Mumbai Indians v Royal Challengers Bangalore, October 9, Chennai
Start time 2000 (1430 GMT)
The Champions League will have a new champion. It won't be a team that won its domestic Twenty20 tournament. It will be an IPL team, but not the one that was being fancied at the start. It will either be a team that we thought would do well to win a match or a team that didn't look like winning anything halfway through the tournament. It is this ability to surprise, and the compact format - the main draw lasts 16 days, features diverse teams, and five-team groups ensure tough contests for semi-final slots - that the Champions League has going for it.
It helps that the eventual finalists - Royal Challengers Bangalore, who lost their first two matches, and Mumbai Indians, who lost half their side to injury and struggled to put an XI on the field - have history. Less than six months ago, led by Chris Gayle's monstrous hitting - not too different from his exploits in Bangalore on Friday night - the Royal Challengers beat MI in the semi-final of the IPL. Lasith Malinga, who has been winning MI games with both bat and ball in the Champions League, was there too, but was used apologetically, at first change, and Gayle worked around his four run-a-ball overs.
Six months is a long time in modern cricket. Neither team looks as assured as it did back then; both have gone a step further in this tournament, now fighting for the biggest financial award in current non-international cricket. The Royal Challengers have lost AB de Villiers, Luke Pomersbach and Zaheer Khan, and their bowling unit has lost any semblance of confidence. Yet they have managed to retain the winning formula - three big hitters - through Gayle, Virat Kolhi and Tillakaratne Dilshan.
MI have lost most of what worked for them in the IPL. They are hardly the same side, losing almost all their match-winners, apart from Malinga. He has now won them all their matches, amid malfunctioning batsmen, support bowlers, floundering fielders and keeper. This time, MI are left with no choice but to use Malinga at the top. It is just as well because incredible as the Royal Challengers top three have been, they have hardly faced a decent yorker in chasing back-to-back 200-plus scores.
If the teams have changed in the last six months so has the Chennai pitch. Relaid, it has often been slow and two-paced. The Royal Challengers haven't played a game here while MI have registered two of their wins at the venue of the final. This unfamiliarity with the conditions should offset the edge given to Royal Challengers through cricket's inherent bias: Malinga can bowl but four overs.
Watch out for...
Malinga v Gayle, Dilshan and Kohli. MI will have to win this particular contest comprehensively if they have to win the Champions League. Royal Challengers will happily take four overs for 24 runs and no wickets. Malinga will have to make it more dramatic.
The captains, the two most successful Test bowlers among active practitioners, two men who have of late found more success in limited-overs cricket than Tests. Will they continue to be restricting men or will they attack? As captains they have made glaring errors in this tournament, but both are coming off inspirational and eventually decisive moves in the semi-finals. Daniel Vettori opened the bowling with Dilshan, who went for 10 runs in his four overs on a 10-an-over night. Harbhajan Singh surprised all by tossing the ball to James Franklin in the crucial 19th over of his semi-final: seven runs and two wickets later he stood vindicated.
MI have a non-fucntioning wicketkeeper and a near non-functioning middle order, but they have neither time nor replacements. They should go with the same XI that beat Somerset on Saturday.
The Royal Challengers face a familiar dilemma. S Aravind has now gone for 124 runs in his last eight overs. Although the Chennai pitch will be kinder to him, will the Royal Challengers invest more trust in the man who must be low on confidence by now? They also need to figure out if their policy of stacking the side up with batsmen will work in Chennai. However, if needed, they can always count on Dilshan and Gayle to bowl at least one bowler's quota if not more.
Stats and trivia
At 252 runs, Gayle is 76 behind the leading run-getter of the tournament, David Warner. Gayle, though, has hit 24 sixes to Warner's 20. During the course of this tournament Gayle has taken his overall T20 six count to 155, behind only David Hussey and Ross Taylor.
MI lead the Royal Challengers 6-4 on the head-to-head.
Malinga has made a late surge on the wickets tally, but he is still behind the leading man, Ravi Rampaul, who ended his tournament with 12.
With five dismissals, Arun Karthik is the joint-leader among keepers with most scalps. Among non-keepers, Owais Shah and Arul Suppiah have finished the tournament with six catches each. With three catches to his name, Kohli comes closest among the fielders still alive in the tournament
"There are a lot of disappointed bowlers in the room. We have to make sure we're better than that on the Chennai wicket. It's probably going to be a little easier for the bowlers, but we've got to be better, we've got to support the batsmen."
Daniel Vettori has put his hand up
"Hopefully Malinga will get Gayle first ball. If he does, that will be great."
Harbhajan Singh knows what MI's priorities are