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.