After nearly six weeks of rip-roaring action, it will be Captain Cool versus Captain Kane battling for supremacy in the Indian Premier League title clash at the Wankhede Stadium on Sunday.
MS Dhoni-led Chennai Super Kings will be aiming to cap a fairytale return to competition after the ignominy of a two-year suspension while Kane Williamson-led Sunrisers Hyderabad will be gunning for their second title, having overcome the setback of losing talismanic captain, David Warner, before the IPL began.
CSK came in with bruised ego and have battered opponents into submission in their ruthless march to the final, their seventh in nine editions. After a dream start, SRH have stuttered and have just about got in the position to challenge CSK for the crown.
Some of the biggest names in the game will line-up. However, all eyes will be on Afghanistan sensation Rashid Khan following Friday’s heroics in the playoff against Kolkata Knight Riders.
He will be the man CSK need to take care of if they want to lay their hands on the IPL trophy for the third time. In Friday’s knock-out game, the Afghanistan leg-spinner scored 34 not out off 10 balls, took three wickets and two catches, and effected a run-out, single-handedly silencing the Eden Gardens crowd.
CSK have first-hand information of the destruction Rashid can cause. In their low-scoring game last Tuesday, he had threatened to derail CSK’s chase by prising out Dhoni and Dwayne Bravo while conceding just 11 runs in four overs. In the end, SRH’s total of 139 was not enough. Williamson had erred in not sending Rashid to bat.
After the KKR game, CSK can be sure they will be given the extra headache of containing Rashid the power-hitter as well.
Hyderabad have a strong top-order where Williamson and Shikhar Dhawan have provided early momentum in many matches. A faltering middle-order has been their Achilles’ heel.
A five-day gap would have helped Dhoni and Co to recharge their batteries. Mumbai has proved to be lucky for CSK, to win from losing positions: in the IPL opener versus Mumbai Indians and then in the playoff game.
Their in-form batting line-up revolves around Ambati Rayudu, Dhoni and Suresh Raina. With South Africa pacer Lungi Ngidi producing sharp bursts with the new ball, CSK’s bowling is also looking far more potent than at the start of the tournament.
SRH have taken the tougher road to the final. Having made the West to East trip and back, overcoming fatigue will be a factor.
Last Match Thriller
In T20, it’s all about the ability to think on your feet. All pre-match planning can come a cropper as one bad delivery can cause panic.
The two sides have to only look at their last contest when Dhawan’s first-ball duck sent their plans haywire. SRH never recovered and CSK squeezed home.
Criticised as Dad’s Army, CSK have proved experience is priceless in T20. Faf du Plessis showed it again in the first playoff match by playing a match-winning hand. CSK will also believe they have the psychological edge heading into the final, having won all three encounters between the two this season.
But Rashid is making it a habit of throwing pre-match predictions out of the window.