Royal Challengers Bangalore have a serious issue with the Sunrisers Hyderabad — their squad is disruptively awash with left-handers. From captain to opening batsmen to middle-order batsmen to fast bowlers to spinner, and even reserves for that matter, SRH have a plethora of left-handers, thus forcing oppositions to alter plans in their team composition and strategy. Opponent Gujarat Lions, for example, did not even try out the orthodox left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja in the second qualifier on Friday!
The two times this year's finalists have clashed in the league phase, RCB included the off-spinner Pervez Rasool in a bid to try and take the ball away from SRH's left-handers. Rasool was even used in the powerplay overs against opening batsmen David Warner and Shikhar Dhawan in an effort to keep a check on the scoring rate.
So when RCB take on SRH in the IPL final at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium on Sunday, their quandary would be whether to pick Rasool again, or to stick with Iqbal Abdullah who was excellent in their last match, but will turn the ball into the left-handed power hitting of Warner, Dhawan, Yuvraj Singh and later Bipul Sharma, who incidentally has six first-class centuries to his credit.
Unfortunately for RCB, the options are not too reassuring. Rasool has one wicket from 4 matches and an expensive economy rate of 9.21 while Varun Aaron has two wickets from eight matches with an economy rate of 9.59. The third option, Harshal Patel, is even worse. He has taken only one wicket from five matches (ER: 10.5), and like Aaron could falter with no-balls and wides when under pressure.
SRH, on the other hand, are well-equipped on the bowling front. Despite the absence through injury of brilliant left-arm fast bowlers Mustafizur Rahman and Ashish Nehra, they were still able to call upon another left-arm bowler, the pacy Trent Boult, for the key match against Gujarat Lions.
Additionally, in Bhuveneshwar Kumar, they have a potent swing bowler, as his 23 wickets, and with it the Purple Cap, proves. Bhuvi has been both economical (7.5 economy rate) and productive, by taking wickets every now and then. He really has been the unsung hero of the SRH bowling thus far. Indeed, SRH have been one of the best bowling sides, with Moises Henriques, Barinder Sran, Ben Cutting and Bipul Sharma rallying splendidly around their star bowlers.
RCB, meanwhile, have found a rare gem in leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal. The fact that he has bowled effectively even on the small M Chinnaswamy Stadium ground says a lot for his ability. His 20 wickets with an economy rate of 8.10 has been pretty impressive considering that skipper Virat Kohli often uses him in tricky situations.
Australian all-rounder Shane Watson (20 wickets, ER 8.07, av 21.2) has also bowled very well in most situations. Barring the match against Kolkata Knight Riders, he has carried RCB's bowling like the seasoned professional he is. Kohli has also found a saviour in the left-arm medium pace of the experienced Sreenath Arvind. His nine wickets in eight matches have turned the team's fortunes. His economy rate of 7.39 and average of 20.66 speak for themselves. England fast-bowler Chris Jordon too seems to have got his bearings right after a particularly indifferent start.
It is up to these four bowlers, and probably the part-time off-spin of Chris Gayle, to keep the SRH batting powerhouse David Warner in check. He has been batting like a man possessed, and like his counterpart Kohli, literally wears his heart on his sleeve. He is vocal, demonstrative and pumped up while batting and this has helped him stay immensely focused. He, however, could do with better support. His aggregate of 779 runs dwarfs the contribution of the others, with Dhawan (473 runs) following at a distant second.
It is on this score that RCB must be favourites to win the title. Their awesome batting line-up has literally browbeaten opposition teams. RCB started rather poorly, winning just two of their first seven matches. But when the turnaround came, they were sensational, winning seven of the last eight matches.
The catalyst was undoubtedly skipper Kohli (919 runs, average 83.34, strike rate 151.9, four centuries, six 50s). He has been in the form of his life and the manner in which he has intimidated bowling attacks is reminiscent of the great master blaster of the past, Viv Richards.
Kohli has received excellent support from AB de Villiers (682 runs, average 56.83, SR 170.07, one ton, six 50s) and their partnerships have rocked IPL like nothing before. The breathtaking strokes have been surpassed only by their incredible running between the wickets. KL Rahul (386 runs from 13 matches; average of 48.25, SR 147.32, four 50s) too has stepped up whenever it counted.
Gayle, however, has been a disappointment with just 151 runs from nine matches. But he is just as capable of re-launching himself on the big stage, and if that happens RCB will truly be unstoppable.
Thus, all the ingredients for a great finale are in place for Sunday: Two fanatical skippers, an outstanding bowling attack versus a brilliant batting line-up, and a battle royale in front of yet another capacity crowd at the splendid M Chinnaswamy Stadium.
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Updated Date: May 29, 2016 10:15:19 IST