Since Chennai Super Kings’ return to the Indian Premier League in 2019, there has not been a match in the tournament between MS Dhoni’s men and Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore when both sides have come into it as the league’s form teams. On Sunday in Mumbai, No 1 RCB take on No 2 CSK, with the former winning all of their four matches so far while the latter having won three on the trot after losing their opener.

In 2018, when CSK made their return to the league, Dhoni lit up the Chinnaswamy Stadium in a thriller in their first meeting and later CSK eased past RCB in the meeting in Pune. On both occasions, RCB were struggling to put together a run of wins.

In 2019, the two faced off in the tournament opener that comfortably went CSK’s way after RCB were bowled out for 70. Later on in the season, RCB clinched a thriller by one run but they started the match 10 points behind CSK.

In 2020, Virat Kohli produced a masterclass in the first meeting when both teams were looking for mid-season momentum from the middle of the table. Later in the campaign, CSK only had a theoretical chance to make the playoffs but they produced a consolation win to throw a spanner in the works for RCB.

So, in the last three years, it’s largely been a case of one team having more at stake than the other in their match-ups or mid-table clashes.

In 2021, for a rivalry that is often billed as the Dhoni-Kohli battle, there is a feeling of a genuine blockbuster associated with it, as two superstars of Indian cricket go head to head, knowing the winner takes the top spot.


Matches CSK wins RCB wins  NR
Overall 26 16 9 1
Since 2018 6 4 2 0

Here’s a look at the key match-ups that could determine the outcome of the match:

Deepak Chahar vs RCB openers

The big performers in the teams’ respective wins before this clash will, of course, play a pivotal role in determining the outcome. Chahar’s sensational four-for (his second of the season) against KKR proved to be the game-clincher for Dhoni’s men. He was quick to point out at the end of the match that the later KKR onslaught would have had a different outcome if they had a couple of extra wickets in hand. Chahar has made a name for himself with his powerplay strikes and he is finding that groove again, and on Sunday, he will be up against Kohli and Devdutt Padikkal who shared a milestone-filled 181-run unbeaten stand for RCB against Rajasthan Royals.

Kohli, especially, looked a bit frustrated in the Chennai leg and relished the Mumbai pitch while Padikkal too came good with his first IPL ton, during which he answered a question or two about his strike rate.

Mohammed Siraj vs Faf du Plessis

One of the prime reasons for RCB’s run of four straight wins has been their bowling performances, as Kohli pointed out after the 10-wicket win against RR. Harshal Patel, the purple cap holder, has been identified as the death overs specialist and he is getting the team wickets in the death overs. But equally impressive has been Mohammed Siraj, bowling largely in the first six but also an over at the death, and delivering breakthroughs or tight overs at both ends of the innings.

Wankhede Stadium helps pacers more than spinners, even if CSK showed otherwise against RR, and how Siraj starts against the South African veteran du Plessis will set the tone for the innings.

Du Plessis spoke after his player of the match performance against KKR that he is feeling in better rhythm now and is finding the groove, and his 95 was a delightfully crafted T20 innings. CSK have great batting depth on paper, so early breakthroughs are vital for RCB, and Siraj will have to be the man to provide them.

RCB’s death bowling vs CSK’s middle order

As mentioned earlier, RCB’s death bowling has been a revelation so far this tournament and Patel’s form has a lot to do with it. The other bowlers too have chipped in with the likes of Kyle Jamieson and Siraj bowling crucial overs in this phase. Often the Achilles heel of RCB, it is the one thing that Kohli would hope goes in his favour again. CSK’s middle order is starting to find its groove with even Dhoni starting to find some momentum and he loves teeing off against RCB. To go with that, the presence of floaters like Moeen Ali, Sam Curran and Ravindra Jadeja, has given the CSK batting unit the freedom to explode in the death overs, with the left-handed angle helping them balance out the remaining right-handers in the lineup to maintain the right-left balance throughout.

If RCB’s bowlers, irrespective of defending a target or bowling first, can finish their innings strongly, it will be another shot in the arm for Kohli and Co.

CSK spinners vs ABD-Maxi

After a lacklustre season with the ball last time around, CSK’s mantra is starting to gain effect with Jadeja and Moeen providing breakthroughs in the middle overs. Dhoni has still largely depended on his pacers but he enjoys a good spin-in-tandem middle-overs spell and will once again turn to them to see if they can contain the rampant duo of Glenn Maxwell and AB de Villiers. The duo lit up the otherwise bowler-dominated Chennai leg. If it already wasn’t evident before RCB shifted base, de Villiers’ 125 runs at a strike rate of 189.39 and Maxwell’s 176 runs at 149.15 in Chennai were just ridiculous numbers. And should they get to bat, will relish taking on the CSK spinners in more favourable conditions of Mumbai.