MS Dhoni and Rohit Sharma
Chennai Super Kings captain MS Dhoni and Mumbai Indians skipper Rohit Sharma Image Credit: Sportzpics

Mumbai Indians vs Chennai Super Kings. Five-time winners meet three-time champions. When archrivals clash, sparks fly. And sparks will fly at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium when the second half of the Indian Premier League gets underway later today (Sunday, September 19, 2021).

No team can afford a slow start. When 29 matches are over, there’s not enough time or games left to regain form and points. Chennai are second on the points table with 10 from seven games, but Mumbai have two less and are in the fourth spot.

Mumbai captain Rohit Sharma and Chennai skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni are fully aware of the need for an early win in the UAE. It will fetch valuable points and set the tone for the battles ahead. So it promises to be another high-voltage clash.

Memories of the previous encounter are still fresh. In May, Chennai looked like cruising to victory when Mumbai needed 138 off 10 overs. But Kieron Pollard conjured a 34-ball 87 to chase a target of 219 and hand Mumbai an improbable win.

So Chennai and Dhoni are aware of the challenge ahead. They have worries: more due to injuries and unavailability of key players. Faf du Plessis is reported to have recovered from a groin strain, and Dwayne Bravo is fighting a fitness battle.

More than Bravo, Chennai would be sweating on Du Plessis’ fitness. The South African has been instrumental in providing the momentum in the Powerplay given Rituraj Gaikwad’s propensity to shift gears slowly.

If Du Plessis fails the fitness test, then Moeen Ali could open with Gaikwad. The option of Robin Uthappa filling in for the South African is rather remote, although it cannot be ruled out.

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Another big worry is Sam Curran, who is still in quarantine. The Englishman is integral to Dhoni’s plans. Not only does he provide left-arm swing, which could work well in the UAE, he’s also a pinch-hitter who comes on whenever Dhoni wants to churn things up.

In Curran’s absence, Chennai are likely to play leggie Imran Tahir alongside seamers Josh Hazlewood, Deepak Chahar and Shardul Thakur. They are unlikely to bring in Lungi Ngidi since a four-man pace attack could be a luxury even though the pitches in the UAE are fresh and could offer some assistance.

Sharma has no such worries. No injury woes at all. He’s got a problem of plenty, and that creates selection headaches. The top order has been firing, although not with the regularity expected of the Mumbai Indians.

The late order has always been Mumbai’s insurance. Pollard overcame an early slump to give Chennai a hiding in May, but Hardik Pandya seems to be having a rather extended lean patch. That had hurt Mumbai badly. Sharma would want Hardik to start timing the ball more sweetly.

Mumbai is blessed with bowling riches, but Adam Milne’s form in The Hundred would warrant a place ahead of Australia’s Nathan Coulter-Nile, to partner Trent Boult and Jasprit Bumrah. Given the number of left-handed batsmen in the Chennai line-up, Sharma might toy with the idea of playing off-spinner Jayant Yadav. But whom will he replace? Leggie Rahul Chahar or left-arm spinner Krunal Pandya? Both looks unlikely.

This is a battle between evenly matched sides. If Chennai is unable to field their best eleven, Mumbai will coast to victory. But then it’s T20. Unpredictability is in its DNA. So we could be in for a thrilling contest. Sparks could fly.