Saturday night will see a clash between the master and the apprentice. MS Dhoni, who is on the last bend of his career and has been turning up only for Chennai Super Kings (CSK) since his retirement from international cricket last year, will lead the three-time champions against Delhi Capitals (DC), who will be captained by Rishabh Pant, his long-term successor as India’s first choice wicketkeeper.
Pant has said in the past that he wants to emulate Dhoni but seems to be carving his own niche. While his power-hitting has already been well-known, his batting went a notch higher since the last Indian Premier League (IPL) as he helped India win the Test series in Australia and against England at home.
His wicketkeeping skills came as a pleasant surprise during both series and now it will be his captaincy skills that will be put to test. Pant replaced the injured Shreyas Iyer, who is nursing a shoulder injury.
The last year’s runners-up have also added Steve Smith to their squad. Their pace bowling attack, comprising Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma along with all-rounders Chris Woakes, Tom Curran and Marcus Stoinis, is among the best in the league.
Experienced and acclaimed spinners like off-spinner R Ashwin and leg-spinner Amit Mishra make up a very strong bowling line-up that will test the CSK batting line-up that performed very poorly in the last edition.
The CSK batting will rely a lot on Faf du Plessis but the return of Suresh Raina, who missed the last season, will be a boost for the three-time champions as they look to do better this time than the seventh place finish they got last season.
India’s Test batting stalwart Cheteshwar Pujara too has been included in the CSK line-up for his first IPL in seven years. The India No. 3 batsman was seen using a higher back-lift and hitting sixes in one of the net sessions.
CSK blundered last year by not reading the pitches well and not playing their spinners early enough. They realised their mistake and started to give Mitchell Santner and Imran Tahir matches. But it was too late by then.
One man who could make a difference is Shardul Thakur, who has done exceedingly well for India since the last IPL. He would be leading their pace bowling along with Deepak Chahar or Aussie Jason Behrendorff, who has come in for Josh Hazlewood.
But essentially, CSK’s fate on Saturday will depend on how their batting stands up to DC’s bowling.
DC squad: Rishabh Pant (captain/wicketkeeper), Shikhar Dhawan, Prithvi Shaw, Ajinkya Rahane, Steve Smith, Sam Billings, Shimron Hetmyer, Ishant Sharma, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Umesh Yadav, Tom Curran, Avesh Khan, Lalit Yadav, Pravin Dubey, Ripal Patel, Lukman Hussain Meriwala, M Siddharth, Marcus Stoinis, Axar Patel, Ravichandran Ashwin, Chris Woakes, Vishnu Vinod (wicketkeeper), Aditya Tare (wicketkeeper)
CSK squad: MS Dhoni (captain/wicketkeeper), Suresh Raina, Narayan Jagadeesan, Ruturaj Gaikwad, KM Asif, Karn Sharma, Ambati Rayudu, Deepak Chahar, Faf du Plessis, Shardul Thakur, Mitchell Santner, Dwayne Bravo, Lungi Ngidi, Sam Curran, Ravindra Jadeja, Imran Tahir, Robin Uthappa, Moeen Ali, K Gowtham, Cheteshwar Pujara, M.Harisankar Reddy, K.Bhagath Varma, C Hari Nishaanth, R Sai Kishore