The IPL 2023 Qualifier-1 between Chennai Super Kings and Gujarat Titans at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on Tuesday will see tactics, face-offs and, above all, raw emotions take centrestage. After all, if this turns out to be M.S. Dhoni’s farewell season, it is Chennai’s last chance to savour its Thala in action.
Chennai openers Ruturaj Gaikwad and Devon Conway, with their silky wrists, have found form consistently, and along with power-hitter Shivam Dube, they constitute CSK’s engine room that has churned out success this year.
The Titans, too, have had every member of their team make a telling contribution at some point. They chased down 198 against RCB in the last league game — their highest successful chase — with ease, thanks to Shubman Gill, who comes to Chennai riding on back-to-back hundreds.
Moreover, GT’s bowling attack suggests greater depth than its opponent’s. Mohammed Shami’s wonderful displays of seam and swing have not diminished over the last month, while Mohit Sharma remains composed enough with the ball in his hand to trouble the best batters.
However, it is the spin bowling by Rashid Khan and Noor Ahmad that gives Gujarat a slight edge. They have bowled more skillfully in the competition than their CSK counterparts. If the ball turns, the duel between Rashid and his opposite number, Ravindra Jadeja, will be a delight.
Rashid’s face-off with Gaikwad could be crucial. He has dismissed him twice in five T20 innings and conceded only 66 off 45 balls. Meanwhile, Matheesha Pathirana will pose a stiff challenge for the GT finishers. He has 15 wickets from 10 games this season.
All said and done, Dhoni has seemingly become more indomitable as captain in his twilight, while for Hardik Pandya, a successful title defence could lead to his anointment as India’s future T20I captain.
The symbolic importance is not lost in the larger context of Indian cricket.