Chennai Super Kings vs Mumbai Indians
Start Time: 3:30pm ITV4
THERE can be no meaningful doubt these have been the best two sides in this year's IPL and deserve the advantages earned by filling the top-two positions in the points table.
Whoever wins this first qualifier goes through to Sunday's final, while the losers get another chance on Friday against the winners of Wednesday's eliminator between Sunrisers and Rajasthan.
On the basis of this season's table-topping form, a remarkably deep batting line-up, peerless tournament pedigree and that potential second chance to progress, it would be a big surprise were CSK not to reach their fourth straight IPL final.
This first qualifier, however, is far from straightforward considering they lost both home and away fixtures to Mumbai. Chennai's strength lies in the middle-order's ability to hit almost any score at will during the death overs but sights will have to be set a little lower against the likes of Lasith Malinga and Mitchell Johnson.
Mumbai Mumbai are also play-off regulars, making their fourth appearance, but this stellar line-up has yet to win an IPL and have only reached one final, losing to Chennai in 2010.
It must be said, however, this year's team looks stronger. For me the key difference has been Johnson whose pacy swing bowling has caused havoc and ensured opponents get no respite when Malinga is off.
Consequently they are a hard side to chase against whie few have looked capable of containing Rohit Sharma and Kieron Pollard at the death. The only slight doubt concerns the neutral venue. Mumbai won all eight matches at the fortress Wankhede Stadium but were less convincing away from home and lost at today's ground to bottom-placed Delhi.
As usual, Feroz Shah Kotla has seen a range of totals over the course of the season but they offer little guide at this stage of the tournament. In the last two IPLs the pitches prepared for the play-offs have tended to be easy for batting, producing six scores of 175 or more from eight matches.
Presumably the sponsors want to see plenty of sixes on these set-piece occasions. Moreover, Delhi would boast a higher average if Daredevils hadn't had such a poor season and has always been a ground where good teams can record big totals.
RCB hit 183 in the last first innings here and it is hard to see how either of these superb line-ups will fail to register something competitive. I'll be backing 160 or more at around 2.0 and 180 plus at a more speculative 4.0.
This looks almost a perfect 50-50 match so on value grounds, I'm going for Mumbai at 2.1. It is also worth remembering Mumbai have beaten Chennai twice this season and, critically, shown they can stem the flow of runs at the death.
This may well boil down to which side scores more in the last five overs. If so I'd rather be on Malinga and Johnson than Bravo and Morris.
As always one could make a case for any of Chennai's top six so I'm inclined to look for bigger prices than the short odds about Mike Hussey and Suresh Raina. The boundaries are very much within range on this ground so expect MS Dhoni to play a pivotal role. The CSK skipper is good value at around 7.0 to top-score.
With Mumbai the plan here is to back a big-hitter. Pollard and Sharma are obvious but the former usually arrives at the crease too late and the latter is the favourite.
Instead, I like Dwayne Smith at around 5.0. As an opener there is always a chance he could take this market beyond the reach of others with a batch of early sixes and the CSK new-ball bowlers could be vulnerable at this ground.
Back Mumbai @ 2.1