Semifinalists in sharp focus

Semifinalists in sharp focus

A closer look at the contenders

Semifinalists in sharp focus

Runaway table-toppers Mumbai Indians, progressing beyond the league stage for the first time, against Royal Challengers Bangalore on Wednesday is the first of four mouth-watering contests in store at the DY Patil stadium over the next five days.

Three of the four teams will clinch Champions League berths, so there is enough incentive for the losing semifinalists too.

Deccan Chargers carry the best immediate form of all teams coming into the semis, having won their last five matches on the trot. Last year’s champions will face Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings, the only team to have made all three semifinals so far, on Thursday in a battle of the southern giants that has always had that extra amount of spice and needle.

Here’s a quick look at how the teams stack up:

* Strengths: Sachin Tendulkar’s exceptional run with the bat and the timely discovery of six-hitting ways by Kieron Pollard should embolden the likes of Ambati Rayudu and Saurabh Tiwary to continue to bat with positivity and flair. In Lasith Malinga, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh, they possess a mean, penetrative bowling attack.

* Weaknesses: Not too many, to be honest. If anything, the Indians will have to contend with the fact that they have had an untroubled run in the league stage. How they react when they are stretched in a must-win game remains to be seen.

* Men to look out for: Tendulkar, Malinga, Harbhajan.

* X-factor: Kieron Pollard (Matches: 12; Runs: 213; Wickets: 12).

* Strengths: A veritable embarrassment of batting riches singles Anil Kumble’s men as a strong force primed to go all the way. The class and correctness of Jacques Kallis and Rahul Dravid is beautifully complemented by the unorthodox, brutal ways of Kevin Pietersen, Robin Uthappa, Ross Taylor and Virat Kohli. As ever, Kumble has been frugal and probing, while Dale Steyn’s pace at the top has rattled the best in the competition.

* Weaknesses: When things have gone wrong on the bowling front, they have gone horribly so. Despite the meat in the middle-order, they have often been bogged down by the inability of the top-three to make the most of the first six overs, Kallis’ more than occasional diffidence irrevocably wearing them down.

* Men to look out for: Kallis, Kumble, Taylor.

* X-factor: Pietersen (Matches: 5; Runs: 188; Wickets: 2).

n Strengths: A never-say-die attitude and a completely fearless approach, qualities instilled in them by their inspirational skipper Adam Gilchrist. Having needed to win their last five games to reach the semis, and having done so, the defending champs have every reason to believe nothing is beyond them now. Rohit Sharma has been in sublime touch, while the bowling unit has been wonderfully spearheaded by Pragyan Ojha.

n Weaknesses: On a surface with more pace and bounce than at most venues in the country, the Chargers’ over-reliance on taking the pace off the ball might come unstuck. Gilchrist’s poor form hasn’t allowed the team to get off to frenetic starts, transferring immense pressure on to the middle-order.

n Men to look out for: Rohit, Ojha, Vaas.

n X-factor: Andrew Symonds (Matches: 14; Runs: 404; Wickets: 11).

n Strengths: Suresh Raina’s consistent run has held the team together even as the rest have struggled as a unit. Murali Vijay’s classical dismantling of bowling attacks at the top and S Badrinath’s adaptability have further made up for Matthew Hayden’s indifference. R Ashwin has come into his own in the later stages of the league phase with quality off-spin bowling, and the Muttiah Muralitharan threat can never be underestimated.

n Weaknesses: The Super Kings have been the least convincing of the semifinalists, their bowling in particularly supremely porous. Mahendra Singh Dhoni has juggled his Indian medium-pace options with little success. The batting is too reliant on Raina and the skipper himself.

n Men to look out for:Raina, Dhoni, Ashwin.

n X-factor: Hayden (Matches: 14, Runs: 321; Highest: 93).