May 26, 2013 Sports
ESPNcricinfo – The IPL final takes place in Kolkata today, but all the news surrounding the tournament is about events off the field. As Indian cricket and its fans grapple with the dismaying allegations of the past week, the old Apartheid-era slogan – No normal sport in an abnormal society – comes to mind. However, despite the formal charges of corruption against top Super Kings official Gurunath Meiyappan, the 2013 season will reach its scheduled end, when Chennai Super Kings play their fifth IPL final in six seasons, against Mumbai Indians at Eden Gardens. An assertion of the game being bigger than the individuals that comprise it, no matter how abnormal the environs.
Super Kings have had an outstanding season, finishing top of the league with 11 wins out of 16 games, and blazed through the first qualifier to seal their finals berth. They are the only team to have won more games than they lost away from home this season; they have the tournament’s highest run-scorer and joint top wicket-taker. Their fielders have set standards not matched by most competitors. They have been the IPL’s most formidable franchise since its inception, and have the opportunity to enhance that reputation by winning a third title. To do that, however, not only do MS Dhoni’s men have to deal with, and overcome the turmoil caused by Meiyappan’s arrest, but they also have to deal with a tough opponent.
Mumbai Indians. Their habit of buying the flavours of the season, and of tinkering constantly with their line-up, produced largely disappointing results in IPLs past. This season began the same way, but they took tough decisions – dropping Ricky Ponting and appointing Rohit Sharma as captain – and hit upon a balanced and successful combination earlier than usual. They delighted their home crowds by winning all eight matches at the Wankhede Stadium, but the final is at a neutral venue, and they lost five league games away from home. They are the best franchise to never win the IPL, but that accolade is a slight to the millions that have gone into making the team.
Watch out for
The Eden Gardens crowd. They are famously passionate. They’ve disrupted international matches because they were displeased, they’ve booed the Indian team because they felt Sourav Ganguly was ill-treated, and they’ve created the most electric atmospheres in famous Indian victories. How will they react to the allegations and charges of corruption in the IPL? Will they just not turn up? Will they arrive in tens of thousands and make their disappointment heard? Or will they remain indifferent and cheer as though nothing has happened?
A clash of tactics. The Super Kings bat extremely deep, deeper than is really necessary in Twenty20cricket. Yet they prefer to bat watchfully for the first ten overs, before going mental in the next ten. The strategy may seem ridiculously conservative, but it rarely fails them. Their bowling attack is far from being the best in the league, but there is no obvious weak link, and they use the advantage of a usually daunting target to defend to tremendous effect. Mumbai Indians play to a different plan. Their batting order is short – it ends at No. 6. Only four of those are tested match-winners, compared to Super Kings’ seven, and Mumbai have relied on those four to get the job done. Their bowling attack, however, is power packed and should Mitchell Johnson, Lasith Malinga and Harbhajan Singh have good days, they could neutralise CSK’s guns.
Unless Sachin Tendulkar has recovered from his arm injury, Mumbai have little reason to change the combination that beat Royals in the qualifier. Mumbai coach John Wright said Tendulkar was unlikely to play. Pragyan Ojha, however, could also be in doubt after the left-arm spinner hurt his shoulder while diving during the first innings on Friday and had to leave the field.
Barring any last-minute fitness problems, the Super Kings should also field the same team that beat Mumbai in the first qualifier in Delhi.
Pitch and conditions
Contrary to the pitches used during the league stage at Eden Gardens, the surface for the qualifier between Mumbai and Rajasthan Royals was excellent for batting. And the outfield, despite it being damp from rain, was quick. The weather forecast for Kolkata on Sunday is predominantly cloudy with a chance of showers. It is unlikely that the weather will force a washout, though, and even if it does, there is a reserve day for the final on the following day.
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