Chennai Super Kings’ rejuvenated old guards, who know a thing or two of performing at the big stage at the right moments, don’t have form on their side. But the three defeats on the trot won’t mean much for the three-time champions when playoffs begin.

On the other hand, since the name change, Delhi Capitals have reached the playoffs for the third straight season and this time, they have gone one better to finish as table-toppers. A solid line-up led by Rishabh Pant, and guided by Ricking Ponting, are perhaps the best side overall this season even if there has been no clear favourite for the title.

The combination promises an exciting first IPL Qualifier in Dubai on Sunday.

Capitals were the best team in the league and their 20-point finish at the group stage was an indication of their consistent performances which didn’t dip due to the Covid-19 forced break.

Similarly, CSK are now back in familiar settings of playoff rounds, something that they have done 11 out of 12 times, although losing three matches on the bounce is not the ideal run-in to post-season.

Mind you, Delhi were sloppy too to finish the group stage. They were handed a rude jolt by Kona Bharat’s last-ball six in their final league game against Royal Challengers Bangalore. It didn’t change their pole position but there were enough reasons to worry.

Chennai’s resurgence

CSK, over the years, have been in final eight times and won on three occasions which speak volumes of the team’s ability to get it right when it matters under Dhoni’s leadership, and with Stephen Fleming’s mentorship. Dhoni has a simple cricketing philosophy –- rely on tried and tested individuals who are battle-hardened and thus he has always relied on the likes of Ravindra Jadeja, Ambati Rayudu, Suresh Raina, Dwayne Bravo and Faf du Plessis. These are players who have been there and done that. People who can control phases and win pressure situations which more often than not results in victories. Add Josh Hazlewood or Moeen Ali, who are also international regulars in that mix, and the former India captain knows exactly what is the kind of combination that he needs to put on the park.

This season, however, young Ruturaj Gaikwad has emerged as the star from the group of veterans.

As much as one speaks about team effort, Dhoni, more than anyone, should be aware that T20 is one form of cricket, where individuals can win matches. He knows that even though his batting form (96 runs in 14 games) has deserted him and an IPL legend like Raina (160 in 12 games) is a pale shadow of his once destructive self, he still has Gaikwad (533 runs) and Du Plessis (546), who have more often than not provided solid starts and the menacing Jadeja (227 runs) providing final flourish.

Similarly, with the ball, Shardul Thakur (18 wickets in 14 games) has stepped up time and again to provide crucial breakthroughs. No one knows more than Dwayne Bravo (12 wickets) as to how one can fool the batters by changing the pace of his deliveries at the death. Hazlewood has quietly been effective in the UAE leg and Dhoni is banking on that devastating first spell from the Aussie. Even if the bowling attack doesn’t appear menacing, they have been doing a decent job.

CSK's road to playoffs

Match Result Venue
CSK vs DC DC won by 7 wickets Mumbai
PBKS vs CSK CSK won by 6 wickets Mumbai
CSK vs RR CSK win by 45 runs Mumbai
KKR vs CSK CSK won by 18 runs Mumbai
CSK vs RCB CSK won by 69 runs Mumbai
CSK vs SRH CSK won by 7 wickets Delhi
MI vs CSK MI won by 4 wickets Delhi
CSK vs MI CSK won by 20 runs Dubai
RCB vs CSK CSK won by 6 wickets Sharjah
CSK vs KKR CSK won by 2 wickets Abu Dhabi
SRH vs CSK CSK won by 6 wickets Sharjah
RR vs CSK RR won by 7 wickets Abu Dhabi
DC vs CSK DC won by 3 wickets Dubai
CSK vs PBKS PBKS won by 6 wickets Dubai

CSK's best batters in IPL 2021

PLAYER Inns Runs SR 4s 6s
Faf du Plessis 14 546 137.53 53 20
Ruturaj Gaikwad 14 533 137.01 56 20
Moeen Ali 13 304 133.33 27 16
Ambati Rayudu 12 256 153.29 16 17
Ravindra Jadeja 11 227 145.51 19 9

CSK's best bowlers in IPL 2021

PLAYER Inns Wkts Avg Econ SR
Shardul Thakur 14 18 25.16 8.57 17.61
 Deepak Chahar 13 13 30.23 8.36 21.69
 Dwayne Bravo 9 12 16.91 7.61 13.33
 Ravindra Jadeja 14 10 28.60 6.80 25.20
 Sam Curran 9 9 36.44 9.93 22.00

Delhi’s batting a concern

Against Delhi’s top-heavy batting lineup it could well be up to the Chennai bowlers to provide early breakthroughs to swing the odds in their favour.

