Battle royale looms in Chepauk

Battle royale looms in Chepauk

Chennai Super Kings look to defend the title against confident Kolkata Knight Riders

Fresh from a four-day break following the first Qualifier in Pune, Kolkata Knight Riders take on the formidable Chennai Super Kings in what promises to be cracker of a final here at the MA Chidambaram Stadium on Sunday night.

Super Kings skipper MS Dhoni (right) and Kolkata captain Gautam Gambhir pose with IPL trophy on the eve of the final at Chennai on Saturday. PTI

Exactly eight days ago, the Super Kings weren’t even sure of making the play-offs. Today, they are the favourites to complete a hat-trick of titles having emerged champions in the last two seasons, while the Knight Riders eye their maiden IPL title in their first such opportunity. Man to man, there’s little to separate between the two sides. Perhaps, the two most balanced among all IPL teams, Kolkata and Chennai will leave no stone unturned in their bid to lift the coveted trophy.

Having managed to sneak into the last-four stage, the hosts have been in their dominant best during their back-to-back wins over Mumbai Indians and Delhi Daredevils in the Eliminator and Qualifier 2 espectively. Notwithstanding a couple of incredible chases, Super Kings’ batting wasn’t up to scratch during the league phase but on the evidence of the two matches in the play-offs, MS Dhoni-inspired batting unit appears menacing. With a fine mix of pace and spin in their attack, Super Kings have all bases covered. Obviously on a roll after two commanding wins in the space of three days, the defending champs will be doubly dangerous with a packed partisan crowd right behind them.

Kolkata, on the other hand, has been one of the more consistent outfits en route to its first final appearance in five attempts. Led by an in-form Gambhir, the visitors have the required resources and the steely determination to stop the home side in its tracks but it remains to be seen if they will let the big occasion get the better of them. It’s one thing winning in league phases but quite another in the knockouts.

The closest Kolkata have come to anywhere near title was in the previous edition when they lost the Eliminator to Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede. This is where the Super Kings have a clear edge: an unparalleled experience of having played three IPL finals before this. Throw in the Champions League T20 title, Dhoni’s men can be backed to fare better in a pressure-cooker situation.“They're playing at their own backyard and they're two-time winners,” said Kolkata skipper Gautam Gambhir. “They know how to win in finals and this is our first time in the final. But I've always believed that teams start even-steven in big games like this. Especially in T20 cricket, you have to say it's 50-50 when the game begins,” he reasoned.

It was no surprise then to see Super Kings assert themselves over Mumabi and Delhi in crunch games. Chennai also have made a habit of unearthing a hero in every dire situation. If it was Dhoni in the Eliminator, a hitherto-languid Murali Vijay rose to the occasion in the second Qualifier to put the issue beyond Delhi. Knight Riders will be well aware of the task ahead of them, though, on their day, Gambhir’s men can be handful to any opposition. In Gambhir and Brendon McCullum Kolkata have a solid opening pair while the likes of Jacques Kallis, Yusuf Pathan, Manoj Tiwary and Shakib Al Hasan provide sound backup. It is, however, their bowling that can prove decisive on this surface. Lakshmipathi Balaji, if fit, Kallis and the slowish Rajat Bhatia have been difficult to handle while off-spinner Sunil Narine will keep the Super Kings’ batsmen guessing.

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