On paper, the Capitals are the overwhelming favourites. But in the topsy-turvy T20 format, strength on paper can be meaningless
MS Dhoni, Indian cricket’s elder statesman, is pitted against his protege Rishabh Pant in a contest that could spell out how this tournament is going to pan out not just for the teams they lead, but individually too.
IPL 2021: Predict the winner, win amazing prizes
Pant is riding a crest currently. He’s been the outstanding batsman for India across formats this international season and has emerged arguably as the world’s most dangerous batter, especially in the T20 format; an accolade that not too long back was reserved for Dhoni.
The crux matter in the IPL 2021, however, could be about captaincy. Dhoni’s credentials in this position are excellent. He’s a past master at sizing up opponents and situations.
His unorthodox tactics bewildered experts and aficionados initially. But who can argue against success?
Three IPL titles, one in the Champions Trophy plus the T20 and ODI World Cups marked Dhoni out as arguably India’s best-ever captain, and also the most influential player of his era. The `Mahi Way’ of leadership became a text-book case study in management.
In contrast, Pant is a rookie. An exigency led to his captaining Delhi at the age of 20 for a few matches, and another exigency – Shreyas Iyer being unfortunately injured – has thrust the captaincy of Delhi Capitals this season on him as a 23-year-old.
But while experience has enormous value, young, fresh thinking can also be a big advantage. In Indian cricket, Tiger Pataudi, Sourav Ganguly and Dhoni became captains in their early or mid-20s and did a fantastic job.
— Chennai Super Kings (@ChennaiIPL) April 9, 2021
Concern about Pant centres around two things. Will he be able to sustain his batting form under the pressure of leadership? And whether he can manage his teammates, particularly the senior pros, four of whom – Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Steve Smith and Ravichandran Ashwin – have been IPL captains themselves?
The Delhi Capitals – last season’s runners up – seem to be a team with more natural talent and ebullience than the Chennai Super Kings who had finished seventh. But Dhoni will be looking to exploit even the slightest sign of dissonance and vulnerability in the Capitals, which means there will be no respite for Pant.
Chennai have also been fortified by the return of two loyalists, Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja, who have done yeoman service for the franchise. Raina was mired in controversy last season, walking out of the tournament before it had begun. Just when it seemed his career with CSK was over, an olive branch was offered to him.
— Delhi Capitals (@DelhiCapitals) April 9, 2021
Raina has been among the most successful players in the IPL and widely seen as Dhoni’s right hand man. His return bolsters the batting and fielding, and also gives the captain a bowling option.
Jadeja is making a comeback after the injury he suffered during the tour of Australia. His all-round prowess has been invaluable for CSK over the years. Though last season he wasn’t in particularly good wicket-taking form, his presence is a big boost to the side.
Where CSK could suffer, as last season, is that there are no `home’ matches for them at the Chepauk. This might reduce the value of players like ImranTahir, Mitchell Santner and even Jadeja, who thrived on the spin-friendly Chepauk pitches.
The Capitals are loaded with explosive players across all departments — Dhawan, Shaw, Pant, Smith in batting, all-rounders Marcus Stoinis, Axar Patel, pacers Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma and spinners Ashwin and Amit Mishra.
On paper, the Capitals are the overwhelming favourites. But in the topsy-turvy T20 format, strength on paper can be meaningless.
Delhi Capitals vs Chennai Super Kings
6pm UAE Time
Players to watch out for
Dhoni, Raina, Jadeja
Pant, Smith, Ashwin