Royal Challengers Bangalore failed to recover adequately from a poor start. Rajasthan Royals didn’t gel as a unit. Kings XI Punjab’s early spark went out in due course. Kolkata Knight Riders suffered a mid-season implosion. Sunrises Hyderabad became pedestrian following David Warner’s departure. Delhi Capitals had a terrific run but they proved to be a team for the future.
After close to two months and 59 matches, we have been left with the IPL royalty – Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians – vying for the title, in Hyderabad on Sunday. Both Chennai and Mumbai have won it three times apiece. They have 11 finals between so far – CSK seven and MI four. The Indians have made it three-in-three against Super Kings this year. On paper, they start as favourites. But Super Kings have enough wherewithals to change history. They must take their catches though.
This has been an average IPL played in the shadow of the ongoing general election and the upcoming World Cup. Workload management for the India players was the central topic ahead of the tournament, while both Virat Kohli and chief selector MSK Prasad agreed that performances in the IPL would have no bearing with regards to India’s squad selection for the World Cup. Also, this IPL suffered from some low quality matches. Of course there were flashes of brilliance like Kagiso Rabada’s yorker to Andre Russell. Rishabh Pant won hearts while umpiring at times bordered on the inexplicable as well.
The opportunity lies before Chennai and Mumbai to make the final a memorable affair.
At the post-match presentation in Vizag on Friday, MS Dhoni aimed a dig at the curators and ground staff. Super Kings had reached the final alright, but the skipper wasn’t happy. “It feels like the groundsmen feel obliged to water it more, and it starts out tacky,” Dhoni had said. The spin of the coin came out in his favour on Friday and on a surface that was a little damp to start with, Super Kings bowlers had the Capitals top-order on the mat. The pitch had eased out considerably, when the defending champions chased a modest total.
Low-scoring games are usually exciting. But it won’t be picture-perfect if winning the toss in the final provides an advantage. Two years ago, at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium, Mumbai had defended 129 against the now-defunct Rising Pune Supergiant in the final, winning by a solitary run. As for Sunday’s game, the Uppal curator and ground staff are under pressure to lay out a sporting pitch for the title showdown.
Pitches at this venue have by and large behaved well this term. Sunrisers had chased down a victory target of 199 against Rajasthan Royals with an over to spare in a league fixture. According to Dhoni, though, “with the 7.30 start, the wicket may be slightly different”. The groundsmen must rise to the challenge.
39 years young
Only a couple of months shy from turning 39, Harbhajan Singh has rediscovered his mojo in this IPL. Two wickets in Qualifier 2 took the off-spinner to a new milestone – 150 IPL scalps. With very little game time before of the tournament, Harbhajan was supposed to be basically a squad player this season. But Dhoni threw up a surprise by playing him in the tournament opener. Harbhajan’s 3/20 was a reason why Kohli’s Royal Challengers had bundled out for 70 at Chepauk. It has been a smooth ride for the veteran offie since. A sizable chunk of his 16 wickets so far were taken in Powerplays. The way he dismissed Shikhar Dhawan on Friday was vintage Harbhajan – a little more zip and some extra bounce, which the Capitals opener failed to cope with. Harbhajan would like to bowl against Quinton de Kock, a left-hander, in the final.
A vital cog in MI wheel
High-octane professional sport separates the men from the boys. Chennai and Mumbai are the two most successful franchises – this would be Chennai’s eighth final and Mumbai’s fifth – because they have always been heavily loaded with international experience. In Qualifier 2, Faf du Plessis and Shane Watson further attested the value of having international experience, as they raised their game when it mattered.
But outside the constellation of stars, there’s a player in the Mumbai ranks who, despite being a domestic cricket thoroughbred, hasn’t yet reached the top level. Suryakumar Yadav is basically a case of unfulfilled talent when it comes to first-class cricket. He had run-ins with the Mumbai Cricket Association. Franchise cricket, however, is ruthless, which offers very little room for error. Also, the leadership around him in Mumbai Indians doesn’t allow the 28-year-old to walk on the wild side.
Yadav is Mumbai’s second highest run-getter this season behind de Kock, with a tally of 409 runs from 15 matches. And he has scored in crunch fixtures. His 71 not out against Super Kings in Qualifier 1 oozed batting discipline. Before that, in a win-or-bust contest against Knight Riders at Wankhede, he had scored an unbeaten 46 off 27 balls and shared an unbroken 88-run partnership with Rohit Sharma for the second wicket. That he bats at No. 3 for a star-studded Mumbai Indians side shows his mettle; how highly he is rated by the team management. In a season, where Rohit has been a little off-colour, Surya has performed well.