New Delhi: The Champions League Twenty20 2013 will end with the same teams on the field as when the first match was played on September 21 - Rajasthan Royals and Mumbai Indians. Just over two weeks on, it's Rahul Dravid v Sachin Tendulkar again in what is mostly likely to be the last time the two greats will be seen together on the field, pitted against each other.
But emotions aside, it's a match that promises to be engrossing - a clash of styles, a clash of team character.
Mumbai and Rajasthan have played each other four times this year, and the honours have been even. Both won their home matches in IPL VI, Mumbai won the second IPL qualifier in Kolkata, and Rajasthan won the inaugural game of CLT20 2013. That makes things look balanced, except that there's one factor to be accounted for: Rajasthan's CLT20 campaign has been entirely based in Jaipur - their fortress - while Mumbai have now won two games in two at Feroz Shah Kotla in New Delhi, where the final will also be played on Sunday (October 6) night.
John Wright, the Mumbai coach, stressed on that advantage when he spoke to the media at the end of Mumbai's six-wicket semifinal win over Trinidad and Tobago on Saturday. "We're pleased to have played two games here, which is good for us, while they have to make some adjustments," he said. "They are strong at home, but they have to come here ... should help us. They are a good, well-organised side and we've had some tough matches against them."
Not only would Rajasthan have to play out of their comfort zone, they will have to take the field less than 24 hours after settling down in New Delhi, having reached the city only on Saturday evening. The Mumbai boys will also have to recover quickly too, because the final starts at 8 pm, just over 20 hours after the semifinal ended.
"Recovery is key," pointed out Wright, adding, "It's probably good for the guys. We had a good one in the semifinal, not too taxing... it may work for us. It's a final and we are very keen."
And keen Mumbai should be, considering the factors at play. Yes, Rajasthan have won every game in the tournament so far and, yes, they are the team in form, with a number of players raising their hands when the occasion called for it. But theirs has been a success story that's been scripted against the odds - from the spot-fixing blow to losing key players prior to the tournament to, now, losing Brad Hodge for the final.
Hodge has played key knocks in the tournament, and although Ajinkya Rahane has been the standout star of the Rajasthan batting order - he aggregates 223 runs from five games at 55.75 - Hodge was a crucial member of the middle order. Kusal Perera, the Sri Lankan, has been called up as Hodge's replacement for the final, after Hodge tore a ligament in his left knee during the semifinal against Chennai Super Kings, and should feature in the playing XI.
But, as we started by saying, the final is more about the clash of styles and character of the two teams. Rajasthan are about teamwork, about doing the hard grind, about players coming to the fore and surpassing themselves when the need arises. Mumbai, on the other hand, back themselves because of the number of match-winners they have in their mix. Dwayne Smith has been outstanding all tournament and they have found batting stars whenever they have needed one. And while the bowling has been average on the whole, they have done the job, Nathan Coulter-Nile standing out as the pick of them.
One of the big holes in the Mumbai arsenal, Sachin Tendulkar's poor form, might not be as big a worry anymore after he hit a 31-ball 35 against T&T in the semifinal. Along the way, he also became the 16th man to score 50,000 runs in recognised cricket. "We're all thrilled for Sachin. It's good to make 50,000 runs ... maybe a few more," smiled Wright after the semis.
"Always pleased for players, whoever they are, when they achieve something special. We're very fortunate as a franchise to have him; it's great for us. Tomorrow is even more special for that reason - definitely."
It promises to be a super game of Twenty20 cricket. Rajasthan's has been a fairy-tale story that probably deserves a happy ending, if only for the men, led by Rahul Dravid, who have come out and given such a good account of themselves. But Mumbai have looked so, so good when they have been on song and should be, keeping everything in mind, the favourites to add the CLT20 trophy, which they also won in 2011, to the IPL title they won earlier this year.
Mumbai Indians: Rohit Sharma (capt), Sachin Tendulkar, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Harbhajan Singh, Pragyan Ojha, Ambati Rayudu, Aditya Tare, Rishi Dhawan, Abu Nechim, Akshar Patel, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Smith, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Mitchell Johnson, Glenn Maxwell.
Rajasthan Royals: Rahul Dravid (capt), Ajinkya Rahane, Stuart Binny, Sanju Samson (wk), Ashok Menaria, Dishant Yagnik, Vikramjeet Malik, Harmeet Singh, Rahul Shukla, Pravin Tambe, Shane Watson, Kusal Perera, James Faulkner, Kevon Cooper.