IPL final will pitch batting might of Chennai against bowling mastery of Sunrisers

Rashid Khan and Lungi Ngidi could be the key figures in the final. (AFP)
Updated 26 May 2018
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IPL final will pitch batting might of Chennai against bowling mastery of Sunrisers

  • Seven-times finalists Chennai go up against 2016 winners
  • Chennai have beaten Sunrisers three times already this season

LONDON: On paper, the Indian Premier League (IPL) final on Sunday evening is a clash between the batting prowess of Chennai Super Kings, who will be contesting their seventh final, and the bowling might of Sunrisers Hyderabad, winners back in 2016.

At first glance, the stats would bear that out too. Four Chennai players — Ambati Rayudu (586), MS Dhoni (455), Shane Watson (438) and Suresh Raina (413) — have topped 400 runs for the season. And while Kane Williamson, Hyderabad’s captain, sits atop the run charts with 688, only Shikhar Dhawan (471) among his teammates has crossed 300.
On the bowling side, Hyderbad’s Rashid Khan and Siddharth Kaul both have 21 wickets, while Shakib Al-Hasan has 14. Not one of them has gone for more than eight runs an over. Chennai’s leading wicket-takers, Shardul Thakur (15) and Dwayne Bravo (13) have both conceded more than nine an over.
Such numbers, however, don’t really tell you how things have gone at the business end of the tournament. Chennai’s campaign has been invigorated by the inclusion of South Africa’s Lungi Ngidi, who had left for home earlier in the competition after the death of his father. He has 10 wickets from six games at a stellar economy rate of 5.9. The new-ball pairing with Deepak Chahar, who can swing it at decent pace, has transformed the team’s fortunes.
Hyderabad have lost four of their last five, and reached the final only after a monumental implosion from Kolkata Knight Riders in front of their home crowd. And it wasn’t a team effort either, with Rashid’s brilliance — 34 off 10 balls, 3 for 19, two catches and one run-out — dragging an underperforming side past the finish line.
Chennai have won all three of their meetings this season, though each game has gone to the wire. After being taken for 49 in the first game between the two sides, Rashid has returned figures of 0 for 25 and 2 for 11. It goes without saying that his intervention will be crucial if Hyderabad are to win a second title.
Chennai lead 8-2 in the head-to-head stakes, and have six players in their likely starting XI who have won the title before. But you have to go all the way back to 2011 for Chennai’s last success, and four losses in the final suggest that they are susceptible to big-match pressure. For that pressure to be felt, Hyderabad need runs. Williamson and Dhawan have scored at a decent clip when they’ve got starts, but there’s been a noticeable lack of oomph in the middle order. Manish Pandey has been dropped after a dreadful season, and Yusuf Pathan seems a shadow of the player who once bullied bowlers. Shakib, too, has failed to play an innings of substance.
It will also be interesting to see who Hyderabad pick for their playing XI. The decision to bench the steady Sandeep Sharma — 11 wickets at an economy rate of 7.02 — in favor of Khaleel Ahmed backfired spectacularly, as he was taken for 38 in three overs. Carlos Brathwaite held his nerve against Kolkata, but Chennai will doubtless target his medium pace after Faf du Plessis took him apart in the first qualifier.
Chennai will likely keep faith in du Plessis. Sam Billings, who he replaced for the first knockout game, started the season with a dazzling 23-ball 56, but has not been able to kick on from that. When Chennai plumped for a squad high on experience but relatively low on youthful vigour, there were more than a few skeptics. This run to the final, Dhoni’s eighth as captain (one of them was with Pune), has changed many of those minds, but the biggest hurdle remains to be crossed.
For Chennai, the IPL final has often been as hard to surmount as Becher’s Brook is for many horses at the Grand National.


Joan Oumari makes case for Lebanon causing Asian Cup shock

Updated 18 October 2018
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Joan Oumari makes case for Lebanon causing Asian Cup shock

  • Lebanon have made it to their first Asian Cup since 2000 and are up to 77th in world rankings.
  • Oumari feels the Cedars have what it takes to upset a few of the big guns.

LONDON: While much of the focus ahead of the Asian Cup will be on defending champions Australia, who are one of the favorites, along with Japan and South Korea, Lebanon’s Joan Oumari is hoping his side can grab people’s attention and cause a shock or two.
The Cedars’ last appearance at the tournament came back in 2000 when they were hosts — this is the first time they have qualified for the tournament on merit.
Since their FIFA world ranking fell to 147 in 2016, Lebanon have been one of Asia’s most improved and in-form teams, with their ranking jumping to its current position of 77 — the highest in their history.
Drawn alongside regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia, Qatar and North Korea in Group E, it will not be easy, but Oumari, one of their star players, is convinced they can put on a show when the tournament gets under way in January.
“I think when we play and stay like we are now we can go far,” the defender told Arab News. “In football everything is possible and we have a great team.”
Oumari knows that just being back at the Asian Cup after a 19-year absence is already a victory for the nation of six million people.
“For sure it is a great thing for us as a national team, but also for all the people (of Lebanon),” the 30-year-old said. “I hope we will write history and get very far in this tournament.”
Oumari’s journey to play for the Cedars is an interesting, and not unfamiliar one in the recent climate of war, family displacement and refugees. His parents, both born in Lebanon, fled the country during the civil war of the 1970s, making their way to Germany, where Oumari was born in 1988.
Starting his professional career in the lower divisions, he gradually worked his way through the professional tiers of club football in Germany, playing for SV Babelsberg in the fourth division, FC Rot-Weiß Erfurt in the third tier, before making the step up to FSV Frankfurt in 2.Bundesliga in 2013.
Along the way he came to the attention of the Lebanon Football Association, and when the invitation came to join the Cedars in 2013, there was no hesitation in accepting and representing the country of his heritage, if not his birth.
“When I got the invitation from the national team for sure I didn’t have to think about it,” he recalled. “I was very proud to play for the national team.”
His debut in a 2-0 win against Syria in September 2013 did not go to plan, however, getting sent off late in the game. His next appearance would not come for almost two years after Miodrag Radulovic had taken over as coach.
“To be honest it was my decision not to play for the national team for these two years,” he said.
“The main reason was our ex-coach (Giuseppe) Giannini, because after he invited me to the national team I was on the bench and I am not used to flying all over the world just to sit on the bench.
“I am not a player who sits on the bench in my club and not in the national team. After Mr. Radulovic started at the national team the federation called me and convinced me to come.”
The change in fortunes for the Cedars since Radulovic took over has been remarkable, and as it stands they are one of the most in-form teams in Asia, going 16 games without a loss dating back to March 2016.
A friendly match with defending Asian Cup champions Australia in Sydney next month will be sure to provide tougher competition, but given their form they travel to Sydney confident of causing an upset.
While the Asian Cup is within touching distance, Oumari’s immediate focus is on club matters and trying to help his side avoid relegation. Having made the move to Japan’s Sagan Tosu, becoming the first Lebanese player to play in the J.League, Oumari has been in and out of a side that has struggled for consistency and currently lie 17th in the 18-team league.
“I hope that we can avoid relegation and stay up, that’s why I came to help the team,” he said.
One of his new teammates in Japan is Spanish World Cup winner Fernando Torres, and despite the team’s struggles on the field, Oumari is loving his time in Japan.
“It’s really nice here and I like it very much,” he said. “I am enjoying the time with my teammates after training. For sure Fernando (Torres) is a great football player and any football player can learn from him no matter which position you are playing.”