By Anand Philar
Chennai, (IANS) James Hopes, the newly-appointed captain of Delhi Daredevils in place of an injured Virender Sehwag, will have his hands full to keep a team that is evidently falling apart at the seams together as they face the high-flying Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League here Thursday.
The absence of Sehwag, who is to undergo a shoulder surgery that has ruled him out of the IPL and also the next month's tour of the West Indies, is below-the-belt blow for the Daredevils who are currently in seventh position on the league table with a mere eight points from 11 matches.
In sharp contrast, the Super Kings have bounced back in typical fashion after their loss to Kolkata Knight Riders via the contentious D/L Method to trounce the Rajasthan Royals at Jaipur Monday and moved to 14 points from 11 outings.
The difference between the Daredevils and the Super Kings is chalk and cheese, and given the current form the teams, the hosts should romp home on the morrow to virtually assure themselves of a semi-final spot.
For the Daredevils, it has been a case of hit and miss progress with their fortunes revolving around just a couple of players, notably Sehwag who seemed to regain his destructive touch when he was struck down by the recurring shoulder problem. The rest have not contributed sufficiently or consistently and left the team floundering.
Even the likes of "pocket dynamo" and Sehwag's opening partner David Warner has not been in best of nick as also Delhi's expensive buy, all-rounder Irfan Pathan who has neither scored enough nor live up to expectations as a bowler in contrast to South African fast bowler Morne Morkel (12), the spearhead.
Further, only fleetingly has their middle-order batsman Venugopal Rao or for that matter Hopes himself or Naman Ojha, has stood up and delivered and that has only highlighted the fragility, besides the inconsistency of the Delhi line-up.
In such a scenario, the Super Kings cannot be blamed for beginning to count the chickens as they have regained the aura of a champion outfit that they undoubtedly are, following the command performance against the Royals Monday.
For the home team, the best news is opener Murali Vijay's return to form as the elegant batsman struck a fine half-century at Jaipur to underline his undoubted class while his mates, Michael Hussey, Suresh Raina and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni showcased their touch, not to forget Subramaniam Badrinath who too has been in top form this season.
The inclusion of West Indian all-rounder Dwayne Bravo is an embarrassment of riches for the Super Kings. Although the Caribbean star did not make much of an impact at Jaipur where he played within hours of a long flight from home, Bravo provides more options.
Add to that Super Kings' home record this season with five wins out of five. Barring the first game against the Knight Riders that they won by just two runs, the other victories have all been achieved with a degree of comfort, and it is to be expected then that they would maintain their unbeaten record at the MA Chidambaram stadium Thursday night.
Super Kings bowlers have also done well with Doug Bollinger (13), Ravichandran Ashwin (12) and Albie Morkel (13), all in the top-10 bracket among wicket-takers this season.
Thus, any which way you look, the Super Kings appear every inch a Derby thoroughbred and primed for another win.
(Anand Philar can be contacted at email@example.com)