The Mumbai vs Pune memes on social media began as soon as Mumbai Indians brushed past Kolkata Knight Riders to book a place in the IPL final against the Rising Pune Supergiant. If Mumbai has Siddhivinayak, Pune has Dagdusheth. If Mumbai has Marine Drive, Pune has Sinhagad. If Mumbai has vada pav, Pune has bhakarwadi.
One thing Mumbai has that Pune does not is an Indian Premier League (IPL) title. In fact, Mumbai Indians (MI) have two of them, and are gunning for a record third. Pune meanwhile, like a Puneri shop that does good evening business after closing in the afternoon, have had a sensational run to the final after a somnolent start. Come Monday morning, they too could hold bragging rights over Mumbai.
In the biggest ever Maharashtra Derby, here's a look at the players who could help Rising Pune Supergiant (RPS) make it four wins out of four games against MI.
Mumbai Indians have won two IPL titles, contesting three finals. But get this — all of their finals were played against Chennai Super Kings, led by a certain MS Dhoni.
Dhoni will be playing in his seventh IPL final, and like he showed in the first qualifier on Tuesday, he can still single-handedly turn a game around. His revival this season has reflected in that of his team. After some disappointing starts, much criticism, and references to last year (in Dhoni’s case, that is could be his last year), both Dhoni and RPS have been on a roll. Since bringing a chase back from the dead against Sunrisers Hyderabad, he has scored 158 runs in eight innings, two of which he has remained undefeated. While that may not seem like a lot, four of those innings have had telling contributions in the outcome of those games.
Back in an IPL final, he has a chance to add his Midas touch to yet another team he is a part of, and embellish his legend further. The man with fastest hands and the coolest head might be the one who makes a difference.
Steve Smith will be a happy man. His team is in their first final, being the first to qualify, and he has accumulated more than 400 runs this season. Most pleasing, though, will be that he has scored those runs quietly.
Besides the unbeaten 84 he scored in their first match of the tournament (incidentally against Mumbai Indians), he has hardly had a huge score this season. Instead, he has made regular contributions as others have stepped up to lift the side at vital times. So despite his 421 runs, he comes into this final hungry.
He is also a big match player in the form of his life. Remember that hundred in the first innings of the fourth test against India at Dharamsala? Never were the stakes higher, with the series on the line and his side on the cusp of history. Although the cause ended up being a losing one, Smith is the kind of player you bet on to turn up on big occasions.
Pitted against a bowling attack that poses the most threat to his style of play — bowlers who excel at slower balls against a batsman who loves playing across his body into the on-side- the stage is set for a cracking showdown. Smith could give himself a happy ending to a long stay in India.
RPS have had many bowling heroes this season. Two of those, Ben Stokes and Imran Tahir, are not available for this final, but the likes of Jaydev Unadkat, Dan Christian, and Shardul Thakur have stepped up, with guest appearances from Lockie Fergusson and Adam Zampa.
But the lynchpin of this bowling attack will be the 17-year-old batsman who bowls a bit from Chennai. Washington Sundar has mostly been used by Smith in the powerplay, especially when there are left-handers at the crease. Despite that, he has an economy rate of 6.61 to go with eight wickets so far, testifying to his control over with his innocuous looking off-spinners that barely turn.
Most importantly, by getting a few overs from him at the start, Smith has been afforded more flexibility in the middle and at the death. (RPS boast a run rate of just 7.16 in the middle overs this season.) Then, Smith can choose the pace of Fergusson or the wiles of Christian and Undakat to close the innings out.
Thanks to Sundar’s little contributions, RPS have not looked a bowler short even after Stokes’ departure. Sundar also will act as a cover for Adam Zampa, who has not looked nearly as threatening as Tahir did throughout the tournament.
If Sundar is allowed to bowl a few quiet overs, the other bowlers can express themselves more freely, and build further on their success this tournament. Mumbai Indians will know this, and will most likely target the youngster, who is sure to open the bowling with the left handed Parthiv Patel slated to come out. It will be the biggest test of the Sundar’s temperament, which so far has been exemplary.
No matter what the result, expect to see a number of Pune-Mumbai comparisons on your phone come Monday morning. But should RPS win this, the biggest joke will be on the IPL, which would go into 2018 without their defending champions.
Snehal Pradhan is a former India cricketer and now a freelance journalist. She hosts the series ‘Cricket How To’ on Youtube, and tweets @SnehalPradhan
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