Chennai Super Kings eye third consecutive IPL title
This is where it all ends.
After one-and-a-half months of intense battle, the IPL is at its climactic stage and the two generals standing with their armies are none other than MS Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir. The journey has been long and tough, and there moments when it all seemed lost; yet neither of the two teams ever gave up hope, or indeed the fight.
Now, there's belief in both the camps. While Chennai Super Kings (CSK) have come back from the dead more than once and are now breathing fire, Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) have been rock solid. They seem to have the men and the mien to win this one and only one thing can stop them now: the self-destruct button.
There can never be favourites for a final, especially for an extended tournament like this. Gambhir was quite right when he said: it's absolutely 50:50. The head-to-head clashes this season too read 1-1, making the final all the more intriguing.
The battle between these two often boils down to how their slow bowlers perform; and, amazingly, in this area, too, they are almost evenly matched. While CSK have R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Shadab Jakati and Suresh Raina to carry out different roles, KKR have the likes of Iqbal Abdulla, Yusuf Pathan and Shakib Al Hasan.
One man, though, gives Shah Rukh's Knights a slight edge here: Sunil Narine. The West Indian mystery spinner has been unbelievable, if not unplayable, this season, taking 24 wickets with an economy rate of 5.20. Hardly any batsman has been able to read him and he is going to be the critical player on Sunday.
"We don't have special plans for him," Dhoni said, trying to brush the Narine factor aside; but, he too knows that to be in the game, they have to unravel him quickly or face the danger of sinking in a hurry.
The one area where CSK may just be a little ahead is the depth in their batting. The entire line-up has come good over the two playoff games and with anchors like Hussey, S Badrinath and Dhoni to guide the ship at different stages of the innings, hitters like M Vijay, Suresh Raina, Dwayne Bravo and Albie Morkel can really express themselves.
KKR, on the other hand, are just a little too dependent on Gambhir. The skipper has scored a whopping 588 runs and the best bowlers of the IPL have termed him as the batsman of the tournament.
The others, including Jacques Kallis, Pathan, Brendon McCullum and Manoj Tiwary, haven't really made the big impact yet; Dhoni knows that if he can get Gambhir early, he will hold the edge. The CSK skipper is likely to unleash Ben Hilfenhaus and Ashwin on him and the winner of this scuffle may well have the last laugh too.
The pitch that seemed like a minefield when the tournament started seven weeks back, has now settled down and CSK have already scored the biggest total of this IPL (222/5) against the Daredevils.
But it's accepted that Delhi had committed a few blunders in that game and the KKR camp made it clear that it is not going to do any such thing.
Kolkata Knight Riders:
Strength: Potent spin attack and Gambhir's form. Unified, well-balanced outfit with keen desire to excel. Skipper has led from the front with six 50s.
Weakness: Middle order lacks ability to accelerate. Yusuf Pathan hasn't come good for the large part.
X-Factor: Mystery spinner Sunil Narine has bamboozled even the likes of Sachin.
Highest total in IPL 5: 190/4 vs RCB.
Highest successful chase: 154/4 vs DD.
Top run-scorer: Gambhir (588 runs; strike rate: 144.47; 16 games).
Top wicket-taker: Sunil Narine (24 wkts; economy rate: 5.2; 14 games.
Chennai Super Kings:
Strength: Resilience. String of terrific T20 finishers in Dhoni, Albie Morkel and Dwayne Bravo. Good spin attack too.
Weakness: Middle-order lynchpin Suresh Raina's poor form. R Jadeja hasn't justified the big bucks either.
X-Factor: Dhoni, whose whirlwind batting booked them a place in the final. Skipper has the uncanny ability to rise to the occasion.
Highest total in IPL 5: 222/5 vs DD.
Highest successful chase: 208/5 vs RCB.
Top run-scorer: Faf Du Plessis (398 runs; strike rate: 130.92; 13 games).
Top wicket-taker: Dwayne Bravo (14 wkts; economy rate: 7.64; 18 games).
CSK vs KKR head-to-head: Played 9, CSK won 6, KKR won 3. (In IPL 5, both teams won a game each)
Fever pitch: Chepauk pitch has shown a tendency to slow down as the game progresses.