These are two teams in red-hot form, and they come into the game having beaten Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians, respectively, in their last games. So, when Chennai Super Kings and Kolkata Knight Riders face-off in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, it could well be a high-octane encounter.
Knight Riders did not have the greatest of starts to the season. They had won just two out of seven games and were at the bottom of the table coming into the UAE leg of IPL 2021. And now, they are at No. 4 on the table and, given their current form, they are among genuine contenders for the playoffs.
So, what has changed for them? One, the addition of Venkatesh Iyer, who has done well in both games so far - his 94 runs have come at a strike rate of 164.91 - and has significantly bumped up the Knight Riders' scoring rate, especially in the powerplay. At the top, Shubman Gill had a good game against Royal Challengers and No. 3 Rahul Tripathi scored a 42-ball 74 not out against Mumbai Indians. Their bowling has been up to the task in the last couple of games too - Varun Chakravarthy and Sunil Narine have been bowling frugal spells and the quicks have struck regularly.
However, the middle order has continued to stutter. Eoin Morgan's form, especially, has hurt them. Of the eight teams, the Knight Riders' middle-order batters (Nos. 4 to 6) were the slowest during the first leg with a strike rate of 120. They have not had to worry about it in the last two games, as the top order has done the job, but their opponents will back themselves if they get the top three out cheaply.
As for Super Kings, there doesn't seem to be anything to worry about. They are in second spot on the table, the bowling is clicking beautifully, and the runs have been coming exactly as needed. They would want to keep the wins coming and seal the playoffs spot as soon as possible.
Chennai Super Kings: 1 Ruturaj Gaikwad, 2 Moeen Ali, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 Ambati Rayudu, 5 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 6 Ravindra Jadeja, 7 Sam Curran, 8 Dwayne Bravo, 9 Shardul Thakur, 10 Deepak Chahar, 11 Josh Hazlewood
Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Shubman Gill, 2 Venkatesh Iyer, 3 Rahul Tripathi, 4 Nitish Rana, 5 Eoin Morgan (capt), 6 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 7 Andre Russell, 8 Sunil Narine, 9 Lockie Ferguson, 10 Prasidh Krishna, 11 Varun Chakravarthy.
Super Kings are one of Andre Russell's favourite opponents: he averages 46.7 against them in the IPL overall, and has scored four half-centuries in the last six matches against them. Russell almost took the game away from Super Kings in the first leg, when he hit 54 off 22 balls before Sam Curran sent him back. Russell also has a superb strike rate against most of the Super Kings bowlers - 214 against Dwayne Bravo, 186 against Ravindra Jadeja, 327 against Shardul Thakur; Knight Riders might want to send him in earlier than usual, given a chance, to make the most of the middle overs, where the three of Bravo, Jadeja and Thakur are expected to bowl.
Stats that matter
Super Kings have won four out of their last five fixtures against Knight Riders
In the first leg of IPL 2021, Knight Riders' run rate in the powerplay was 7.4, the third-lowest among the eight teams. They seem to have turned it around, thanks to the quick starts by Iyer and Gill. In the UAE leg of IPL 2021 so far, their run rate in the phase is 9.9, the best of the eight teams.
Dinesh Karthik needs 54 more to tally 4000 runs in the IPL.