Monday's match at Buffalo Park in East London is between teams which had contrasting starts to the second season of the IPL but are now experiencing a change in form.
Last year's finalists Chennai Super Kings had a slow start to the tournament despite their squad brimming with hard-hitting all-round talent. They lost three of their first five games to tough opponents, had one washout against the league's (nearly) also-rans, Kolkata Knight Riders, and lost Andrew Flintoff to injury, leaving them in the bottom half of the points table. However, Chennai regrouped and won their last two matches - against Rajasthan Royals and Delhi Daredevils - and are back in the reckoning for a semi-final berth.
Chennai's most recent defeat in the IPL came against Deccan Chargers, who had transformed themselves from last season's worst team to this season's best by winning their first four matches with relative ease. Deccan were No. 1 in the league when they ran into Delhi and were defeated for the first time. The more serious setback, though, came against a weaker Rajasthan side, who had to strain every sinew to cause an upset. Both those defeats were results of Deccan losing focus during the final stages of the match: Fidel Edwards lost his temper while bowling to Tillakaratne Dilshan during Delhi's chase, and Deccan's fielding went to pieces in the last couple of overs of Rajasthan's pursuit.
Despite the two defeats, however, Deccan are still on top of the league but another loss against a resurgent Chennai will bring them closer to the rest of the pack.
Form guide (completed matches, most recent first)
Chennai Super Kings - WWLLW
Chennai's have banked primarily on Matthew Hayden, the season's highest runscorer with 246, and Suresh Raina, the second highest with 232, for most of their runs. Their powerful allrounders - MS Dhoni, Albie Morkel and Jacob Oram - haven't played a match-winning role as yet. Chennai's bowling isn't the strongest in the tournament but two youngsters - Shadab Jakati and Sudeep Tyagi - played crucial parts in the win against Delhi. Muttiah Muralitharan has been economical, conceding less than six runs an over, but Chennai will want him to add quickly to his haul of five wickets.
Deccan Chargers - LLWWW
Deccan have relied heavily on their openers - Adam Gilchrist and Herschelle Gibbs - for momentum. Rohit Sharma's performances have tapered after an outstanding half-century against Bangalore but Deccan seem to have found a talent in 25-year old T Suman who has 64 runs from two innings at a strike-rate of 145. RP Singh and Pragyan Ojha are their leading wicket-takers with 12 and 10 respectively while Edwards has been restrictive with the new ball. Edwards, though, has left South Africa to join the West Indian squad in England and Deccan will need to pick a replacement.
Watch out for
Gilchrist and Gibbs went berserk against Chennai's new-ball bowlers in Durban last week, scoring 67 runs in 5.4 overs. The assault caused so much damage that Deccan were able to forget the scoring-rate and focus of preserving wickets when batsmen were dismissed in quick succession. Chennai's bowlers will have learnt from the experience but will that be enough to nullify Gilchrist and Gibbs?
Deccan replaced VVS Laxman with T Suman for the last two games and Laxman is likely to continue to sit out unless the team decides to give him another go instead of Azhar Bilakhia. The big question for Deccan is who to bring in instead of Edwards. Their overseas options are allrounders Scott Styris and Ryan Harris or specialist bowlers Chaminda Vaas and Nuwan Zoysa.
Chennai made only one change from the team that beat Rajasthan for the match against Delhi, opening with M Vijay instead of Parthiv Patel. Vijay made only 14 but is likely to get another go as Chennai attempt to fill one of the shaky spots in their batting order. Perhaps there's a case for S Badrinath to open because the likes of Dhoni, Morkel and Oram invariably end up facing too few overs. Dhoni said that Chennai were not going to change their overseas combination. "More often you will see these four overseas players in our playing XI - Matthew Hayden, Muttiah Muralitharan, Jacob Oram and Albie Morkel," he said. "They are an integral part of the team. Until and unless someone gets injured or loses form we are not going to change them."
Chennai Super Kings (likely): 1 Matthew Hayden, 2 M Vijay, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 S Badrinath, 5 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 6 Albie Morkel, 7 Jacob Oram, 8 Shadab Jakati, 9 Sudeep Tyagi, 10 L Balaji, 11 Muttiah Muralitharan.
Stats and trivia
Gilchrist scored 27 runs off 11 balls from L Balaji at a strike-rate of 245 in the first game between these two teams.
Chennai have scored at 9.00 runs an over on average during the Powerplays and have lost eight wickets during that period in six innings. Deccan lost the same amount of wickets but scored at 8.30 runs per over.
Chennai's bowlers, however, have the worst economy-rate during the Powerplay, conceding 8.36 runs per over with an average of 30 per wicket. Deccan have an economy-rate of 6.52 and average only 20 per wicket.
Deccan won the first match against Chennai this season by six wickets and three balls to spare. Hayden top-scored for Chennai with 49 but they lost momentum after the tactical time-out and ended on 165 for 6. Deccan's openers gave them a fast start, one which proved decisive in winning the game.
Their head-to-head record last season was even at a win apiece for the teams. A Gilchrist half-century led Deccan to victory at the MA Chidambaram Stadium while Raina's 54 steered Chennai home in Hyderabad.
"I think my batting is pathetic in the tournament so far. All the big-hitters including Albie Morkel, Jacob Oram and I didn't really click. We need to perform in the future as we are a side that relies heavily on its batting. If one of us clicks in future and with our top-order performing well we can give good targets to our bowlers to defend. And that is our strategy." Dhoni is candid about his performance in the IPL.