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Hardik Pandya's Mumbai have momentum but MS Dhoni's Chennai are a mean machine: IPL play-offs talking points

Chitrabhanu Kadalayil gauges the chances of each of the four teams in the upcoming play-offs of the Indian Premier League

Mumbai Indians' bowler Hardik Pandya (C) celebrates with team mates after taking the wicket of Chennai Super Kings captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni during the 2019 Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket match between Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on April 3, 2019. (Photo by PUNIT PARANJPE / AFP) / IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE
Mumbai Indians' bowler Hardik Pandya (C) celebrates with team mates after taking the wicket of Chennai Super Kings captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni during the 2019 Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket match between Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on April 3, 2019. (Photo by PUNIT PARANJPE / AFP) / IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE

And then there were four.

After 44 days of action that included 56 matches and involved eight teams, the play-offs are upon us as we are closer than ever to finding out who the 2019 Indian Premier League champions will be.

Table toppers Mumbai Indians take on defending champions Chennai Super Kings in Qualifier 1 on Tuesday, with the winners booking a place in Sunday’s final. The losers then slug it out on Friday with the winners of Wednesday’s Eliminator match between Delhi Capitals and Sunrisers Hyderabad.

Who then will win the title? Here’s a team-by-team guide:

Mumbai Indians

The three-time champions bounced back from a forgettable 2018 season to not only book a place in the play-offs but also pip Chennai for top spot in the table – if only to have bragging rights in the Super Kings backyard.

Mumbai have an edge: they have won 16 of the 28 matches against their traditional rivals, have won both times they locked horns this season, and have bested them in six of their last seven meetings. Mumbai also have momentum on their side, having won six and tied one of their last 10 matches.

Captain Rohit Sharma has had a quiet season, but opening partner Quinton de Kock is fourth in the batting chart. All-rounder Hardik Pandya has played as if he is on a mission. And the pace of Lasith Malinga and Jasprit Bumrah have been tops.

Mumbai’s only problem is inconsistency. If they can overcome a tendency to switch off, the title might well be theirs.

MS Dhoni's leadership is the primary reason for Chennai Super Kings' continued success in the IPL. Manjunath Kiran / AFP
MS Dhoni's leadership is the primary reason for Chennai Super Kings' continued success in the IPL. Manjunath Kiran / AFP

Chennai Super Kings

Despite Mumbai’s recent form, Chennai remain favourites not just to win Qualifier 1 but also the final. They are defending champions and among the most consistent teams in the league. They are led – quite ably – by former India captain MS Dhoni, and they have a side packed with experienced players who know how to win titles.

One of the three-time championship-winning franchise’s strengths has been its ability to retain its core of players that includes Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Dwayne Bravo, Ravindra Jadeja, Faf du Plessis and Shane Watson.

Their spin attack has been brilliant this season, with leg-spinner Imran Tahir, off-spinner Harbhajan Singh and left-arm spinner Jadeja taking 47 wickets between them.

They have issues in the batting department: Du Plessis, Watson and Raina – Chennai’s most successful batsman – have all endured indifferent form. The injured Kedar Jadhav is out for the rest of the competition.

This means Dhoni may have to do some of the heavy lifting.

Delhi Capitals cricketer Kagiso Rabada (2L) celebrates with teammates after taking the wicket of unseen Sunrisers Hyderabad batsman David Warner during the 2019 Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket match between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Delhi Capitals at The Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Hyderabad on April 14, 2019. (Photo by NOAH SEELAM / AFP) / IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE
Delhi Capitals cricketer Kagiso Rabada (2L) celebrates with teammates after taking the wicket of unseen Sunrisers Hyderabad batsman David Warner during the 2019 Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket match between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Delhi Capitals at The Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Hyderabad on April 14, 2019. (Photo by NOAH SEELAM / AFP) / IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE

Delhi Capitals

Easily the most exciting side in 2019, Delhi began this season as underdogs – which is unsurprising given their win percentage until 2018 was 42.45.

The new management was criticised for changing the franchise’s name from the evocative Daredevils to a more prosaic Capitals. But key decisions, such as retaining Shreyas Iyer as captain and Ricky Ponting as coach, putting together a formidable bowling attack and recalling the experienced Shikhar Dhawan, have brought tangible benefits.

They have on their roster the world’s best fast bowler (Kagiso Rabada), the most exciting batsman of the future (Rishabh Pant) and the most exciting bowler of the future (Sandeep Lamichhane). In short, they have the individual elements required to win the trophy for the first time.

That a majority of their core players are Indians has meant a commitment to play the full season, translating to stability.

Only drawback? There is plenty of inexperience in this side.

The play-offs will test their mettle.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar, centre, is Sunrisers Hyderabad's frontline bowler and, possibly, one to watch in the play-offs. Aijaz Rahi / AP Photo
Bhuvneshwar Kumar, centre, is Sunrisers Hyderabad's frontline bowler and, possibly, one to watch in the play-offs. Aijaz Rahi / AP Photo

Sunrisers Hyderabad

David Warner and Jonny Bairstow formed an unlikely but successful opening partnership to help Hyderabad reach the play-offs this season. The Australian-English – and hence unlikely – pair scored a combined 1,147 runs before they departed the competition to join their respective national teams to prepare for the upcoming Cricket World Cup.

There was always the risk of Hyderabad struggling without the duo, but key to their fortunes going forward is Manish Pandey’s form, which has improved lately. And if captain Kane Williamson and the dangerous Martin Guptill find some runs, both Hyderabad and New Zealand will be better for it.

Their bowling attack, led by the experienced Bhuvneshwar Kumar and the promising Khaleel Ahmed, looks strong. But the lack of depth in the batting, especially in the middle order, remains a worry, with more effort needed from the up and coming Vijay Shankar and Deepak Hooda.

This also means they will be the underdogs against Delhi.

Updated: May 6, 2019 06:50 PM

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