After 56 matches to determine who makes it to the playoffs, here we are. In what was one of the most hotly contested playoff races in Indian Premier League history, for large parts, there wasn’t much doubt over two spots. From early days, it was fairly evident that Sunrisers Hyderabad and Chennai Super Kings will figure in the business end of the competition and it is, ultimately, no surprise that they finished first and second in the league phase to earn two bites at the cherry.
When MS Dhoni and Kane Williamson step out at the Wankhede on Tuesday, though, one team has a distinct advantage over the other - CSK have won both their games against SRH this year, thanks to their batting might and the Wankhede pitch tends to help the better batting side. In the seven matches at the venue this year so far, 160-plus has been crossed six times by teams batting first, and 180-plus has achieved on four occasions.
But if you are a Hyderabad fan, though, you could take heart from the fact that SRH defended 118 at this very venue.
So, without further ado, here’s a look at the match-ups that could determine the outcome of Qualifier 1 at IPL 2018.
Kane Williamson vs CSK’s seamers
It has been an absolute privilege to watch Williamson bat in the IPL this year. The New Zealand captain has contributed to 29.6% of Sunrisers’ runs this season and should eventually take over the orange cap from Rishabh Pant. He has played the sheet anchor when needed, and more impressively, has shown another side to his game, by starting his innings in fourth gear - as he did in the near-record run-chase against RCB followed by a breezy innings in the final group against KKR. And, if his side are reverse the trend of losing against CSK, Williamson will need to play a big role once again.
In the sides most recent meeting in Pune, the New Zealand captain was once again in sublime touch but early on in that match, with Deepak Chahar getting the ball to move around, he was just a bit tentative. Sure, the moisture in the air in Pune that afternoon helped Chahar’s case but if the Wankhede pitch plays true to the expectations, there will be bounce and some movement on offer under the lights for sure on Tuesday. And the Chennai seamers are coming into the match full of confidence after their performance against Punjab in Pune. Lungi Ngidi’s figures of 4/10 along with Chahar’s consistent breakthroughs in the powerplay should be a warning for Williamson, Hyderabad’s best batsman. If he provides his side with a solid platform, the match could well be theirs.
Rashid Khan vs Ambati Rayudu
In the two matches between the sides so far this year, Rashid Khan’s figures read 8-0-74-1.
In the two matches between the sides so far this year, Ambati Rayudu has scored 179 runs off 99 balls, winning the player of the match awards on both occasions.
Clearly, Rashid, arguably Williamson’s ace up the sleeve, has to put things right when the sides meet for the third time. But if the Afghanistan spinner has made one thing clear this year, it’s an ability to bounce back from poor games. He had a mid-season slump from which he bounced back in style, and Williamson would be hoping that Rashid’s return of 3 wickets from his last four matches (with all three coming in one game) is just another minor blip.
Rayudu, meanwhile, returns to the venue where he earned his reputation as a vital T20 batsman, and in his most successful season yet, will be looking to finish things off well. He knows the ground inside out, he has shown an ability to target Rashid this year as well and those factors make this a tantalising battle.
Dwayne Bravo vs Manish Pandey
SRH, for all their tactical nous in building a squad, have failed to address a recurring problem over the past couple of seasons: over-dependency on the top three. This year has been no different either with top three (primarily Shikhar Dhawan and Williamson) has accounted for more than 60% of their total runs scored.
Look at their opponents, though, and there is one very obvious chink in the armour to be exploited. Chennai’s death-bowling has been woeful at times in the tournament, and average at best. Dwayne Bravo getting carted all over, with his slower balls especially travelling the distance, has been a problem that Dhoni hasn’t been able to find an answer to over the league phase. Plenty of experiments have been done starting from Mark Wood, to Lungi Ngidi, and David Willey and Shardul Thakur, KM Asif et al, but no one has stood up and made his mark so far.
So, once again, Dhoni will likely turn to Bravo and here’s where one of the SRH middle-order batsmen need to step up. That onus has been on Pandey for the most part of the tournament but he has routinely disappointed. Heading into the playoffs though, he has managed to find some form - showing glimpses of what he is capable of. His unbeaten 62 in Bangalore came in a losing cause (and his bizarre attempts to play back-of-the-bat shots was part of the reason) but he showed how dangerous he can be when he connects.
Irrespective of who bats first, this battle could well determine which way the game goes.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar vs MS Dhoni
The battle at the death. In many ways, this match will be a battle between CSK’s batting might and SRH’s bowling brilliance (despite being on the wane in the last four matches). And within that battle, is the match-up between Bhuvneswhar and Dhoni.
Fun-fact: Bhuvneshwar has never dismissed Dhoni in the IPL. In the 44 balls he’s bowled to Dhoni in the tournament’s history, he’s been hit for 87 runs, including six fours and five sixes. It was presumably for this reason that Williamson did not let Bhuvneshwar finish his quota in the first match between the sides this year. And the SRH spearhead comes into the match on the back of figures that read 1-51, 0-38 and 0-33.
But great bowlers step up when their sides need them the most and Bhuvi is certainly a star with the white ball in his hand. Should he come up against Dhoni at the death, with the fate of the match at stake, don’t rule him out.