Royal Challengers take on CSK in battle for top spot

Vettoris return bolsters Bangalore

Royal Challengers take on CSK in battle for top spot

RCB’s AB de Villiers trains on Saturday ahead of their match against Chennai Super Kings. DH photo / Srikanta Sharma R

Some might call it the success of the format, others might hold the vicissitudes of the Twenty20 game responsible, but the fact remains that IPL IV couldn’t have asked for a better scenario at this stage of the competition.

Not until the final match of the long-winded league phase will the order of qualification for the play-offs become obvious. As such, Sunday’s last day of group action becomes supremely meaningful, especially given the extra incentive dangled in front of the teams that finish 1-2 in the league standings.

The equation ahead of Royal Challengers Bangalore is reasonably straightforward. Victory at the Chinnaswamy stadium against Chennai Super Kings will assure them of two bites at the cherry in a bid to make the May 28 final; defeat will necessitate them to win two consecutive matches in the play-offs merely to earn a shot at the title.

Straightforward as the equation might be, the task is anything but that. Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s Super Kings, the defending champions, have been ticking along quite nicely, and had the measure of the Challengers when the teams met five weeks back at the MA Chidambaram stadium. There is a look of assurance, if not invincibility, about them, and they have unearthed myriad heroes during a run that has seen them remain unbeaten at home.

And therein lies a tale the Challengers would do well to imbibe a moral or two from. Table-toppers Super Kings have 18 points from 13 matches; significantly, 14 of those points have come at home, where they have a perfect 7/7 record. By extension, that means they have won just two of six matches away from the fortress that they have converted Chepauk into, and there is no reason why the Challengers, who themselves have an excellent home record this season, should not consign the Super Kings to a fifth defeat on the road.

Easy as it is to explain home dominance, there is no readymade answer for why the Super Kings have travelled poorly. They have men drawn from different parts of the country -- indeed, the world! -- who have prior and reasonable experience of varying conditions, yet somehow, they haven’t managed to crack the travelling conundrum. Dhoni and his proud team will be mindful of their ordinary away record, so that will be additional incentive for them as they gear up to take on the Challengers, still smarting from their 111-run drubbing by Kings XI Punjab earlier in the week. The Adam Gilchrist-fuelled mauling was the Challengers’ first loss in nine matches, but it was a debilitating blow, even accounting for the fact that the Bangaloreans were without two crucial cogs in the bowling wheel, skipper Daniel Vettori and paceman Zaheer Khan. Left-arm spinner Vettori has since returned from New Zealand after consulting with his physician on his troublesome knee,  and should return to the helm after missing the last three matches.
Left-arm quick Zaheer too should be back as the Challengers seek more bite, experience and incisiveness to their bowling.

Unlike the Super Kings who have unearthed one batting hero after another -- only Murali Vijay has consistently struggled for consistency -- the Challengers have relied heavily on Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli and, to a lesser extent, AB de Villiers. Gayle’s seven-ball nought in Dharamsala ended an incredible seven-match scoring streak, and the Jamaican himself and the team will believe that his one failure is now done and dusted. The Challengers will need Gayle, Kohli and de Villiers to fire on all cylinders against a disciplined Super Kings attack in which offie R Ashwin has been predictably outstanding and left-arm paceman Doug Bollinger reasonably penetrative. Dhoni has a versatile and varied attack at his disposal despite the loss of Suraj Randiv, Albie Morkel and Dwayne Bravo allowing the captain the luxury of multiple options with their all-round skills.

For sheer depth, the Super Kings are in a league of their own, but the Challengers have other, more destructive assets. Including a certain Mr Gayle!

Teams (from):

Royal Challengers Bangalore: Daniel Vettori (capt), Chris Gayle, Saurabh Tiwary, Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, Mohammad Kaif, KB Arun Karthik, Asad Pathan, Charl Langeveldt, Zaheer Khan, S Arvind, Abhimanyu Mithun, Luke Pomersbach, Abrar Kazi, Johan van der Wath, Jonathan Vandiar, Syed Jamaluddin Ahmed, Mayank Agarwal, BN Bhareth, Ryan Ninan, CM Gautam, Rilee Rossouw.

Chennai Super Kings: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Murali Vijay, Mike Hussey, Suresh Raina, S Badrinath, Dwayne Bravo, Wriddhiman Saha, Albie Morkel, R Ashwin, Shadab Jakati, Doug Bollinger, Anirudha Srikkanth, George Bailey, Francois du Plessis, Joginder Sharma, V Yomahesh, Abhinav Mukund, Tim Southee, Scott Styris, Sudeep Tyagi, K Shrivasudevadas, G Vignesh.

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