Despite 10 wins, Delhi Captials’ batting lineup hasn’t exactly inspired confidence apart from the Shawan show at the top. After a terrific India leg, Prithvi Shaw (401 runs) and Shikhar Dhawan (544 runs) have had their share of starts but in the UAE leg, they haven’t exactly dominated.

Skipper Pant (362 runs) has been scratchy at best and Marcus Stoinis’ absence due to injury did affect their balance as they lack big-hitters at the death save Shimron Hetmyer, who is coming into some good form.

DC’s strength has been their bowling attack – Avesh Khan (22 wickets), Axar Patel (15 wickets), Kagiso Rabada (13 wickets) and Anrich Nortje, who has taken nine wickets but an economy rate of 5.59 over six games. DC’s bowling attack has been right on the money without being taken to cleaners but Pant would hope that the law of averages doesn’t catch up with them and Nortje and Rabada is able to unsettle Gaikwad with short balls. Rabada has proved to be expensive on occasions, but knows how to be among the wickets.

With the batting depth that Chennai possess, Delhi’s bowlers have their task cut out.

DC's path to playoffs

Match Result Venue
CSK vs DC DC won by 7 wickets Mumbai
RR vs DC RR won by 3 wickets Mumbai
DC vs PBKS DC won by 6 wickets Mumbai
DC vs MI DC won by 6 wickets Chennai
SRH vs DC DC won in Super Over Chennai
DC vs RCB RCB won by 1 run Ahmedabad
DC vs KKR DC won by 7 wickets Ahmedabad
PBKS vs DC DC won by 7 wickets Ahmedabad
DC vs SRH DC won by 8 wickets Dubai
DC vs RR DC won by 33 runs Abu Dhabi
KKR vs DC KKR won by 3 wickets Sharjah
MI vs DC DC won by 4 wickets Sharjah
DC vs CSK DC won by 3 wickets Dubai
RCB vs DC RCB won by 7 wickets Dubai

DC's best batters in IPL 2021

PLAYER Inns Runs SR 4s 6s
Shikhar Dhawan 14 544 128.00 61 14
Prithvi Shaw 13 401 157.25 47 14
Rishabh Pant 14 362 127.01 38 8
Shimron Hetmyer 11 188 170.90 16 9
Steve Smith 7 152 112.59 13 2

DC's best bowlers in IPL 2021

PLAYER Inns Wkts Avg Econ SR
AveshKhan 14 22 17.31 7.18 14.45
 Axar Patel 10 15 16.73 6.43 15.60
 Kagiso Rabada 13 13 31.53 8.36 22.61
 Anrich Nortje 6 9 13.88 5.59 14.88
 Amit Mishra 4 6 18.16 7.78 14.00

Head to head

Delhi vs Chennai IPL head-to-head

Matches Delhi wins Chennai wins
Overall 25 10 15
In 2021 2 2 0
Since 2019 7 4 3
Since 2020 in UAE 3 3 0

Brief scores from 2021 meetings: 

Match No 2, Mumbai: Delhi Capitals 190/3 (Shikhar Dhawan 85, Prithvi Shaw 72, Shardul Thakur 2-53) beat Chennai Super Kings 188/7 (Suresh Raina 54, Moeen Ali 36, Chris Woakes 2/18) by 7 wickets

Match No 50, Dubai: Delhi Capitals 139/7 (Shikhar Dhawan 39, Shimron Hetmyer 28*; Shardul Thakur 2/13) beat Chennai Super Kings 136/5 (Ambati Rayudu 55*, Robin Uthappa 19; Axar Patel 2/18) by 3 wickets. 

With PTI and iplt20 inputs