One team is sitting pretty with one foot in the semifinals, while the other, battered and bruised, nine out of 11 times, is left to do with nothing but to play for pride. Just, yet again.
MS Dhoni’s Chennai, with 14 points from 11 matches, are third in the table and a win against bottom-placed Bangalore on Wednesday will almost assure them a berth in the last four.
Chennai play two of their remaining three matches at home and going by what Kepler Wessels said on Tuesday, getting to the last four should not be a problem. “We will put all doubts to rest by winning our remaining three matches Moreover, we have the home advantage,” a confident Wessels said.
While everyone felt that Matthew Hayden, Michael Hussey and Jacob Oram’s departure for national commitments would have a bearing on the team’s performance, Chennai, who went through a bad patch after their imports left for home, managed to come out of it quite well. “We don’t feel their absence and the team’s belief in the local players have paid off very well,” said a team member.
Chennai boast of two of the three bowlers to have claimed hat-tricks in the IPL, in their ranks. While Lakshmipathi Balaji got three off three against Mohali, Makhaya Ntini achieved the feat against Kolkata. Their batsmen have performed when it mattered and have shown that they can turn the game in their team’s favour with some lusty hitting.
The story is not quite similar for Bangalore. The team’s unimpressive performances on a regular basis fail to inspire confidence. After the departure of New Zealander Ross Taylor for national duty, barring captain Rahul Dravid, waging lone battles in losing causes, most batsmen failed miserably.
If batting has been a cause of concern, the bowling has been inconsistent. Zaheer Khan, who has taken wickets by the bagful in the tournament, has been rested for Wednesday’s game. For the left-armer, who has just returned from a heel injury, the tournament has been a success story. “He has been advised rest for one game and the physio is preparing him for the last two games (May 25 against Hyderabad and Mumbai tie on May 28) as they are crucial for us,” said Bangalore manager Avinash Vaidya.
Wicket-keeper Mark Boucher has also been ruled out. “His knee is a little sore and he may be down for a while,” Vaidya added.
Boucher’s absence gives young Shreevats Goswami an opportunity to keep wickets one more time. Goswami had a memorable IPL debut, scoring 52 on Monday.
There are no injury concerns for Chennai, though a decision on whether Dhoni will keep wickets or play purely as a fielder will be made before the match. The India ODI skipper hurt his finger against Kolkata on Sunday.