The Rising Pune Supergiant have beaten the Mumbai Indians in all their three encounters this season so far. But, Sunday night will be different. It is after all the Indian Premier League final. For Steve Smith’s two-year-old team, the title-clash is a novel experience. Rohit Sharma’s men, on the other hand, are in their fourth final.
While the Supergiant will hope to prevail one last time against the Mumbai Indians this season, Rohit’s outfit will hope their experience of playing in these finals sees them through. But how the game eventually shapes up may be decided by key player battles. A look at a few of the important ones that can decide the championship:
Steve Smith vs Rohit Sharma
Sunday’s game promises an intriguing final chapter in this tale of two captains. Smith was in India as an opposing Test captain ahead of the IPL, replaced India’s favourite captain MS Dhoni as the skipper of the Supergiant for the season and, in doing so, took over the leadership of a team that finished with the wooden spoon last year. Rohit, on the other hand, was plagued by personal form and fitness issues ahead of the IPL. But with a hand in both their title triumphs thus far, Rohit, the captain is an integral part of the Mumbai Indians set up. And, what has reemphasised his value to the franchise are his decisive bowling changes, smart field placements and the act of selflessly pushing himself down the order to suit the team’s batting needs. Smith was not expected to churn out results from a team Dhoni had failed to motivate last year. Rohit was expected to be too muddled in his personal woes. But, by the end of it, both of them have inspired their respective teams to make it to the final. While Smith has been consistent with the bat, Rohit will not find a better opportunity than the summit clash to set his record for the season straight.
MS Dhoni vs Jasprit Bumrah
In the first game played between the two sides, Dhoni and Jasprit Bumrah did not have much to battle for. Smith had seen his side’s chase through by the time Dhoni walked in to give him company. When the Supergiant visited the Wankhede for the return leg, Bumrah & Co managed to frustrate Dhoni by bowling a tight line and leaving with him with no room to free his arms. It led to Dhoni playing the ball onto his own stumps after he swung across the line to a delivery that was not short enough. Bumrah 1, Dhoni 0.
But on Pune’s return to the Wankhede for the Eliminator, Dhoni roared back. The former India captain was in a mood to destroy any delivery that the bowlers served. Even Bumrah was not spared as a part of the onslaught. Two hits over the fence in the last over of the innings capped off a breathtaking cameo from Dhoni. The knock handed the visitors the momentum, which they made use good of to defend a mediocre total. Bumrah 1, Dhoni 1.
Now, the title clash at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium will also be a fight for bragging rights between one of India’s brightest young pacers and one of the country’s finest one-day batsmen.
Manoj Tiwary vs Krunal Pandya
For years, every opportunity that came Manoj Tiwary’s way was disrupted, mainly, by injury. When he finally had his chance, he notched up a century in tough conditions against the West Indies when the rest of the batsmen struggled. Yet, the team composition meant he was benched for a couple of series immediately after the knock before the limelight on him eventually faded away. It came to a point where last season, he could not find an IPL team. At the same time, Krunal Pandya put in a couple of noticeable performances for the Mumbai Indians in 2016. Unlike Tiwary, Krunal is not a genuine batsman alone as he can contribute with his left-arm spin as well. But a few impressive outings with the bat this season, including the one where he helped his side chase down the Knight Riders’ total in the second Qualifier, have highlighted his ability as a middle-order bat as well. Tiwary, on the other hand, was unsold in the first round of the auction before the Supergiant picked him up. Ever since he had another shot at the IPL, Tiwary has not looked back. The stylish batsman has provided a sense of calm in the Pune camp, and contributed with a host of vital knocks. Tiwary and Krunal are both important members of their respective sides and they could influence the outcome of Sunday’s final.
Jaydev Unadkat vs Kieron Pollard
There was never any doubt about Jaydev Unadkat’s potential. But this season, the left-arm pacer has forced people to take notice of him. Not only has he added to his pace, he has further worked on an already effective slower ball to make it more impactful. The combination has meant he has been equally dangerous with both the new and old ball. The last-over hat-trick to halt the Sunrisers’ chase this season is a standout performance. It may come down to Unadkat’s ability to outsmart Kieron Pollard on Sunday. The West Indian has not set the IPL stage ablaze this season, but has shown glimpses of his hitting abilities. If he settles in, he could take the game away from the Supergiant singlehandedly like he did against the Royal Challengers Bangalore. Pollard isn’t too big a fan of deliveries around his neck at the start of his innings. If Unadkat can manage exactly that at his increased pace, he disturb the gameplan of big-hitter. If it is any added motivation, the Supergiant pacer is just four wickets away from Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s tally of 26 wickets at the top of the pile.
Ajinkya Rahane vs Lasith Malinga
Ajinkya Rahane has been overshadowed by steelier performances from the likes of Rahul Tripathi and Tiwary in the Supergiant lineup. Lasith Malinga, similarly, has not been the same deadly force he was known to be for the Mumbai Indians. Bumrah has taken over the mantle of the lead bowler from the Sri Lankan. Malinga, who returned from injury in the IPL this year, has often looked low on fitness and down on pace. The reduced speed has made it easier for the batsmen to pick him. But, towards the end of Mumbai’s second Qualifier against Kokata, his mighty effective slower-ball skills were back to the fore. If he can put those skills back to use and deceive Rahane early in the innings, it could be advantage Mumbai. For, Rahane, despite his mediocre run, is one of the finest batsmen in the country. And, come the big occasion, you would expect the finest to stand up and take responsibility. When Rahane walks out to open for Pune one final time on Sunday, he will do so with an agenda to remind the followers of the game about the quality he possesses, apart from the desire to lead his team to the title.
Updated Date: May 21, 2017 12:22 PM