“I stress that it’s not the same as what we left [in 2019]. We’ve worked hard to try and understand [the conditions], we’re still trying to understand…” Stephen Fleming was trying to make sense of Chennai Super Kings’ 4-3 home record last year. It seemed like an aberration for the eventual champions of 2023 because in each of the two previous seasons — 2019 & 2015 — that had CSK playing their entire set of home league games at Chepauk, they dropped only one match.

A year on and CSK would seem no closer to solving the puzzles that their citadel is keen on throwing their way with captain Ruturaj Gaikwad even publicly expressing a dislike for the red-soil pitch that was used last time around, against Punjab Kings. A defeat on Sunday to Rajasthan Royals will mark a second straight year with a 4-3 record and inflict severe qualification jeopardy on the holders, whose inconsistent form has left them scrambling in the 11th hour.

Conditions, however, cannot detract from a strange season, one in which injuries and erratic form has left the CSK boat with more holes than there are fingers to plug them. And there are really no easy fixes at this juncture. They have to pick one side – batting or bowling – and hope the trade-off works. For example, in Ahmedabad, they dropped Richard Gleeson and reintroduced Rachin Ravindra to address top-order troubles, but as it turned out, the Gujarat Titans plundered 231 runs and had CSK reeling at 10 for 3 in the chase.

Exacerbating the dilemma is the rapid turnaround from the last game as well as a new unknown. It is uncertain how conditions will evolve in the first afternoon game of the season here. If it takes turn, then with home-town hero Ravichandran Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal in their ranks, the Royals could be well placed to exploit it. Having lost two close games on the bounce with the middle-order unable to close out chases, Sanju Samson and Co. will be out to chart an stress-free path into the playoffs themselves. As such, even with enough on the plate for a tasty encounter, the on-field narrative could just end up paling in comparison to the ‘will he?’ narrative outside of it.

When: Chennai Super Kings vs Rajasthan Royals, IPL 2024, May 12, 15:30 IST

Where: MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai

What to expect: Four of the six games this season have been won by teams chasing, but the 35 degrees Celsius mid-afternoon temperature with 73% humidity will test the resolve of the captain considering chasing. The game will be played on Pitch No.6, a black soil surface used for the Gujarat Titans and Lucknow Super Giants games. Both those games saw CSK bat first and score in excess of 200. They won only one of those.

Head to Head: CSK 15 – 13 RR. The Royals have won six of the last seven clashes against CSK, including each of the last four. Ashwin was the player of the match when the visitors edged home by three runs at this venue last year.

Team Watch:

Chennai Super Kings

Injuries and Availability: Matheesha Pathirana and Deepak Chahar will continue to miss out with hamstring injuries while Mustafizur Rahman has returned home for national team duties.

Tactics & Matchups:

While Samson has been in good touch against left-arm spin and legspin in this IPL, he has a poor record against Mitchell Santner. The New Zealand all-rounder has dismissed Samson twice in just seven balls bowled to the Royals captain.

Probable XI: Ruturaj Gaikwad (c), Rachin Ravindra, Daryl Mitchell, Shivam Dube, Moeen Ali, Ravindra Jadeja, Mitchell Santner, MS Dhoni (wk), Shardul Thakur, Tushar Deshpande, Simarjeet Singh [Impact Sub: Ajinkya Rahane/Sameer Rizvi]

Rajasthan Royals

Injuries and Availability: Dhruv Jurel and Shimron Hetmyer missed RR’s previous game. Both trained on the eve of the game but a decision on their match-readiness will likely be taken closer to the game

Tactics & Matchups:

Ruturaj Gaikwad has a poor record against each of the Royals’ three fast bowlers – Boult, Sandeep and Avesh and scores at lesser than a-run-a-ball against the former two. Boult has dismissed Gaikwad thrice in 24 balls while Sandeep and Avesh have accounted for the CSK captain once each.

Probable XI: Yashasvi Jaiswal, Sanju Samson (c&wk), Riyan Parag, Shubham Dubey/Dhruv Jurel, Rovman Powell, Donovan Ferreira/Shimron Hetmyer, Ravichandran Ashwin, Trent Boult, Avesh Khan, Yuzvendra Chahal, Sandeep Sharma [Impact Sub: Jos Buttler]

Did you know?

– Ruturaj Gaikwad averages 99 in games at Chepauk this year. His last-four scores here read 67* (58), 108* (60), 98 (54) and 62 (48)

– Sanju Samson is 14 runs away from surpassing his highest tally in an IPL season (484 runs in IPL 2021). His average (67.29) and strike-rate (163.54) this year already the best for him in a single edition.

– Tushar Deshpande has taken seven death-overs wickets at an economy of 8.77, down from an economy rate of 12.88 last year.

What they said:

I wouldn’t really say that it’s much of a concern. I mean obviously we’re grateful that our top-order has put us in really good positions and put us over the line. I think we have got capable batters in the middle-order and we’ve got quite a deep batting line-up for us to pull that through. We just need to keep backing ourselves and when it comes to those crunch moments… luckily we have three games now… you don’t really want to say you want to test yourselves here, you want to test the middle order. You just have to keep going and keep the momentum on your side. And I think it’s just training really well and training with match intensity in the middle-order so that when the moment arrives, your skills are up and then you back yourself to pull the game through”Donovan Ferreira isn’t concerned by the meagre returns for Rajasthan Royals’ middle order.

You can now write for motabooknews.com and be a part of the Motabooknews. Share your stories and opinions with us here.

Leave a Comment