The two best teams in the IPL 2019 league phase have finished on the top of the table, despite a season of fluctuating fortunes where who would finish top, or bottom, wasn't decided till the last day.
Against any team other than Mumbai Indians, Chennai Super Kings would have been the firm favourites for the first qualifier given that the match will take place in Chepauk. But Mumbai are the only team who have dominated Super Kings at their home ground, which makes this contest a lot more even. Mumbai won both league games against Super Kings this year, including a 46-run win at Chepauk, and the overall head to head at the venue in the IPL stands 4-2 in favour of Mumbai.
Super Kings' army of spinners have held sway over other batting line-ups, but Mumbai's batting depth, power and class have been enough to negate that threat, more often than not. Mumbai's spin stocks are comparatively weaker, but their pacers, led by the redoubtable Jasprit Bumrah, more than make up for it.
Super Kings' weakest suit this season has been their batting, which has been camouflaged to a large extent thanks to MS Dhoni's form and nous. Mumbai's own batting hasn't consistently fired as a unit, but Hardik Pandya has been unstoppable in the middle, and one or the other of the top order has generally got runs. Rohit Sharma has begun to find his groove in the second half of the season too, and he's the kind of batsman that can transcend the pitch and conditions, and get runs even if Super Kings offer up a turner.
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Kedar Jadhav's shoulder injury has put Super Kings in a quandary. Jadhav didn't have the best time with the bat in the league phase, but they'll be forced to rejig their combination ahead of the playoffs - and Super Kings are famously averse to changing their XIs, even to the extent of carrying under-performing players.
Mumbai outclassed Super Kings in Chepauk with Rohit Sharma's classy innings followed by a strangulation in the middle overs. Rohit made 67, his first half-century of IPL 2019, in that game, taking Mumbai to 155 for 4. It was more than a competitive score on a pitch aiding spinners, and Super Kings capsized to 109 all out in 17.4 overs.
Mumbai Indians: 1 Quinton de Kock (wk), 2 Rohit Sharma (capt), 3 Suryakumar Yadav, 4 Ishan Kishan, 5 Hardik Pandya, 6 Kieron Pollard, 7 Krunal Pandya, 8 Anukul Roy, 9 Rahul Chahar, 10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Jasprit Bumrah
Chennai Super Kings: 1 Shane Watson, 2 Faf du Plessis, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 Ambati Rayudu, 5 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 6 Dhruv Shorey, 7 Dwayne Bravo, 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Deepak Chahar, 10 Harbhajan Singh, 11 Imran Tahir
Mumbai need to consider pushing Hardik Pandya higher up the order. Hardik's been in the form of his life this IPL, and he has shown that he is not just a hitter who can hit a few balls at the death. His strike rate against spin this season is a staggering 205, the highest in the competition. His strike rate in the middle overs (7 to 15) is 181, again the highest in the competition. And it's not like he's been a 'hit out or get out' batsman either - he hardly gets out in the middle overs in fact. Of the 58 balls Hardik has faced in the middle overs this IPL, he has been dismissed just once, and hit 105 runs. His form and numbers make a compelling case to send him in fairly early, because Hardik has shown staying power as well as destructive ability - T20 gold.
One option Super Kings could look at is finding a place for Mitchell Santner in the XI. To do so however, would mean axing Shane Watson. Since the franchise has kept faith with Watson throughout an underwhelming league stage, it's difficult to see them dropping him for the playoff, but Santner has a compelling case. When these two teams last met, he took 2 for 13 in four high-quality overs. Santner has played only four games this season, largely due to team combinations, but he's conceded runs overall at just 6.7 per over, at an average of 23.5. He also adds a handy lower-order batting option.
Super Kings have been cautious starters this season, but that has actually been better for them than when they have tried to attack more up front. This is shown up more in the difference when they set a target versus chase one. With no scoreboard pressure while batting first, they have scored at 6.4 runs per over in the Powerplay on average, while losing only one wicket. While chasing, they have gone harder and lost 2.3 wickets on average, but the loss of wickets has meant their average Powerplay run rate while chasing is only 6.2. The trend holds for the first ten overs too, with a run rate of 6.7 while batting first, compared to 6.4 while chasing. Counter-intuitively then, perhaps Super Kings would be better off batting first and following their tried and tested method, even though most teams prefer chasing in T20s. How much dew is expected could alter that though.
Stats that matter
Karn Sharma has been in the IPL winning team for the past three seasons now, but he's more than just a lucky charm. In five playoff matches, Karn has taken seven wickets at an average of 14.6 and an economy rate of 6.6.
While Mumbai hold a 15-11 edge in their head-to-head rivalry against Super Kings, that trend doesn't hold in playoff matches. Super Kings have won four to Mumbai's three in the seven times these two sides have met in a playoff. Curiously enough, only one of those seven games have been won by the team chasing.
This will be Ravindra Jadeja's 100th match for Chennai Super Kings, and the team itself needs one victory to get to 100 wins.