On Sunday, Chennai Super Kings and Sunrisers Hyderabad, will contest the IPL final in Mumbai. Regardless of who wins, the trophy will find its way to Chennai – a typically IPL end to a season of 60 matches of which only one was played in Chennai.
It will also represent a closing of the circle for CSK and, by extension, the IPL itself. After two years out of the tournament – for serious breaches that, in the words of Justice RM Lodha, brought disrepute to cricket – the IPL’s most consistent team isn’t just back but back where it always was.
This isn’t just CSK’s seventh final in nine seasons; it’s a final that will feature a whole host of familiar CSK faces. MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina have appeared in all six of their finals so far, Dwayne Bravo in four, and Ravindra Jadeja in three. They have, however, tasted plenty of defeat: CSK have only won two of their six finals so far.
Standing between them and a third title are formidable opponents hunting for a second title. Sunrisers may have lost all three of their meetings with CSK this season, but two were desperately close finishes that could easily have gone the other way. Their attack hasn’t quite been the remorseless machine it was earlier in the season, but they remain the best bowling side in the competition, with the best economy rate of all eight teams in the Powerplay (7.83), the middle overs (7.41) and at the death (8.88). They also have the tournament’s leading run-getter in Kane Williamson.
CSK, meanwhile, have found batting heroes for every situation, with four of their batsmen – Ambati Rayudu (586), Dhoni (455), Shane Watson (438) and Raina (413) passing the 400-run mark for the season. Their bowling, which looked thin at the start of the season, has fallen into place over recent matches, with Lungi Ngidi and Deepak Chahar looking particularly potent with the new ball.
Of all the match-winners on either side, however, one man could have a disproportionate influence on the game, an effect not seen since Sunil Narine’s peak years as a T20 bowler. Most sides are content with seeing off Rashid Khan and limiting the damage he can inflict across 24 balls, and CSK know fully well what he’s capable of, after he came close to derailing a chase of 140 when they last ran into him on Tuesday.
He finished that match with ridiculous figures of 2 for 11 from four overs, and followed it up with an even more ridiculous performance, with ball, bat and in the field, to single-handedly drag Sunrisers into the final.
CSK and Rashid will meet again on Sunday, at the same venue where they met last. Who will have the final say?
One of the reasons behind CSK beating Sunrisers three times this season is how two of their key batsmen have handled Rashid. Between them, Rayudu and Raina have scored 62 off 34 balls against the legspinner, without being dismissed. It is likely, therefore, that CSK will continue to bat Rayudu in the middle order – probably at No. 4 below Raina – rather than at the top, to counter Rashid through the middle overs.
If that is the case, and if the situation allows for it, Sunrisers could hold back an over each of Rashid and Shakib Al Hasan to match up against Dhoni and Bravo. Dhoni has scored a combined 24 off 33 balls against them in T20 cricket while being dismissed once, while Bravo has made 28 off 34 while falling three times each to Rashid and Shakib. It’s one possible way for Sunrisers to limit what has been a massive strength for CSK this season, their slog-overs hitting. Their last-five-overs run rate of 11.73 is the best of all teams this season. (Excerpts from ESPNcricinfo)