Rampant RCB favourites for IPL crown; SRH banking on bowlers to contain Kohli, de Villiers

Only the small detail of winning the final on Sunday stands between the Sunrisers Hyderabad and a maiden Indian Premier League title. In order to script an epic triumph against all odds, Sunrisers will have to find the magic potion needed to overcome a formidable Royal Challengers team lead by the unstoppable Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers. That is no small task, given the irrepressible form of the two most imposing batsmen of this generation.

There were not many, even inside the Sunrisers camp, who must have imagined a place for this team in the IPL final. But, after an early stutter, the team soared to the top of the league table on the strength of some immaculate bowling by Mustafizur Rahman and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, besides the consistency of David Warner.

Since the nadir of that bar-room bust-up with Joe Root in England, Warner has made enormous strides on his journey to redemption as a purposeful cricketer and a balanced human being. Of course, marriage and two children have helped him tone down his antics. But it has also taken a massive amount of discipline from Warner, who has remained alcohol-free since May last year. Reaping the rewards of Warner 2.0 are the Sunrisers Hyderabad, his prolific scoring the foundation of their campaign and his understated leadership has endeared him to the team, bringing the best out of his men.

AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli of Royal Challengers Bangalore starred in their team's win over Sunrisers Hyderabad. BCCI

AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli of Royal Challengers Bangalore starred in their team's win over Sunrisers Hyderabad. BCCI

However, his team's journey to the final has been far from smooth. In a way, life would come full circle for Sunrisers when they take to the field at the Chinnaswamy Stadium; it was here that they began their IPL 2016 campaign six weeks ago. They conceded 227 runs then and lost the match by a 45-run margin. A few days later, they failed to chase 147 against the Kolkata Knight Riders.

The team’s think tank — Tom Moody, VVS Laxman and Muttiah Muralitharan — went into a huddle with Warner to reignite energies. Warner then lead from the front, firing an undefeated 59-ball-90 to steer the team to their first victory of the season.

The Sunrisers' confidence saw a new dawn two days later, when they subdued the Gujarat Lions in their own den. Warner's men looked like a winning unit for the first time in years, when they restricted the Lions to 135-8 before racing to a 10-wicket victory in Rajkot. The warning bell had been rung, but there were hardly any takers even then.

What followed was a period of dominance, as the Sunrisers pocketed seven victories in a eight-game stretch, all but  ensuring their place in the play-offs. The IPL saw the emergence of a genuine contender fueled by some world-class death bowling by Mustafizur Rahman and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Warner continued to plunder runs, unmindful of the relatively tame performance by the middle-order.

They seemed to lose steam toward the end of the league phase, but a stupendous run in the middle allowed them the luxury of absorbing defeat. The Sunrisers won only one of their final four matches, but those two points proved adequate to give them third place on the table. Unlike their opponents on Sunday, Sunrisers needed to win twice to be here. But any fear that a loss of form might compromise their chances of reaching the final proved empty. If the bowling at the death enabled them to strangulate KKR into defeat in the eliminator, a herculean effort by Warner helped them defeat the Lions again to carve their path to the final.

And now the grand prize awaits the winner. On paper, the home team is a towering mountain — given the roaring form of Kohli and de Villiers. As if that weren't enough, the two great batsmen have also showcased their temperament in the last two games. Kohli played a measured innings against Delhi in the final league match to help RCB reach the play-offs, while the South African performed a death defying act in the first qualifier against the Lions to eke out victory from deep inside the jaws of defeat.

As hard as it might be to remember, RCB's bowling was touted as a major concern, when they lost five of their first seven matches. But Shane Watson and Yuzvendra Chahal have accounted for 20 wickets each, while Iqbal Abdulla and Chris Jordan have added a layer of ammunition to the team. Sreenath Aravind and Stuart Binny may not have brought the roof down, but they are far from a liability. RCB will be concerned about lack of runs from Chris Gayle, but KL Rahul is more than making up for it by lending his hand to strengthen the team in the middle overs. Gayle could also be a useful tool if RCB have to bowl second on a wearing KSCA track on Sunday.

RCB have won seven of their past eight matches. They have also the experience of being in an IPL final, twice over — in 2009 and 2011, although it ended in defeat for them on both occasions.

The Sunrisers will have their hands full on Sunday. It came as a surprise that they decided to indulge in a long night of celebration immediately after their victory over the Lions. With only one day before the final, they could have used some rest.

RCB have enjoyed plenty of it — having not played since their triumphant night out against the Lions on Monday. Clearly the Sunrisers will need a few things to go their way, if they need to challenge RCB on their own turf. The team needs a substantial start from Warner and Shikhar Dhawan. At least one or two among Yuvraj Singh, Moises Henriques, Deepak Hooda and Naman Ojha need to fire. On the bowling front, a hamstring injury to Mustafizur means he remains a major concern. His death bowling was missed on Thursday when Trent Boult went for runs.

Bhuvneshwar is handling his responsibilities well, but he will need better support from the rest of the pack, especially if they miss Rahman again. Yuvraj might be ineffective bowling in the first innings, but he could prove to be a weapon if the Sunrisers bowl second. Sran and Henriques will need to keep it below 30, irrespective of when Sunrisers take the ball.

The stage is set for a glorious finish to the ninth season. We will have a first time winner and a popular one at that regardless of which team hoists the bloated beauty on Sunday.

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Updated Date: May 29, 2016 11:53:23 IST

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