All that time watching and idolising MS Dhoni, now Rishabh Pant will have to find a way to knock him down and beat his team.
After a rocky start, India’s next-gen wicketkeeper has done so well no one is talking about the legend from whom he took over. Outlandish Test-match-winning knocks in Australia and against England at home have established Pant as a serious player in Indian cricket and the Delhi Capitals’ decision to make him captain is a clear sign they want to ride the wave he’s on all the way to the final once again. And maybe go one better.
Dhoni may have lost his Chepauk fortress and he may be leading a side that doesn’t really look all that different from the one that spent most of IPL 2020 at the bottom of the table, but his dedication to the Chennai Super Kings franchise and determination to get them back on top should not be underestimated.
In the news
The fast-bowling combination of Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Norje was one of the Capitals’ biggest strengths last season. But with both arriving in India only on April 6, they will be stuck in quarantine while the rest of their team-mates will be out on the park in Mumbai.
Lungi Ngidi is in the same situation for the Chennai Super Kings. All three South Africa players arrived late since they were playing Pakistan at home.
The Capitals may also need to find cover for Axar Patel, who tested positive for Covid-19 last week. Unless he can return two negative tests by April 10, he will not be able to play this game.
Chennai Super Kings: 1 Moeen Ali, 2 Faf du Plessis, 3 Suresh Raina 4 Ambati Rayudu, 5 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 6 Ravindra Jadeja, 7 Sam Curran, 8 Dwayne Bravo, 9 K Gowtham, 10 Shardul Thakur, 11 Deepak Chahar
Delhi Capitals: 1 Prithvi Shaw, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Steven Smith, 4 Rishabh Pant (capt & wk), 5 Marcus Stoinis, 6 Shimron Hetmyer, 7 Chris Woakes, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Umesh Yadav, 10 Amit Mishra, 11 Ishant Sharma
So long as he is part of a cricket team, he will be its finisher. Such is Dhoni’s aura. But last year – due to a lack of match practice, much the same as this year – his big-hitting ability was severely impaired. So it was Ravindra Jadeja who took over and got those crucial boundaries away in the death overs. And he performed the role so well he was keeping up with the likes of Kieron Pollard and AB de Villiers. The time might have come for a passing of the baton.
The absence of Rabada and Nortje severely limits Capitals’ ability to pose a threat as a death-bowling unit. All three of the fast bowlers who might potentially make their XI on Saturday – Chris Woakes, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma – are new-ball specialists. So perhaps they go all out up front and some of R Ashwin’s overs might be saved for the end. He’s experienced. He loves a challenge. And he would revel at the chance to go up against his old mate Dhoni and one up him.
Stats that matter
- 105*, 227, 185*, 165. Those are Prithvi Shaw’s centuries from the Vijay Hazare 50-over games last month, when he led Mumbai to the title. His form is going to be crucial for the Capitals across this IPL season.
- Barely any of the Super Kings’ batsmen have been active in the lead-up to this tournament. Moeen Ali, who was part of the series against India recently, didn’t play the T20Is. Faf du Plessis last hit a ball during the PSL. Suresh Raina and Ambati Rayudu’s last matches were in January. Dhoni is retired. And Jadeja’s been injured. All that rust is bound to show.
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo