Although we are less than two weeks into the latest installment of the IPL, two teams have already emerged from the pack as the most likely candidates to duke it out for the title.
One of them, the Chennai Super Kings are like the experienced wily pro who has seen it all before. In fact, having made the final five times in six seasons and lifting the trophy twice, they pretty much have.
But the “veterans” were giving a surprise in just the third match of IPL 7. After posting 205, a score that would win 99 per cent of games, MS Dhoni’s men looked on like startled rabbits as Kings XI comfortably chased down the total to win with seven balls remaining and announced themselves as serious contenders.
Since that day, neither side has lost a match, and it would be no surprise if they meet again in the final on the 1 June. So, let’s take a closer look at how the sides match up.
In Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Smith, Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni, Chennai easily boast one of the most potent and experienced batting line-ups in the competition, with each player capable of clearing the ropes and providing match-winning innings.
They have all made a significant contribution already this season, with overseas pair Smith and McCullum recording five half-centuries between them to form a destructive opening partnership.
Kings XI: 8/10
While Virender Sehwag is yet to really fire for Punjab, David Miller and in particular Glenn Maxwell certainly have. The South African and Australian have combined to score over 400 runs from the middle order at an incredible strike rate.
Cheteshwar Pujara has played an interesting role so far. While struggling to match the pace and power of his contemporaries, the Indian star has shown that perhaps there is still a place for a more classical style of player by doing a useful job rotating the strike.
Young seam bowler Ishwar Pandey has been one of the surprise packages of this year’s IPL, and his miserly economy rate of just 5.86 has helped to restrict the opposition’s efforts to accelerate.
The rest of the attack, while lacking a “big name,” has performed solidly so far, with Ravichandran Ashwin and Mohit Sharma leading the way with five and eight wickets, respectively.
Kings XI: 8/10
In Mitchell Johnson, Punjab possess the world’s most prominent pace bowler, but while the Aussie has brought his customary hostility to the start of the innings, it’s Akshar Patel who has done most damage.
The 20-year-old, who has only played 17 official T20 games in his career, has bowled with remarkable control to give away fewer than six runs per over while snaring six victims in the process.
While he has not had too much to do so far, the inimitable MS Dhoni has still delivered some typically laid-back but significant contributions at a team-leading (excluding Dwayne Bravo’s one innings of eight off three balls) strike rate of 152.54.
Batting at four or five, depending on the situation, a brutal 26 off just 11 balls showed one side of the Indian skipper’s game, while a sensible 13 not out against Hyderabad at less than a run a ball was evidence of the other.
Consecutive knocks of 95 off 43 balls, 89 off 45 balls and another 95 again off 43 balls, the man who nicknamed himself “The Big Show” is relishing the prospect of living up to all the hype.
The IPL may be a long tournament, but these two teams are already setting the pace. They both possess nicely balanced XIs, with a good mix of star quality, experience and youth.
Thus, It would be no surprise if they were to go on to contest the final, although Punjab are perhaps more susceptible should an injury occur to one of their star players. Watch out for their regular-season rematch on the 7 May.