Before IPL 15 started, if anyone had suggested that Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings would be languishing at the bottom of the points table after four weeks into the tournament, he/she would have been shown the way to the loony bin. These two marquee teams in the league have such a rich history of extraordinary success that that kind of protracted struggle they are experiencing this season was unthinkable.
In six matches so far, CSK have won only one while MI are yet to open their account. For the legions of fans of the two teams, the disappointment and heartache has been unending. Their prospects of making it to the playoffs have nosedived.
A mathematical chance does exist. Realistically, though, it tends towards zero. MI and CSK can now play spoilers, tripping some teams as the tournament progresses, which is not exactly what champion teams are expected to do.
What’s gone wrong with the two teams has been written about in some depth in these columns. To reiterate, it is located in poor strategy during the mega auction. MI did not show strong intent to retain Quinton de Kock and Trent Boult, two players who had done yeoman service for them. CSK let go of Faf du Plessis and Josh Hazlewood, key figures in the title triumph last season.
This has been compounded by the poor form of star players Rohit Sharma and Kieron Pollard (for MI), Moeen Ali, Ravindra Jadeja, Chris Jordan, MS Dhoni for CSK.
What can one expect when these laggards lock horns tonight?
The current form doesn’t indicate anything special, but the instinct to survive (remember, mathematically both can still make it to the last 4), may well produce a rousing contest.
Despite their travails, there are several high-quality players on both sides to grab attention.
While Rohit and Pollard have been below par, Jasprit Bumrah and Suryakumar Yadav have been in excellent form. More gratifying for MI has been how young South African Dewald Brevis and rookie Tilak Varma from Hyderabad have performed. Mumbai’s big problem has been finding adequate support for Bumrah in the bowling. M Ashwin has been relatively consistent, but there has not been much more heft besides.
CSK are sailing in the same boat. Robin Uthappa and Shivam Dube have delivered money’s worth, others not quite so.
The fine performances of Ruturaj Gaikwad and Maheesh Theekshana provide hope, but CSK need bigger contributions from Moeen, Jadeja and Chris Jordan to emerge from this slump.
The onus tonight will be greater on MI who have yet to win a match. But CSK may not have yet digested how they grabbed a defeat from the jaws of victory against Gujarat Titans. Despite the two-point difference between the teams, they start on level terms.
Ayaz Memon is an Indian sports writer and commentator
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