The Chennai Super Kings play their toughest match when they meet leaders Mumbai Indians in a crucial Indian Premier League game here on Tuesday.
While the Super Kings, after an up-and-down performance, are on eight points from nine games, the Mumbai Indians are on a roll with seven wins in eight outings to emerge likely semi-finalist.
The last time they met at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai, the hosts overhauled 181 runs with an over to spare with skipper Sachin Tendulkar, in sublime form this season, leading from the front, scoring 72.
At that time, the Super Kings were struggling with an under-performing side that eventually lost four matches in a row before bouncing back with two consecutive victories at home in the past one week.
Thus, Tuesday's game will see one team (Mumbai Indians) keen on consolidating their position at the top and another (Super Kings) hoping to sustain their winning momentum in a bid to make it to the top four for the third season in a row.
One of the talking points in IPL-3 has been Tendulkar’s performance, not just as a batsman, but also as an inspirational leader who has brought out the best in his team and transformed the side from also-rans of the two previous seasons to serious cup contenders.
Tendulkar has scored four half-centuries in eight games with a highest of 72 and a strike-rate of 140.72, besides displaying native shrewdness in team selections and strategies.
Under his guidance, youngsters like Saurabh Tiwari, Ambatti Rayudu, Rajagopal Sathish and Shikhar Dhawan have prospered while making key contributions with the bat.
Lending depth to the Mumbai Indians are the West Indian stars Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard besides South African Ryan McLaren and Sri Lankan fast bowler Lasith Malinga, not to forget India’s top spinner Harbhajan Singh and left-arm seamer Zaheer Khan.
So much so that established cricketers like Sanath Jayasuriya and Jean-Paul Duminy have spent more time on the bench than in the middle.
Not for nothing then that Mumbai Indians are currently the most envied team for the overall balance and firepower that are amply reflected in the results.
In contrast, the Super Kings are still in the process of identifying an eleven that can deliver consistently. Although the recent form of opener Murali Vijay, who struck a magnificent 127 against the Rajasthan Royals last weekend and the bowling of Aussie Doug Bollinger has considerably lifted the team’s spirits, there are still far too many rough edges.
Fielding, at best, has been inconsistent. Dropped catches have become more a rule than exception while the quality of bowling has swung from mediocre to sublime, now taking wickets and keeping the rival batsmen on a short leash, and then leaking runs at the death. They just about defended a record total of 246 against the Royals who replied with 223 Saturday.
It has made skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team selection task that much more tricky. Add to that the presence of Aussie middle-order batsman Michael Hussey who can be accommodated only at the expense of one of the in-form foreign players, opener Matthew Hayden, off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan and all-rounder Albie Morkel as Bollinger is a certainty.
The Super Kings’ chances on the morrow hinge on Dhoni getting his combination right and their ability to lift their game to the next level. The margin for error, if at all, is negligible.