Big picture: Titans and CSK - similar yet different
It is no coincidence that Gujarat Titans and Chennai Super Kings, teams that have built their campaigns around continuity, consistency in selection and role clarity, have earned the right to a second chance by finishing in the top two.
MS Dhoni's leadership traits are something Hardik Pandya, his opposite number, has deeply embodied over time. The backing of misfiring seniors, handholding junior players, encouraging the uncapped, boosting morale of players on the bench are all characteristics of a popular leader for whom the team would go the extra mile.
Hardik's handling of Vijay Shankar, once seen as his competitor, or young Noor Ahmad and Josh Little, to cite a few examples, has been as exemplary as Dhoni's handling of Ajinkya Rahane, Tushar Deshpande or Matheesha Pathirana.
With the bat, Vijay is enjoying his best year at the IPL with the backing he has seldom received elsewhere. Mohit Sharma's journey from a net bowler, who swallowed his ego to sharpen his skills last year, to being one of the key bowlers this season is also a result of the captain's backing.
Rahane's career appeared to have hit a dead end until he linked up with CSK. An injury to Ben Stokes gave him a foot in the door. Five games in, he broke the doors down with a batting approach seldom seen earlier. Now, as he gears up for the playoffs, Rahane's career has received an unlikely second, or maybe third, wind with the prospects of being a World Test champion looming.
Shivam Dube's journey from an inconsistent allrounder to an on-demand six hitter against spin or Deshpande's evolution from an erratic seamer riddled with no-ball problems and consistency to a gun striker are all examples of players thriving under the freedom and backing Dhoni has given them.
Tuesday's Qualifier 1 will pit these two similar, yet very different teams against each other in what promises to be a blockbuster clash. CSK will enjoy more than a slight edge, given they'll have the home advantage emphatically by their side. The Chennai fans will have one more chance to celebrate their larger-than-life icon, their talismanic leader as a place in the final is a step away.
Titans will quickly have to shake off weariness from their final league fixture against RCB that went past midnight. A long road trip to the airport and the subsequent processes to board will be perhaps longer than the flying time to Chennai itself. To do this all in the space of a few hours, knowing there's another game to look forward to the next evening will no doubt be another test for the table-toppers.
That they've made it this far for a second straight season is as much credit to the team as it is to the management. Now for the opportunity to be only the second team, after CSK in 2011 and 2012, to have a second straight crack at a home final in their second year of existence. It can't get bigger than that.
Chennai Super Kings WLWWL (last five completed matches, most recent first) Gujarat Titans WWLWW
Team news: Will Hardik bowl?
Hardik hasn't bowled in three games now. When he last bowled in a game on May 7 against LSG, he didn't complete his quota. Against RCB, without Hardik the sixth bowler, Yash Dayal and Mohit conceded 93 off their eight overs. If Hardik isn't bowling, they might require either Dasun Shanaka or Rahul Tewatia to chip in, depending on conditions in Chennai.
Josh Little, who featured in eight of Titans' first 10 games, is back in India after international duty with Ireland and could replace Dayal in the side. If Titans go down that route, Abhinav Manohar is likely to return in place of Shanaka.
CSK don't believe in making too many changes, so expect them to go unchanged.
Which of these Indian openers has been more impressive in IPL 2023?
Impact Player Strategy
Titans have mostly used Shubman Gill or Vijay Shankar as Impact Player when they bat. With Gill set to play the WTC final within a week of the IPL finishing, it's perhaps prudent to not expose him to potential on-field injuries. That said, Vijay gives them an additional bowling option, if required. However, he hasn't been called in to bowl a single over so far this season. With the ball, one of them will likely be substituted for Mohit Sharma.
Gujarat Titans (probable XII): 1 Shubman Gill, 2 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 3 Hardik Pandya (capt), 4 Vijay Shankar, 5 David Miller, 6 Dasun Shanaka, 7 Rahul Tewatia, 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Yash Dayal, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Noor Ahmad, 12 Mohit Sharma
Pathirana and Dube have been used as Impact Players in each of their last three matches. In the previous game, Ambati Rayudu had a chance to provide a rare glimpse into his fielding abilities with a stunning catch at mid-off. So, after having a minimal role on the field for much of the group stages, Rayudu may well have earned the right for continuity. Is Dhoni thinking that way, though?
Jadeja has a particularly good match-up against Hardik, having dismissed him twice in four innings. In comparison, Gill has struck at 153 against him without being dismissed even once in 36 deliveries.
Shami has the wood over CSK's openers. He has dismissed Conway on each of the two occasions they've faced off earlier, including the tournament opener. Shami also has the lid over Gaikwad, who has only managed to score at a strike rate of 70. It's the lowest strike rate he has had against any pacer off whom he has faced at least 15 deliveries.
Gaikwad hasn't let being dismissed by Rashid alter his approach against the legspinner. His strike rate of 147 is the third-best in the IPL among all batters who've faced a minimum of five overs from Rashid.
The 32 sixes Tewatia has hit in the death overs is the joint-most - alongside Jadeja - by an Indian since IPL 2020
Pitch and conditions
Hot weather, surfaces on the dryer side and spin-loading - all pretty common at this time of the year in Chennai. Expect it to be no different. The defending team will have to contend with some dew later at night. Four of the seven games so far this season at Chepauk have been won by the chasing side.