It might be a bit odd for Chennai Super Kings to play in the IPL Eliminator and not Qualifier 1. Only once before have they played in this do-or-die match, where the loser goes home, in three years since playoffs came into vogue.
That was in 2012, when they defeated, who else but Mumbai Indians and proceeded to beat Delhi Daredevils in Qualifier 2 before losing to Kolkata Knight Riders in the final. In 2011 and 2013, they wasted little time to enter the final by winning the Qualifier 1 matches.
CSK have an enviable record in the playoffs. They have made it to the last four stage – semifinals in first three editions and playoffs in the next four – in all the IPL seasons.
With their level of consistency all these years, CSK have taken themselves to a new height. S Badrinath, middle-order batsman who has been part of CSK's campaign in each of their last six campaigns but does not figure this year, termed CSK's style of play as "fearless".
"There is a certain degree of fearlessness when they play. There is no pressure even if you lose badly. They are not worried about defeats or not qualifying for final. They just go out and enjoy without worrying about the results," Badrinath, who has played in 95 IPL matches from 2008 to 2013, told dna from Chennai.
Badrinath agreed that for CSK to be playing in Eliminator and not Qualifier 1 is a bit odd. "After sitting pretty in the table for most part of this IPL, playing the Eliminator is not a comfortable thing, not necessarily because of their history. They might be ruing the opportunity they lost by losing their last few matches," said Badrinath.
CSK coach Stephen Fleming agreed: "You do feel odd a little bit. It is the same number of victories but the nature of the victory counts. We tried to win the game in Sharjah against Sunrisers Hyderabad but we almost lost it. We learnt a lesson, which was to just win the game when the run rate doesn't work in your favour.
"We were happy with the way we've played. We still need to win three games. To be in the semifinals of all seven editions shows good consistency. We are also aware that ours is a championship winning team and to win three games in a row is a good challenge."
Though MI may have a better head-to-to-record against CSK, winning nine and losing eight, and an even better record in Mumbai alone – winning five out of six, it is Dhoni's Yellow Brigade that has a greater record when it comes to playoffs.
CSK have won against MI in the two Qualifier 1 matches and one Eliminator in the last three years, only going down to MI in last year's title round. Badrinath said: "CSK know how to go about it. At the end of the day, it is the team that handles pressure better and plays better cricket. And CSK have done it better than the rest."
CSK in last four stages, 2008-13:
2008: Beat KXIP by 9 wickets in semifinals; Lost to RR by 3 wickets in final
2009: lost to RCB by 6 wickets in semifinal
2010: beat DC by 38 runs in semifinals; beat MI by 22 runs in final
2011: beat RCB by 6 wickets in Qualifier 1; bt RCB by 58 runs in final
2012: beat MI by 38 runs in Eliminator; bt DD by 86 runs in Qualifier 2; lost to KKR by 5 wickets in final
2013: bt MI by 48 runs in Qualifier 1; lost to MI by 23 runs in final