MUMBAI - Chennai Super Kings and Kings XI Punjab have contrasting IPL histories. While Super Kings have made it past the group stage in all seven seasons - and five finals - Kings XI are yet to make a final. Their best showing was reaching the semis in 2008. The difference is stark though Kings XI, with their revamped squad, look formidable.
Kings XI was the one team Super Kings failed to outclass in both attempts in the league stages. They have one more chance to rectify that - in the second playoff. Super Kings' weak link - the bowling - was highlighted in both games as Kings XI posted 200-plus scores. The teams had contrasting fortunes on Wednesday, with Super Kings riding on momentum after brushing aside Mumbai Indians comfortably.
Super Kings could have been chasing in excess of 190, had it not been for the control shown by their bowlers, stifling the batsmen with variations in pace, and careless batting by Mumbai towards the end of their innings. MS Dhoni blamed poor catching as one of the reasons for their sudden three-match blip ahead of the playoffs. They had managed to set that right in their last two games and approach their second knockout game feeling more positive. Batting was never going to be Super Kings' worry. If their bowling can hold it together, Super Kings are likely to be in their sixth final in seven seasons.
Having exhausted a lifeline, Kings XI have their second shot at the final. A listless performance with the bat against Kolkata Knight Riders might have indicated they were running out of steam, but if they weren't compelled to keep an eye on Duckworth-Lewis, the script could have been different. The batsmen were flustered by the threat of a washout and the need to keep up with the par score and yet preserve wickets, but with every passing over, Knight Riders' superior bowling pinned them down. Consistency has been the hallmark of Kings XI's campaign and they have not lost two games in a row. Having come this far, they cannot afford another bad day for it will thwart their first final appearance.
In the first meeting, in Abu Dhabi, sixties by Dwayne Smith and Brendon McCullum powered Super Kings to 205 but the target was cut down to size in spectacular fashion by Kings XI's Glenn Maxwell. Maxwell's switch hits and reverse sweeps stunned Super Kings as he smashed 95 off 43 balls, David Miller made a clinical 54 as Kings XI coasted with an over to spare. It wasn't the last Super Kings saw of Maxwell.
In Cuttack, a "home" game for Kings XI, Maxwell carried on from where he finished, pounding 90 off 38 balls to lift Kings XI to the season highest 231. Super Kings never threatened the target but still managed 187. Sixty-four runs off 24 balls at a strike-rate of 266.67 - that's Maxwell v Ashwin in IPL 2014. R Ashwin is yet to dismiss him and as those figures suggest, it has been one-way traffic. Ashwin has compulsively bowled round the wicket to the right-handers and bowling on the pads to create an awkward angle but Maxwell so far has made a mockery of it.
But after Super Kings' win over Mumbai on Wednesday, Ashwin had a message for Maxwell on camera. Though the interview had finished, Ashwin alerted the interviewer for a postscript. He said he would bowl over the wicket to Maxwell, as if throwing open a challenge.
Parvinder Awana has had a stop-start IPL campaign and in his five games, has taken a wicket in each except the first qualifier. However, Kings XI's Sandeep Sharma is still among the top five wicket-takers for the season but has been benched in the last few games. With the game in Mumbai, swing could be a factor. Mumbai Indians' Praveen Kumar troubled Dwayne Smith at the Wankhede earlier this month with his swing. That could encourage Sandeep's inclusion, for he is a bowler in the Praveen mould.