Fresh from their much-needed win against Pune Warriors India, Chennai Super Kings are ready to welcome Rajasthan Royals - dare say a team looking primed to dismantle Chennai as Indian Premier League's defending champions. Only a couple of points separate the two teams as the league approaches the halfway stage, but Rajasthan are easily a few notches ahead on the consistency graph at this juncture.
It could be MS Dhoni's sternest test yet in IPL 5, coming in the form of the Orange Cap-holder Ajinkya Rahane and game-changers Owais Shah and Brad Hodge. Rajasthan have chased and built monumental targets in the six matches they have played so far, which puts both Chennai's bowlers and batsmen under pressure.
But Dhoni's men looked in apple-pie order against Pune. Badrinath's promotion to the top worked, a decent 164 was put on the board and the bowlers ran in hard to earn Chennai a 13-run victory – their third in six matches this season so far. The hard-earned points also pushed the two-time champions to fifth place on the leaderboard, leapfrogging Mumbai Indians on net run rate.
In that win over Pune, Chennai showed that they were ready to take some hard calls. Hence, quite a few of their regulars for the past four seasons were dropped.
Murali Vijay was shown the door and Badrinath – who until the match against Pune was languishing in the middle order – was pushed up to open with the in-form Faf du Plessis. Wriddhiman Saha took Vijay's place, though he didn't get the opportunity to bat. The CSK think-tank was forced to bite the bullet as Albie Morkel left for South Africa hearing the news of a close friend's death. He was replaced by Doug Bollinger, while Yo Mahesh was asked to make way for Shadab Jakati.
Dhoni's Midas touch worked again. Badrinath laid a 116-run foundation with du Plessis and Jakati bowled an important spell of 3 for 20. Also Bollinger filled up nicely for Morkel by bowling well at the death to keep Pune at bay.
Looking at that, Badrinath should continue to open and Jakati should keep his place. Meanwhile, Bollinger will continue to fill up for Morkel, who is still away in South Africa. In summary, Chennai are expected to field an unchanged XI on Saturday.
But it won't be easy for Chennai to face up to Rajasthan who have ticked most boxes, mainly through a red-hot batting line-up. Rahane is at present tournament's top-scorer with 304 runs, including a hundred and a half-century, with Shah at the third place with 216 runs and Dravid at the tenth with 152. That should be a handful for Chennai, whose top wicket-taker is Ravindra Jadeja with seven wickets.
Having set a total as high as 195 and chased a target as big as 197, Rajasthan don't have much to worry about, with the injury to wicketkeeper Shreevats Goswami being the only matter of concern. If fit after missing the game against Deccan Chargers, he should replace Rajasthan's Ranji Trophy 'keeper Dishant Yagnik.
But as the build-up suggests, it seems to be boiling down to a battle between Rajasthan's batsmen and Chennai's bowlers.
Chennai Super Kings: 1 Faf du Plessis, 2 S Badrinath, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 MS Dhoni, 5 Darren Bravo, 6 Ravindra Jadeja, 7 Wriddhiman Saha, 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 R Ashwin, 10 Shadab Jakati, 11 Doug Bollinger
Rajasthan Royals: 1 Rahul Dravid (c), 2 Ajinkya Rahane, 3 Ashok Menaria, 4 Owais Shah, 5 Brad Hodge, 6 Johan Botha, 7 Shreevats Goswami (wk), 8 Brad Hogg, 9 Amit Singh, 10 Siddharth Trivedi, 11 Pankaj Singh