Final: Chennai Super Kings v/s Royal Challengers Bangalore
M Chidambaram stadium, Chepauk, Chennai
Form Guide: Irrelevant
As expected, and not very shocking anymore- apart from the fact that the final is actually here. And it will actually be played. And IPL-2011 will actually have a climax. After 53 days.
Clearly, the two best teams of the tournament, slow starters at that (part of the plan), are part of this mega-final tonight. South-Indian dominance is quite clear- with one of them set to be the third regional dominating team in 4 years of IPL cricket. Hopefully, after this, we move onto the west. Oh wait, Kochi still remains. Of course.
It is MSD v/s Dan the Man. More importantly, it is vastly clear who the better captain is. But it is still unclear which side of the bed Chris Gayle will wake up on. As narrow-minded as it may sound, RCB is a one-man family- and their bowlers are probably the luckiest men in the world, with the least pressure on them if the man fires. Batting first is their USP- ask Mumbai Indians, who were the only team to lose the game in the first over of the match. 26 runs in one over- there is no turning back. There is no running away.
The first final of its kind- it is all down to the guile of Ashwin and the stubbornness of Bollinger against the raw power of Gayle and…Gayle. The rest of the RCB team might as well join the fast-blinking Sid Mallya in the louge and sip on a few chilled ones while watching their ‘team’ take on the Submarine.
Hopefully, in keeping with tradition (surprisingly), we will be treated to a nail-biting climax to the longest tournament in the world. Hell, we deserve it. We even watched games that involved Delhi and Pune without complaining.
It is not about what we, as viewers, need anymore. It is our basic right. A close final. An even contest. The first two to qualify. The final two standing.
Bring it on. (Being a Mumbaikar does not deter me from sounding excited. Notice that.)
Chennai Super Kings: (Winners 2010, Runners up 2008)
After having lost 3 of their first 5 games, CSK are in the final. Again. Much like 2010 where they lost 4 of their first 8 games. ‘Don’t jump. Don’t jump. I’m Captain now!’
An insanely miraculous chase of the IPL later (by standards of most other teams), CSK find themselves at that boringly familiar position- The Final of the biggest T20 tournament in the world. Yawn. Nothing new for MSD or Raina. Too many finals these days, I tell you.
54 runs from 4 overs with the anti-finisher Raina at the crease? No chance. But remember the quarter final of the World Cup? Raina finished that game. He made sure of that. He is evolving. He is maturing. He is finishing after this captain.
After literally snatching the rug from under Mallya’s intoxicated feet, the Super Kings have indeed lived up to expectations once again- for the fourth year in a row. Making the knockouts is an achievement in itself (considering the larger number of teams)- and some teams tend to be happy enough just to do that (read KKR). But Dhoni is fast turning into the best leader to have ever walked this earth- his record so far is second to none in modern cricket, and even though he is relatively new to this job- his progress has dwarfed many former captains living on grit and reputation. With Raina going down in the IPL history books as one of the greatest big-match players (odd for an Indian) and Vijay seemingly happy to rest on CL 2010 laurels, life looks bright for the sunny players from the South (well, technically not…but…you know…)
Doug the Rug was fired up- and decided to intimidate Gayle with a few fiery bouncers. It did the trick, for Ashwin then decided to tidy things up and leave the show to a determined Virat Kohli. With Albie Morkel alternatively coming good as a batsman and then as a bowler, Dhoni will wonder if he needs to play himself or just captain from the sidelines (with the trend set by Yuvi).
The most consistent team in IPL cricket has reached their third final in four years, and look good for their second consecutive title. One does not see MSD resting on his laurels till he wins atleast 4 more of these things, or until Raina actually starts to look his actual age. Their plan is simple- Jakati, Ashwin and Raina keep things tight in the crucial middle overs, with Bollinger and Albie rounding up things in style. Ditto for Dhoni and Morkel when it comes to their batting order.
One wonders if Dhoni can just afford to retire now- having over achieved tremendously over the last 2 years. Life seems so simple. But not many remember the runners up of every IPL edition (Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai so far) and Chennai will not want to end up on that list for the second time.
Why do that when the team they are facing today might have that unique distinction for themselves after this game- and that too without winning the trophy at all!
Player to watch out for: Murali Vijay
Cometh the moment, cometh the…er…Okay, so apart from being a colossal disappointment this year, Vijay seems to be in a comfort zone of his own- what with Hussey, Badri, Raina and Dhoni cleaning up for him most of the time. But one feels that Vijay is too classy to not leave a mark every tournament- atleast once- whether it be a paw mark or a simple dot. The temperamental opener has an opportunity to make up for all his failures as if they never happened (a la Gilchrist) in the biggest game so far. He is lucky to still be at the top of this frighteningly talented batting order- and he will do himself no harm by shutting up the big-match-craving critics of Indian cricket. All it takes is a simple 60 or 70. Enough to leave a mark. Enough to catch the plane.
