New Delhi: The last time that Mumbai Rockets crossed swords with Delhi Acers, in the final Premier Badminton League (PBL) pool tie for both teams, the Mumbai side was left licking its wounds, at the wrong end of a resounding 5-0 thumping.
Now, as the two teams prepare to fight it out at the Siri Fort Complex on Sunday for the top prize of Rs 3 crores, the Indian badminton fan is left wondering whether the result will be identical to the league clash, or whether Mumbai can pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat, and upstage the only team to have won all its six trump matches thus far.
The two teams took contrasting routes to the final. Delhi trailed 2-3, going into their fifth and final encounter, and had to rely on their Indonesian men's singles topgun, Tommy Sugiarto, to come up trumps against the Chennai Smashers' French import Brice Leverdez, for a narrow 4-3 triumph.
On the other hand, Mumbai had an apparently facile 3-0 win, and did not even have to play their fifth and final encounter against Awadhe Warriors – their own trump match, with R M V Gurusaidutt pitted against current national champion Sai Praneeth.
On hindsight, the Mumbai-Awadhe match was far closer than it appears on paper, for the Lucknow side only trailed the Rockets 1-2 before their trump match involving world no.2 Saina Nehwal and Mumbai's Han Li. Saina had played the 27 year old Chinese left-hander three times earlier, and had prevailed on two occasions, including their most recent meeting in the 2013 Korea Open.
Saina was simply not expected to lose; and, had she won, she would have put her side 3-2 ahead, and left Sai Praneeth with at least a 50:50 chance of getting the better of his regular Gopichand Academy training partner, Gurusaidutt.
But it was not to be, as the darling of millions of Indians appeared heavy-footed and ill-at-ease while going down in three games to Han Li, and scuppering her team's chances of making the final. There was not the slightest doubt that the right-foot Achilles tendon injury was troubling Saina; and many felt she should not have played.
That "upset of the tournament" propelled Mumbai into the final, where they will be left with the unenviable task of beating the only side which has won 11 of the 12 men's singles matches it has played thus far in the fortnight-long competition. The only loss it suffered was when Englishman Rajiv Ouseph lost his opening match in the tournament.
Thus, if one takes into account the sublime form of Delhi's "three musketeers", Sugiarto, Ouseph and Ajay Jayaram, it becomes clear that Mumbai will find it tough to pluck a point from the two men's singles encounters.
Since Sugiarto was already used as a trump in the semi-final, it is likely that Ouseph will be nominated on Sunday as the man who could bring in two points for his side. And, on current form, the Englishman will be favoured to beat either H S Prannoy or Gurusaidutt, with Sugiarto bringing in the other men's singles point for Delhi.
That means Mumbai will have to perforce win the women's singles – most likely, Han Li against P C Thulasi, which is expected to be Mumbai's trump – and the two doubles clashes, to land the title. Difficult, with the Malaysians Koo Keat Kien and Tan Boon Heong, and Gabrielle Adcock, barring the way of Mathias Boe, Vladimir Ivanov and Kamilla Rytter Juhl; but not impossible.
Looks like another Delhi victory coming up. But don't bet your last rupee on it!