players, on the other hand, have not fired like they can. D'Arcy Short has sunk from the highs of the BBL, while Ben Stokes and Jaydev Unadkat continue to search for form. To add to their concerns, captain Ajinkya Rahane has had a mixed season.
A win for CSK on Friday will take them closer to the playoffs, and put Royals on the brink of elimination.
In the news
CSK physiotherapist Tommy Simsek hinted that seamer Deepak Chahar, who was nursing a hamstring injury, could return against Royals.
After playing just one match in IPL 2018, England quick Mark Wood has flown back home to prepare for the Test series against Pakistan that begins on May 24.
Watson smashed the season's then-fastest century, as CSK racked up 204 and then skittled Royals for 140.
Rajasthan Royals: 1 Ajinkya Rahane (capt), 2 Jos Buttler (wk), 3 Sanju Samson, 4 Ben Stokes, 5 Stuart Binny, 6 K Gowtham, 7 Mahipal Lomror, 8 Jofra Archer, 9 Jaydev Unadkat, 10 Ish Sodhi, 11 Anureet Singh
Chennai Super Kings: 1 Shane Watson, 2 Ambati Rayudu, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 Dhruv Shorey, 5 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 6 Dwayne Bravo, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 David Willey, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Lungi Ngidi, 11 Shardul Thakur
There is a case for CSK to open their bowling with Ravindra Jadeja. Rahane has managed only 40 runs off 36 balls against left-arm spinners this season while losing his wicket twice in six innings.
Short, meanwhile, doesn't fare too well against offspinners. While he strikes at 147.8 against them, he averages 11.3 and has got out to them thrice in four innings.
Rayudu is a prolific batsman in the Powerplay. He scores at 9.64 an over during this phase and has been dismissed only once in seven innings, while averaging 172. He has shown the tendency to cut loose after the first six overs. Royals, however, could counter that by bowling offspinner K Gowtham to him. With five wickets, Gowtham has been Royals' most successful bowler in the Powerplay.
Stats that matter
CSK have won four out of their last five games against Royals, and a former Royals player has had a decisive hand in each of the wins: Ravindra Jadeja won the Man-of-the-Match award thrice, and Watson once.
Stokes has an interesting dynamic with Imran Tahir in T20s. While he has scored an average of two runs per ball against the legspinner, he has also lost his wicket twice in three innings to him.
Dhoni is 63 runs away from completing 6000 runs in T20 cricket. He will become the fifth Indian batsman to the milestone, after Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Gautam Gambhir. Dhoni is also 79 runs away from completing 4000 runs in the IPL.
Buttler has peaked in the second half of the season with three successive half-centuries. Since he moved from the middle order to the top, Royals' Powerplay run rate has shot up from 7.62 (the worst among all teams) to 10.39 (the best).
Dhoni relishes facing this Royals attack. The CSK captain has faced 122 balls from them in all T20s and hit 200 runs while losing his wicket just twice. Overall, he strikes a boundary every 4.7 balls against them.