Punjab Kings hope for a miracle as Chennai Super Kings cement top-two spot

Preview

KL Rahul and his men will be hoping their competition loses big as well

Big picture

With Royal Challengers Bangalore’s defeat on Wednesday, Chennai Super Kings are assured of a top-two spot. They’re free. They’re clear. They can almost relax.

For Punjab Kings, however, it’s as complicated as it gets. Their hopes of making the playoffs hinge on so many things. Bottom line, they have to win. Big time. Then they have to hope their competition loses. Big time. It’s unlikely but stranger things have happened.

In the news

Somewhere hidden deep beneath the Super Kings’ revival this year is a fragile middle order. MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina have been the backbone of this team for many years, but right now they look like weak links. Moeen Ali is okay but he does this thing where he looks a million bucks one ball but the next one goes down the throat of a fielder in the deep. Ambati Rayudu and Ravindra Jadeja, in particular, have done well to mask the problem. But it is still there and a good bowling unit will know just how to exploit it. The Delhi Capitals already did to go top of the table.

PS – Super Kings have signed West Indies seam-bowling allrounder Dominic Drakes as a replacement for the injured Sam Curran. Drakes was the highest wicket-taker for CPL champions St Kitts and Nevis Patriots, while also contributing important runs, including an unbeaten 48 in the final that earned him the Player-of-the-Match award.

1:41

Is Dhoni no longer a threat with the bat?

Likely XIs

Chennai Super Kings: 1 Ruturaj Gaikwad, 2 Faf du Plessis, 3 Moeen Ali, 4 Ambati Rayudu, 5 Robin Uthappa/Suresh Raina, 6 Ravindra Jadeja, 7 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 8 Dwayne Bravo, 9 Shardul Thakur, 10 Deepak Chahar, 11 Josh Hazlewood

Punjab Kings: 1 KL Rahul (capt & wk), 2 Mayank Agarwal, 3 Nicholas Pooran, 4 Aiden Markram, 5 Sarfaraz Khan/Deepak Hooda, 6 Shahrukh Khan, 7 Moises Henriques, 8 Chris Jordan, 9 Ravi Bishnoi, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Arshdeep Singh

Strategy punt

  • Given Dhoni’s struggles this season – 84 runs at a strike rate of 98 – Super Kings may want to think about pushing him as far down the order as possible. It’s not like they don’t have other options to play the finisher’s role. Jadeja, for example, has a death-overs strike rate of 203 and a balls-per-boundary ratio of 3.45 this IPL. Dwayne Bravo is even better: 269 and 2.66.
  • The Kings’ opening pair have contributed 49% of their runs this campaign, so it would probably be best not to mess with that. Still Nicholas Pooran’s struggles down the order have been so horrible (average 7.72) that the time has come for drastic measures. Send him out to open. See what happens.

Stats that matter

  • Shardul Thakur has a middle-overs (7-16) economy rate of 5.53 (minimum of 25 balls) in this second leg of the IPL. That’s the second-best by any fast bowler in the tournament.
  • Shahrukh Khan is the only middle-order batter (Nos. 4-7) in the Kings line-up with a strike-rate in excess of 130 this year.
  • Raina’s average of 17.8 is the second-worst out of all the batters who have made at least 150 runs this season.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

(With Inputs from ESPN)

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