Eyeing a top-two finish, Chennai Super Kings will be the firm favourites when they lock horns with Punjab Kings in the Indian Premier League here on Thursday.
The Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led team, despite two straight defeats prior to the final round-robin match, will have its nose ahead against an inconsistent Punjab outfit that is all but out of the play-offs race.
The three-time champions, who have roared back from a forgettable IPL-2020 and became the first team to secure a spot in the play-offs this season, have been in good form in the second phase and is among the sides to beat.
The Super Kings batsmen are in superb nick, especially the stylish Ruturaj Gaikwad, and they will be eager to continue the good work. Gaikwad and veteran South African Faf du Plessis have been good at the top while Ambati Rayudu has shown in the middle-order.
Moeen Ali has done what has been asked of him but the struggles of Suresh Raina (who missed the Delhi Capitals game) and skipper Dhoni are worrying signs for CSK heading into the next stage.
Ravindra Jadeja has time and again underscored his value as an all-rounder, making crucial contributions and will be key if the Super Kings have to go all the way.
The bowlers, though, did not have a happy outing against Rajasthan as Yashasvi Jaiswal and Shivam Dube went on an all-out attack. They will be eager to make amends.
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Deepak Chahar, with 12 wickets so far, has been more than a handful for opposition batsmen upfront but he tends to go off the boil when pressed into the attack in the later stages.
Shardul Thakur has been superb with 15 scalps, the best for a CSK bowler in IPL-2021 and he will look to carry on the good work in the business end.
The duo of Josh Hazelwood and Dwayne Bravo have put their skills to good use as have Jadeja and Ali. All-rounder Sam Curran has been ruled out of the rest of the tournament owing to injury but CSK won't be worried too much as they have Bravo, who has is having a good run.
Inconsistency has been the bane of the K L Rahul-led Punjab team that lies sixth in the table with 10 points.
The skipper leads the season's charts with 528 runs while his Karnataka state-mate Mayank Agarwal has 429, but the others haven't contributed much which is one of the reasons for Punjab Kings' woes.
On the bowling front, Mohammed Shami (18 wickets from 13 matches) and Arshdeep Singh (16 wickets) have been the stars while Ravi Bishnoi, who had been surprisingly benched on occasions, had had his moments.
Rahul & Co may find the going tough against CSK and a win may keep them in contention for a top-four spot, albeit only mathematically.
The Super Kings, on the other hand, will be eager to wrap up the league phase with a win and head into the play-offs with confidence.
A loss could potentially jeopardise CSK's chances of finishing in the top two and Dhoni is aware of that.
Chennai Super Kings: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain), Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, KM Asif, Deepak Chahar, Dwayne Bravo, Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir, N Jagadeesan, Karn Sharma, Lungi Ngidi, Mitchell Santner, Ravindra Jadeja, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shardul Thakur, R Sai Kishore, Moeen Ali, K Gowtham, Cheteshwar Pujara, Harishankar Reddy, Bhagath Varma, C Hari Nishaanth.
Punjab Kings: KL Rahul (captain), Mayank Agarwal, Arshdeep Singh, Ishan Porel, Shahrukh Khan, Mohammed Shami, Nathan Ellis, Adil Rashid, Murugan Ashwin, Harpreet Brar, Moises Henriques, Chris Jordan, Aiden Markram, Mandeep Singh, Darsan Nalkande, Prabhsimran Singh, Ravi BIshnoi, Utkarsh Singh, Fabian Allen, Saurabh Kumar, Jalaj Saxena.
Match starts at 3.30PM IST.