Amid the intriguing but dark saga of the unfolding spot fixing and betting scam, two-time champions Chennai Super Kings take on traditional underachievers Mumbai Indians in the final of the controversy-ridden sixth edition of the Pepsi Indian Premier League (IPL) at the iconic Eden Gardens here Sunday.
A formidable but beleaguered Super Kings, who topped the round robin league on way to the title round, would hope for a replay of the 2010 finals to dash Mumbai Indians’ quest for an elusive IPL crown. Three years back, the Mahendra Singh Dhoni led Chennai had carved out a 22 run win over Mumbai to bag their first IPL title.
It will be a test of cricketing skills as well as mental toughness for the Chennai outfit which has been making news outside the 22 yards with the fixing scandal reaching its doorstep following the arrest of chief executive Gurunath Meiyappan. On the other hand, Mumbai would draw confidence from their 2-1 win-loss record over Chennai in this edition of the league. MI had won both the round robin games, but lost in the first play-off.
For a team based in what is called the cricket capital of the country, Mumbai’s best performance so far has been a runners up trophy in their only appearance in the final. Through the IPL years, they have fielded sides packed with superstars and promise, only to bow out in crunch games. Failure in the play-offs over the last two seasons is a further proof of their status as chokers.
Sunday gives them yet another chance to redeem themselves. A further incentive could be a desire to enable batting legend Sachin Tendulkar, now battling an injury, to add the missing jewel in his dazzling crown — an IPL trophy. Both the teams look evenly matched on paper.
Chennai though have been more consistent. In their armoury is orange cap holder Michael Hussey (732 runs) to provide a blistering start, a Suresh Raina (548) to carry the momentum forward and finally the trio of Dhoni, Dwayne Bravo and Ravindra Jadeja to finish things off in style.
Their potent bowling is led by all-rounder Dwayne Bravo who with 28 scalps is the joint highest wicket taker this season along with Rajasthan Royals’ James Faulkner. New ball bowler Mohit Sharma (19 wickets) has been a revelation, both in terms of his economy rate and ability to take wickets in crucial situations. He has been well supported by lanky South African pacer Chris Morris (14 wickets).
The spin twin of Ravichandran Ashwin (15 wickets) and Jadeja (13 wickets) can also be a handful for the opponents, especially on a slow turning Eden track. On the other hand, Mumbai Indians have been blowing hot and cold. They powered themselves into the knockout stage by finishing second, but were humbled by Chennai in the first playoff before stuttering past Royals in the second to seal the final berth.
Opener Dwayne Smith has been in red hot form and so long as he is out batting in the field, Mumbai look favourites to win any game. The West Indian so far has amassed 414 runs and his last two innings read-62 (44), 68 (28). While Tendulkar has been forced to lay low with a wrist injury, his replacement Aditya Tare has grabbed eyeballs with his big hitting.
The middle order comprising skipper Rohit Sharma (536 runs) and keeper-batsman Dinesh Karthik (489) looks solid. The big hitting prowess of Kieron Pollard needs no introduction. The burly allrounder has the ability to turn a match on its head in a short span. If in Mitchell Johnson (22 scalps) and Lasith Malinga (18), Mumbai have a dangerous new ball bowling pair, they have an beguiling spin duo in Harbhajan Singh (22) and Pragyan Ojha (15).
Mumbai coach John Wright fully realises what his team has to conquer. “We know we are up against a tough side but like all good teams we enjoy challenges. Of course we want to win our first final. Let’s see,” he said. Wright said the team was not only looking forward to captain Rohit Sharma for a big contribution but perform as a team to lift the trophy. With Mumbai Indians defeating CSK twice in the league games, Wright said that it will surely give them a psychological edge but conceded that CSK have more experience as they have played in five IPL finals and won two of them.