Battle royal at Eden Gardens

Battle royal at Eden Gardens

MS Dhoni's Chennai Super Kings take on in-form Mumbai Indians today

Battle royal at Eden Gardens
Mumbai Indians versus Chennai Super Kings -- the irresistible force versus the immovable object. This is the most storied rivalry of the Indian Premier League and Sunday’s final between these two arch-rivals promises to go down the wire here at the iconic Eden Gardens.

Since the third edition in 2010, when the Super Kings defeated Mumbai for the first of their two IPL titles, the two sides have been involved in some engrossing battles. There is little to separate the two in terms of head-to-head record with 12 wins for Mumbai and 11 for Super Kings. In the post-league stages, however, Super Kings have enjoyed the better of exchanges having won four of the six matches. It was 4-1 until the Qualifier 1 in Mumbai earlier this week.

It’s a strange coincidence that these two teams are meeting in the final for the second time here after the 2013 edition when Mumbai successfully defended a smallish total for their first and only IPL title so far. At that time, Mumbai had lost to Super Kings in the first qualifier and had to come through the second qualifier to clinch the crown. The Super Kings now have made their sixth final in eight attempts, having beaten Royal Challengers Bangalore in Qualifier 2 in Ranchi on Friday after their defeat in Qualifier 1. Will they become the champions for the third time or buckle under pressure at a venue where they haven’t won since losing the 2013 final to Mumbai?

From being uncertain of their place in the play-offs till their last match to becoming the first team in the final, Mumbai’s fortunes have swung wildly from one end to the other this season. On the other hand, Super Kings have been steady without being spectacular. They dominated the first half of the league stage and then scrapped before edging in to the final after a scratchy win. In the wake, they have exposed their soft underbelly.

While Michael Hussey’s experience carried Super Kings past Royal Challengers on Friday in a small but tricky chase, the performance of their top-order would have left them with more questions than answers. It’s a genuine area of concern for the Super Kings and has gone on for far too long. While it’s a credit to them that despite this persistent problem they are one win away from becoming champions after a gap of three years, Mumbai have shown them that given an inch they will take a mile.

Unlike Super Kings, Mumbai top-order has grown in strength with Parthiv Patel and Lendl Simmons providing them robust starts. The likes of Rohit Sharma, though below his par, Ambati Rayudu and Kieron Pollard at various times have steered the team through the middle and slog overs. Pollard, in particula`r, has been outstanding with the bat and occasionally with the ball as well. Just like their batting, the bowling too has shaped up well. Lasith Malinga still remains their go-to man but the seasoned Harbhajan Singh has been positively effective. Karnataka’s young left-arm spinner J Suchith has been impressive while Kiwi pacer Mitchell McClenaghan has admirably slipped into new-ball duty.    

Doubtless, Mumbai will be handful for Super Kings but they can ill-afford to be overconfident. Chennai are the masters of big-game situations. Their ability to remain calm, something that their skipper MS Dhoni has it in abundance, in the face of intense pressure separates them from the rest.

Men who can make the difference tonight

Kieron Pollard

The West Indian has been in sensational form this season, reeling off sixes almost on demand. The big Trinidadian has consistently propelled Mumbai to big totals, providing the impetus in the slog overs. While he won Mumbai a match defending just nine runs in the final over against Knight Riders, it’s his batting that has made big difference to their fortunes. The Super Kings bowlers will have their task cut out on Sunday.      

Lasith Malinga 

The slinger from Sri Lanka remains Mumbai’s most potent bowling force, whether it’s in Power Play overs or in the death. He is Rohit Sharma’s most trusted bowler in the death and has delivered the goods whenever he has been summoned. Along with Mitchell McClenaghan and R Vinay Kumar he has formed an effective pace attack for Mumbai and he has often proved Chennai Super Kings’

Suresh Raina

IPL’s most prolific batsman has been subdued somewhat and had successive poor outings in the two qualifiers. But ignore his threat at your own peril. The left-handed batsman is a big-match player and would have been suitably admonished by the team’s think tank. The Uttar Pradesh man will be itching to have a go on Sunday and if he gets going, then Mumbai will have a lot of catching to do.

R Ashwin

Just how crucial the off-spinner is to Super Kings’ scheme of things was once again on show against Royal Challengers Bangalore on Friday. He didn’t get many to show in the wickets’ column but had managed to keep Chris Gayle quiet, denying RCB the desired start on a slow surface. Mumbai have some real big hitters, and Dhoni will need all of Ashwin’s guile to neutralise their effect in the most important match.