RCB start firm favourites

RCB start firm favourites

Cricket: Indian Premier League: Bangalore return to action against Chennai after a five-day break

RCB start firm favourites

Battle ready: MS Dhoni (left) and Matthew Hayden during practice session on Tuesday. AP

Standing between them and a fifth win from seven matches are the Chennai Super Kings, only one place above the bottom and in the middle of a terrible slump which has seen them stack up a four-match winless streak. Finalists in the first edition and semifinalists last time, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men have still to click as a unit, let down by inconsistent batting and less than incisive bowling, weaknesses the Challengers will seek to ruthlessly exploit under the harsh afternoon Chennai sun.

The demanding management duo of Anil Kumble and coach Ray Jennings has hitherto done a wonderful job of extracting the best out of the Challengers. That only 13 men have been fielded in the first six games – the playing eleven has been unchanged for the last five matches – is alone indicative of the consistency of a unit whose parts have complemented each other quite beautifully.

Defeat at home, somewhat of a bastion this season, against the Delhi Daredevils last Thursday must have come as a wake-up call for the Challengers, until then ticking over like a well-oiled machine and making the most of home advantage on the juiciest tracks of the IPL to date. Entitled to the odd off-day, the Challengers have already put that defeat behind them. Fortified since by the acclimatisation of limited-overs specialist Cameron White and the arrival of the explosive Kevin Pietersen, the Bangalore outfit will contemplate rejigging their line-up in a bid to accommodate as much batting firepower as possible.

The propensity of the Super Kings to crack underpressure, particularly while chasing a target, will not have gone unnoticed by the Kumble-Jennings combine. With Matthew Hayden firing only in fits and starts and the middle-order not in the best shape, the Super Kings have found the lack of firepower in the bowling department too stiff an obstacle to overcome.

Injuries to key players haven’t helped the Super Kings’ cause. Dhoni missed a clutch of matches with an elbow injury while influential South African all-rounder Justin Kemp hasn’t played since picking up a back injury at home during their heart-breaking Super Over loss to Kings XI Punjab last week.

As such, the onus will again be on the Challengers’ top-order to set the tone. The top-three of Jacques Kallis, Manish Pandey and Robin Uthappa have delivered more often than not, and they will be aware that while the Super Kings batting hasn’t yet hit its straps, the potential for damage Hayden, Dhoni, Suresh Raina, S Badrinath and Morkel carry can hardly be under-estimated. Wednesday marks the first of three away games in five days for Kumble’s men. A good start to this little segment will go a long way towards knotting up a semifinal berth with plenty in the tank.