The Delhi Capitals and the Sunrisers Hyderabad couldn't have taken more contrasting paths to Qualifier 2 of IPL 2020.
The Capitals' coach Ricky Ponting wanted his side to play their best cricket in the second half of IPL 2020. But things have gone in the opposite direction: after winning seven of their first nine games, the Capitals lost four matches on the trot.
Smiles returned on their faces when they beat the Royal Challengers Bangalore in their last league match to qualify for the playoffs, but a timid performance against the Mumbai Indians in the first Qualifier meant they are back to figuring out their best XI. Do they continue with left-arm seamer Daniel Sams, who has an economy rate of 9.50 after three wicketless outings? Do they replace Sams with Harshal Patel, which will also allow them to bring back the big-hitting Shimron Hetmyer? To make room for Hetmyer, do they drop the out-of-form Prithvi Shaw and open with Ajinkya Rahane, or leave out Rahane and keep faith in Shaw?
The Sunrisers, meanwhile, are peaking at the right time. At one stage, they were seventh on the points table with three wins from nine games but now are on a four-match winning streak, which includes a comprehensive win over the Capitals as well. They know what their best XI looks like, each player in the XI knows his role and, more importantly, their bowling has come together well: only once in the last six games have they conceded more than 150.
However, it's not that they have become invincible. Despite allrounder Jason Holder acting as a shield, their lower-middle order still has some cracks, glimpses of which could be seen during the Eliminator against the Royal Challengers Bangalore. And they still don't have a reliable sixth bowling option in case one of their bowlers has an off day. But do the Capitals have enough firepower left to take advantage of those issues and make it to their first IPL final ever?
In the news
Wriddhiman Saha missed the Eliminator because of an injury. There has been no official update since then, and it's unlikely he will play Sunday's match.
Vijay Shankar is yet to recover from a hamstring injury and will once again be unavailable.
The Sunrisers have had two easy wins against the Capitals. In Abu Dhabi, David Warner, Jonny Bairstow and Kane Williamson lifted them to 162 for 4. The Capitals were always behind the asking rate in their chase, and any hopes of a revival were quashed by Rashid Khan, who picked up 3 for 14 to give the Sunrisers a 15-run win.
In Dubai, the Sunrisers trounced the Capitals by 88 runs in a must-win game for them. Batting first, Saha (87 off 45) and Warner (66 off 34) set the platform for a mammoth 219 for 2. In response, the Capitals were all out for 131. Khan once again proved to be their tormentor, picking up 3 for 7 from his four overs this time.
Delhi Capitals: 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Ajinkya Rahane, 3 Shreyas Iyer (capt), 4 Shimron Hetmyer, Rishabh Pant (wk), 6 Marcus Stoinis, 7 Harshal Patel, 8 Axar Patel, 9 Kagiso Rabada, 10 R Ashwin, 11 Anrich Nortje
Sunrisers Hyderabad: 1 David Warner (capt), 2 Shreevats Goswami (wk), 3 Manish Pandey, 4 Kane Williamson, 5 Priyam Garg, 6 Jason Holder, 7 Abdul Samad, 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Shahbaz Nadeem, 10 Sandeep Sharma, 11 T Natarajan
The Capitals should try to play out Khan as winning the battle against him can go a long way in winning the match. But it's not an easy thing to do, especially for the Capitals' batsmen. Khan has dismissed each of Shreyas Iyer, Shimron Hetmyer, Rishabh Pant, Marcus Stoinis and Axar Patel twice in T20s. Since 2019, he has taken ten wickets in five games against the Capitals. His economy in those games? A miserly 3.8.
The Capitals can replace Shaw and Sams with Hetmyer and Harshal. They can promote Rahane to open the innings and Hetmyer can play the role of an enforcer in a middle-order that has gone quiet in the last few games. Harshal has a good slower ball and is also handy with the bat. Another punt the Capitals can take is making Stoinis open the innings; his best numbers have also come as an opener. But that's a double-edged sword as it makes the already misfiring middle order even more vulnerable.
The Capitals should deploy their best bowlers - Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje and R Ashwin - in the powerplay. If they can get a couple of early wickets, that will expose the Sunrisers' middle order. With not many explosive batsmen down the order, the Capitals can then restrict them.
Stats that matter
Teams batting second have won eight of the last nine games in Abu Dhabi.
Shaw, in the last eight innings, has scored only 49 runs at an average of 6.1. Three times he has been out for a duck during this period. Overall, he has eight single-digit scores in 13 innings this season.
Among those who have faced at least 100 balls this season, only Glenn Maxwell (101.88) has a lower strike rate than Rahane (107.76) and Rishabh Pant (109.61).
Warner has tallied more than 500 runs in each of his last six IPL seasons. In all those seasons, he has averaged over 40 with a strike rate in excess of 135.
The Capitals have lost six out of their seven playoff/knockout games. Their only win, though, has come against the Sunrisers, in the Eliminator last year.