The Chennai Super Kings' opening-game defeat and the Kolkata Knight Riders' first-match win both seem so long back already - since then, their fortunes have headed in opposite directions.
A long batting line-up together with a combination of swing bowlers and spinners have made the Super Kings early contenders for a playoff spot even though they are only three matches old at the moment. MS Dhoni's own batting form has been far from great, but the other batters seem to have more clarity in how to maximise their scoring, with everyone is chipping in across various periods in different games.
Deepak Chahar made the ball talk one night, Ravindra Jadeja and Moeen Ali did the same another night, and Sam Curran has been consistently tight with the new ball. It's still early days, but the Super Kings are looking like the classic yellow team that always found a way to cross the line. They have two wins in three now and are favourites to make it three wins in four. The only major worry is the form of Ruturaj Gaikwad, who has struggled in all three matches. Maybe it's time for Robin Uthappa to have a go against his former IPL side.
The Knight Riders, meanwhile, are just not getting enough from their batters. Shubman Gill has been breezy but hasn't batted long enough. Barring the first game, it's the same with Nitish Rana and Rahul Tripathi. Eoin Morgan is not pulling his weight as the experienced pro, Shakib Al Hasan is not scoring quickly enough, and Dinesh Karthik has struggled against spin. That has left too much for Andre Russell to do, and he has an average of 15.00 and a strike rate of 112.50 this season so far.
Their bowling has been doing better than in the last season, taking more powerplay wickets and ending innings well (barring that one brilliant afternoon of batting from AB de Villiers). The jury is out: they need more from their batters if they are to avoid a hat-trick of defeats.
It's also going to be their first game in Mumbai in IPL 2021, so is there a case for Shakib to be dropped? Sunil Narine and Lockie Ferguson are frontrunners to grab that spot, depending on conditions. Harbhajan Singh, too, could be rested as the team moves away from Chennai. Either way, the Knight Riders will hope a new city brings in a change in fortunes.
In the news
Jason Behrendorff is not yet available for the Super Kings, as he continues to serve his quarantine. He was drafted into their squad after Josh Hazlewood had pulled out.
Brendon McCullum revealed after the Knight Riders' third game that Narine was supposed to start in their first game, but a niggle was the reason for Shakib getting the nod. There's no formal update on the Narine situation.
Kolkata Knight Riders 1 Shubman Gill, 2 Nitish Rana, 3 Rahul Tripathi, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 6 Andre Russell, 7 Shakib Al Hasan/Sunil Narine/Lockie Ferguson, 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Harbhajan Singh/Shivam Mavi, 10 Varun Chakravarthy, 11 Prasidh Krishna
Chennai Super Kings 1 Robin Uthappa/Ruturaj Gaikwad, 2 Faf du Plessis, 3 Moeen Ali, 4 Suresh Raina, 5 Ambati Rayudu, 6 Ravindra Jadeja, 7 Sam Curran, 8 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 9 Dwayne Bravo, 10 Shardul Thakur, 11 Deepak Chahar
There's a case for the Super Kings to open the bowling with Shardul Thakur - instead of the Chahar-Curran combination. Thakur has bowled to Gill in three T20 innings: in 16 balls, the bowler has dismissed the batter three times.
Narine in the XI can work well for the Knight Riders. His weakness as a batter is facing short balls from express quick bowlers, and the Super Kings pacers are not the fastest. With the ball, Narine is very successful against the Super Kings batters too. In T20s, du Plessis' strike rate against Narine is 62, Gaikwad's is 80, Rayudu's is 83, Dhoni's is 45, and Jadeja's is 102.
Stats that matter
Russell has never hit an IPL six at the Wankhede Stadium and averages 8.20 there. That, however, is mainly because he has struggled against the usual home team at the venue, the Mumbai Indians.
Since IPL 2020, Gaikwad has the lowest powerplay strike rate (84) of all batters (minimum fifty runs). Uthappa has the third-highest strike rate in the first six (142.5) in the same period, behind only Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes.
Since IPL 2019, the Super Kings have won 70% of their games when they have taken two powerplay wickets. The win-rate boosts up to 80% when they take three or more. Also, they have never lost a game when Curran has taken a powerplay wicket.
du Plessis is one run away from becoming the sixth South Africa international to reach 6000 T20 runs. AB de Villiers, David Miller, Colin Ingram, JP Duminy and Quinton de Kock are ahead of him.