M S Dhoni, captain of Chennai Super Kings
M S Dhoni, captain of Chennai Super Kings Image Credit: AP

Dubai: Who will the neutrality of Mumbai serve to aid and who will it undo? Going by the way the 2020 renewal of the tournament panned out in the UAE, you would think Delhi Capitals might be better backed to win their IPL 2021 opener against multiple winners Chennai Super Kings in India’s financial capital.

CSK seemed completely out of their depth when playing away from home last term and for the first time in their illustrious history sat out the play-offs for the first time in the 11-year history of the tournament. In fact, the MS Dhoni-captained CSK are the second most successful team in the history of the tournament behind reigning champions Mumbai Indians with three titles and a further five runner-up finishes.

On the other hand, Delhi Capitals, for long the outsiders, with just three third-places to show, thrived in the UAE, making 2020 their best season. They were third for the third time in 2019, but reached last season’s final before losing tamely to Mumbai Indians by five wickets at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.

Delhi have been the up-and-coming force among the eight franchises, with the capital outfit having gained immensely after Shikhar Dhawan joined in 2019. The India opener has been one of the reasons behind Delhi’s meteoric rise as he significantly improved their batting department.

In his first year, he joined forces with the likes of the now Delhi captain Rishabh Pant, Shreyas Iyer and Prithvi Shaw to form a quartet that would score close to 1500 runs between them. Then, last year, Dhawan and Iyer excelled with the bat yet again, scoring 618 and 519 runs respectively, which helped their charge up the leaderboard and all the way to the final.

Iyer’s withdrawal from the tournament after undergoing surgery on his shoulder has forced a change of captaincy, with 23-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman Pant now leading the side. Pant is riding the crest of success having had stunning match-winning knocks in Tests in Australia and against England at home and their house appears more in order than that of CSK, with not just Pant, with Dhawan always handy in his role as opener and Shaw also showing terrific form domestically in the run-up to here. Shaw scored four centuries, including a double ton, to lead Mumbai Cricket Association to their fourth Vijay Hazare title last month (50 overs) and that form is bound to come handy at the Wankhede Stadium tonight.

CSK, meanwhile, cannot boast of form like that in the lead up to this and their worst IPL run has coincided with Dhoni’s worst.

Dhoni retired from all forms of international cricket just before flying out to the UAE last year and things went downhill for the Yellow brigade, who suddenly found themselves being led by a man who for the first time might have been overwhelmed by the weight of responsibility.

The ever-consistent Faf du Plessis was their top scorer and Ambati Rayudu too chipped in handily, with Ravindra Jadeja turning up from time to time in place of Dhoni to help them finish off their innings. Not much has changed in the since they signed off with their worst ever seventh-placed finish of last season and without much change it might be difficult for them to turn things around, meaning a lot will depend on how Dhoni handles the captaincy and moreover his own contribution with the bat as none of his dependables have played much cricket in the run up to the tournament.

A far as the bowling department is concerned Delhi look stronger on paper despite the absence of two of their star pacers Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje, who will have to sit out on account of having to quarantine themselves as they touched down late in Mumbai due to international duty for South Africa against Pakistan. Rabada led the bowling in 2019 with 25 wickets and combined well with his countryman last term, picking up 52 wickets between them, with Australian Marcus Stoinis delivering all-round.

With Rabada and Nortje in quarantine, Chris Woakes, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma are likely to be the ones Pant turns to for pace, with R Ashwin handling spin and Stoinis doing his bit when required. Dhoni & Co. ought to take advantage of the absence of the South Africans, but have their own missing Proteas in Lungi Ngidi, who took nine wickets in four matches. As he too relinquishes in quarantine, CSK’s relatively inexperienced late recruit Jason Behrendorff, drafted in late to replace Australian compatriot Josh Hazlewood, will relish his opportunity in the middle as he looks to make a mark against one of the league’s most potent batting outfits.

Catch the match

6pm UAE
Chennai Super Kings vs Delhi Capitals