The 10th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) is just a game away from its conclusion, with the summit clash featuring two-time champions Mumbai Indians (MI) against Rising Pune Supergiant (RPS), who are playing their maiden final, at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad.
The 46-day long tournament thus ends with the fourth meeting between the sides from Maharashtra, with Pune getting the better of Mumbai on all three occasions this season. Having struggled in their first couple of games, RPS went on to produce a fantastic turnaround. Pune's success this season was an outcome of them not having to rely on a couple of individuals to get them the desired results.
That translated into the Steve Smith-led side winning nine of their last 11 matches, including a 20-run win over Mumbai Indians in the first qualifier at the Wankhede Stadium. It takes a special effort to achieve such a run when a side loses three out of their first four games. Smith's leadership, with valuable inputs from an old warhorse in MS Dhoni, along with the individual brilliance of several members of the side, helped propel the side all the way into the final.
Mumbai's script this season has been somewhat different to that of Pune. After losing their lung-opener to Pune in the latter's backyard by a unsettling margin of seven wickets, they produced a dream run that included six consecutive wins, with things coming full circle for them when the streak was ultimately snapped by RPS at their fortress, the Wankhede. Mumbai stuttered occasionally thereafter, but did enough to stay on top of the charts, including a record 146-run hammering of Delhi Daredevils at the Kotla.
Heading into the final, Pune hold the clear edge over Mumbai when one takes into account their head-to-head record, with Pune leading 4-1 as of now. RPS have been MI's bogey team this season, just like Mumbai have been Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in the history of the league. It takes a special effort to get over one's mental block, which the lack of which was largely evident in KKR's six-wicket hammering at the hands of Mumbai in the second qualifier on Friday, with the Kolkata batting order falling like nine pins against Karn Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah.
Mumbai, however, hold the bragging rights when it comes to the experience of playing big games, and their fourth appearance in the final is only second to Chennai Super Kings' (CSK) six appearances in the biggest match of them all. MI can easily be counted as one of the most successful teams ever in the league, not only in terms of their title wins, but also in their overall win/loss ratio. The fact that they became the first team in the Twenty20 format to register 100 wins, following their nine-run win over KKR in their last group match this season, further proves the point.
Among the traits that the two sides have in common, the depth in their batting orders stands out the most. The middle-orders of both sides have rescued their respective teams out of sticky situations on quite a few occasions, and it is in this aspect that the likes of Kieron Pollard, Hardik Pandya, Ben Stokes and Dhoni deserve special mention, with the latter two performing admirably for Pune.
Where the two sides have differed is in the top-order, and that is the one wrinkle that Mumbai would like to iron out ahead of the crunch match. The lack of runs from the top-order was prevalant in the early stages of their campaign this season, and reared up again in the playoffs, with Rohit and Co collapsing to 51/4 from 37/0 in their loss to Pune in Qualifier 1.
Where they have made up for it, aside from their middle-order, is in their bowling performances, and the presence of Mitchell McClenaghan and Bumrah at second and third in the leading wicket-takers list only boosts their credentials. The Mumbai attack has been the most economical in the powerplay overs, and have also made some of the best decisions in terms of strategies.
A case in point would be giving Bumrah two overs in the powerplay in order to target Chris Lynn, with the death-overs' specialist getting the big wicket in just his third delivery. Or for that matter, sticking to Karn for this match over Harbhajan Singh. The gamble paid off as Karn walked away with the Man of the Match with his best figures of the league (4/16).
Given the importance of the occasion, RPS are unlikely to tinker with their winning combination. The absence of an established match-winner in Stokes would have definitely helped the side, especially since he contributed handsomely with bat and ball as well as on the field. Pune decided to bring in New Zealand pacer Lockie Ferguson in his stead, and the latter yielded 21 runs at seven per over while getting the wicket of Hardik in the middle overs.
Ajinkya Rahane's opening partner Rahul Tripathi has been something of a revelation this season, and the fact that he finds himself in the list of top 10 run-getters in his maiden season speaks highly of the 26-year-old. Even though senior partner Rahane has struggled for runs this season, Tripathi made up for it with his confident strokeplay. Captain Smith carried his blistering form from the recent Test series over to the IPL, and his ability to assess the situation and cement partnerships to set the foundation for match-winning totals has been a hallmark of the Australian so far this tournament.
Both failed to get going in their last match, leaving Pune gasping at 9/2 in the powerplay. That gave Rahane the opportunity to return among the runs, and hammer a half-century, as did Manoj Tiwary. Pune's top-order might not have struggled in IPL 10 as much as that of Mumbai has, but there is still room for improvement. Firing collectively as a unit in the final could prove crucial towards tilting the game in Pune's favour come Sunday.
Their bowling unit though, has gone through a transformation. While leading South African T20 spin exponent Imran Tahir was the toast of their destruction for the most part of the tournament, it was only a matter of time before Jaydev Unadkat overtook Tahir in the wicket-takers' chart, with most of his 22 scalps coming as a result of his variations in pace, including and especially his deployment of off-cutters. The rise of the curiously-named Washington Sundar, who was the match-winner for the side in their last outing with figures of 3/16, too has proved to be a boon for the side, and helped them move on from the departure of some of the more senior members to their native countries.
While the Hyderabad pitch was a batting friendly-one in the first few games it hosted, it seems to have progressively slowed down, and the last two matches saw the batsmen struggling for runs, both turning out to be low-scoring affairs. It remains to be seen what the curator prepares for the blockbuster clash this Sunday. Whatever the conditions may be, the two sides have a lot at stake heading into the match.
While Mumbai will aim to become the first team to three titles, moving ahead of CSK and KKR in the process, Pune will look to sign out on a high with a win in what is in all likelihood their last edition. Should Pune win though, the 2018 edition of the league would bear witness to a unique event in the history of the sport — that of the absence of the defending champions.
Mumbai Indians: Rohit Sharma (c), Lendl Simmons, Parthiv Patel (wk), Kieron Pollard, Ambati Rayudu, Krunal Pandya, Hardik Pandya, Karn Sharma, Mitchell McClenaghan, Lasith Malinga, Mitchell Johnson, Nitish Rana, Jasprit Bumrah, Saurabh Tiwary, Ranganath Vinay Kumar, Tim Southee, Jitesh Sharma, Krishnappa Gowtham, Shreyas Gopal, Kulwant Khejroliya.
Rising Pune Supergiant: Steve Smith (c), Rahul Tripathi, Ajinkya Rahane, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), Manoj Tiwary, Rajat Bhatia, Lockie Ferguson, Dan Christian, Shardul Thakur, Jaydev Unadkat, Deepak Chahar, Rahul Chahar, Adam Zampa, Ankush Bains, Ankit Sharma, Baba Aparajith, Ashok Dinda, Mayank Agarwal, Jaskaran Singh, Ishwar Pandey, Milind Tandon.
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Updated Date: May 21, 2017 09:55:45 IST