Of course, considering the fact that Ashwin bowled a maiden in last year’s final- expect something similar- maybe from a Jakati or a Bollinger this time. With Gambhir joining the injury-list, one hopes that Ashwin will have recovered from the shocking near-death experience courtesy Tiwary’s straight hit into his skull bone. In such cases, sports takes a backseat- and one must genuinely be concerned about the sheer miracle that had Ashwin actually be able to walk off the field after such a sickening blow.
All that Lalit Modi (yes, I took his name) had ever worked for and created- would have stood for nothing if that ball had hit Ashwin even an inch to the left of his head. Luckily for us, his Einstein-size brain and scholarly looks deflected the ball away like Chris Gayle’s bat would. Just a knock, he says.
Royal Challengers Bangalore: (Runners up 2009)
This is probably their destiny. Written off by all and sundry (including yours truly) after the first 5 games of the tournament when they resembled Zayed Khan’s acting career (fans, be honest)- RCB have charged back to what can be called one of the greatest ‘comebacks’ that have only lived upto initial expectations of them reaching the final without a game being played. Of course, it can’t be called a comeback then- but credit to Vettori and his clueless captaincy in the beginning- which fooled most teams into taking them lightly- and then establishing an IPL record of sorts by reeling off 7 in a row. Full credit to the team thinkthank for such a risky, never-tried-before plan.
It’s a bird? It’s a plane? It’s Denzel Washington in an underdog film!
After yet another demolition of a team swept away by the Gayle storm, RCB will turn their sights towards the ultimate prize. With the man of the tournament clearly opening their batting, and a bowling attack that is not spectacular enough to dazzle opposition teams into submission- the balance is perfect. Sachin Tendulkar has been denied once again, and this time, you can’t even blame his team. His captaincy decisions have baffled everyone, and he forgot to realize that KKR is extremely different from RCB when it comes to the knockout stages. Bangalore are not known for choking. They are either known for their unbelievable strength or massive incompetence- with both making an appearance together in the same game at times too. Can Gayle break tradition (of the best player failing in the final, always) and hang on for one more game?
After finally having gotten rid of the often overperforming and slightly underperforming Mumbai Indians, Vettori and Kohli will hope to be the first two blessed with a lifetime supply of Kingfisher mineral water bottles after pulling off the impossible. Beating Chennai in Chennai. In a Final. It doesn’t get any bigger. Or tougher. Or better.
With AB De Villiers actually reaching double-figures given the opportunity, they might want to think of promoting him ahead of Kohli depending on the situation that faces them. Expect MSD to be one step ahead, with someone like Bollinger waiting to pepper them with loopy bouncer and Saha to stun RCB just by showing up in a massive final like this.
Young Saurabh Tiwary may not have been in the best of form (where talent has not met too much oppurtunity), but he is shrewd enough to be the only youngster to be playing two finals in two years- against Chennai too. Zaheer Khan is not young anymore. Not applicable. What say, Rayadu and Sharma? How goes?
Player to watch out for: Daniel Vettori
After a typically clean performance against the Mumbai Indians that sealed their blue fate, Captain Confident will look to stiffle the impressive middle-order batting of Raina, Badri and Dhoni with his variations in speed and, well, pace. The ultimate limited-overs off-spinner, Dan will understand that even though his name is mentioned here as the player to watch out for, it will be Gayle that steals the limelight- whether he fails or not. Good for him, we say- for he has been playing undercover for over 10 years now- often under the shadow of great New Zealand stars like Andre Adams and Mathew Sinclair. There were always others like him- Shane Bond, Styris, McCullum, Astle and Taylor, but they were less awe-inspiring. Much like Shane Warne under the giant shadow of Justin Green, er, Langer.
Ah, the ultimate test of one’s faking skills. If not for the lie-detector attached to me right now, I’d have said Bangalore (or Gayle) and gotten away with it. Hence, I shall be honest- being the last game and all- and without any sarcastic wisecracks or low blows that have marked majority of my posts over the last 50 days- I clearly predict Chennai to win the final. Big match, big team, big World Champion captain. There you go.
Having said that, I will also sign off with the ultimate team of IPL-2011- much like most news channels and newspapers that have ex-stars and players living on pension predicting their ‘dream teams’ of this tournament. Here we go:
Shikhar Dhawan (till that last game)
S. Sreesanth (sheer reputation)
12th man- Shahrukh Khan
Er, your perception of ‘dreams’ may be a bit different from mine. As you may have noticed.