Mumbai: Having suffered two defeats in as many away games, defending champions Chennai Super Kings face an uphill task when they take on last year`s runners-up Mumbai Indians in a high-voltage Indian Premier League match here on Friday.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led Super Kings have blown hot and cold this season. While they have defeated the opposition in their home venue, they have been tripped by an unknown Mumbaikar Paul Valthaty of Kings XI Punjab in Mohali and then by debutants Kochi Tuskers Kerala in their second away game.
Dhoni and his band of warriors, who won both last year`s IPL and Champions League in South Africa to make it a memorable double, would be anxious to put it across Tendulkar`s Mumbai Indians here at the Wankhede Stadium.
Mumbai will be the favourites in tomorrow`s match, having made a storming start to their quest of clinching the T20 League crown, which they had missed narrowly in 2010.
Both Mumbai and Chennai are aware of each other`s strengths and weaknesses as they retained most of their players from last year`s campaign.
Chennai`s batting has come good in all four ties, although the rain interruption in Kochi two days ago had upset Dhoni`s calculations as the match got reduced to a 17-over affair midway through their innings.
It`s the bowling, however, which is the major concern of the visitors, who are languishing in the bottom half of the points table, as they have allowed the opposition batsmen to run riot, even when defending seemingly adequate totals.
In three matches out of four, the Super Kings have crossed the 150-run mark -- winning their lung opener against Kolkata Knight Riders by only two runs after making 153, while losing to Valthaty`s amazing aggression at Mohali after having posted 188 for four against Kings XI Punjab.
But even while defending 183 against Bangalore at home in their third game of the tournament, the Super Kings allowed their rivals to rattle up 162, a clear sign that the bowling has not been up to the mark.
Against a team like Mumbai, with batting maestro Tendulkar in a sublime form and Ambati Rayudu, too, in red-hot touch, the Chennai bowlers need to step up their performance.
One of the reasons for Chennai`s mixed display has been the indifferent form of all-rounder Albie Morkel, who has not really done his job either with the bat or the ball. The fact that he was one of the four that the franchise retained ahead of the players` auction, shows how important the South African is to their scheme of things.
Morkel has scored just 33 runs in four matches and taken 3 for 121, not the sort of figures the franchise would be looking forward from this talented Protean. Scott Styris`s presence could put more pressure on the South African.
With Australian Doug Bollinger back in the picture with his left-arm pace, the new ball attack with New Zealander Tim Southee has got some teeth, but it needs to be razor sharp against Tendulkar and company.
Chennai have relied more on their spinners. And even though R Ashwin, Suraj Randiv and Shadab Jakati have been quite good so far, they would have to be really on their toes against the hosts tomorrow.
The Super Kings` strength is their batting but they would have to deal with the unorthodox delivery style of Lasith Malinga and on-the-dot accuracy of Munaf Patel. One of the key factors would be how openers -- Murali Vijay and Michael Hussey -- deal with Malinga`s swinging toe-crushers initially.
Munbai`s batting has clicked very well, barring the last game where the likes of Rohit Sharma made a heavy weather of chasing the modest target of 119 set by Pune Warriors, despite a fine platform laid through a half-century stand between Tendulkar and Rayudu.
"Our batting should have been a bit better. Ideally, we should have finished the match in the 17th or 18th over. There were a few hiccups in the end. We failed to play the big shots which could have helped us finish the match earlier," the Mumbai skipper said after the stuttering victory over Pune.
Tendulkar has not had an adequate opening partner so far as both Davy Jacobs and James Franklin have not looked the part, and this is an area of concern for the senior cricketer.
The bowling has been adequate, if not spectacular, with Malinga and Munaf Patel doing a good job along with Harbhajan Singh, who missed the previous clash due to an injury.
Though Ali Murtaza has been hit for runs, he`s also taken wickets and Abu Nechim bowled well when given a chance against Pune in the absence of Harbhajan.
A little worry perhaps would be the lack of sufficient time in the middle for the likes of Kieron Pollard and Andrew Symonds, who remained unbeaten after a short stay against Pune Warriors yesterday.
But Pollard indicated after his team`s seven-wicket victory that when given the opportunity he would be ready.
"I won`t be pressing hard for a promotion (in the batting order). Out of the four games we have won three. In the third game we scored 180. The batsmen are on top. Sachin (Tendulkar) and (Ambati) Rayudu are doing the job for us at the top. When my time comes I will have to go and grasp it," he said.
The teams (from):
Mumbai Indians: Sachin Tendulkar (capt), Harbhajan Singh, Rohit Sharma, Munaf Patel, Kieron Pollard, Lasith Malinga, Andrew Symonds, Davy Jacobs, James Franklin, Abu Nechim Ahmed, Aditya Tare, Ali Murtaza, Ambati Rayudu, Dhawal Kulkarni, Pawan Suyal, R Satish, Sarul Kanwar, Suryakumar Yadav, T Suman, Yuzvendra Singh Chahai.
Chennai Super Kings: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Murali Vijay, Suresh Raina, S Badrinath, Ravichandran Ashwin, Shadab Jakati, Michael Hussey, Albie Morkel, Ben Hilfenhaus, Doug Bollinger, G Bailey, Tim Southee, F du Plessis, Suraj Randiv, Nuwan Kulasekara, Joginder Sharma, Yo Mahesh, A Mukund, Wriddhiman Saha, Scott Styris, Sudeep Tyagi, K Vasudevadas, G Vignesh.