Sunday, May 27, 2012
Start time 2000 (1430 GMT)
They are here, again. Those resilient, stubborn Chennai Super Kings. In another IPL final, their fourth in five seasons and their third in a row, pursuing a hat-trick of titles. Love them, hate them or couldn't care less about them, you have to give it to them - the Super Kings got game. They know when and how to turn it on, too, though this season they dangled off the edge of the precipice, holding on with their pinkies, for longer than was comfortable.
Kolkata Knight Riders did not leave their chances hinging on an improbable combination of results over which they had no control. They reached the playoffs with a game to spare and made short work of Delhi Daredevils to enter their maiden IPL final. Their performances have been efficient and consistent and they should logically be favourites today. But they're facing a resurgent side on its home turf.
Super Kings are blessed with loyal fans and the pricklier among them bristle at insinuations that fortune played a role in their team making it to Chennai on Sunday. They got enough points, didn't they? And they didn't design the schedule, so they had to hope three results went their way to make the playoffs. And Kings XI Punjab just weren't good enough to beat Delhi Daredevils, and Rajasthan Royals and Royal Challengers Bangalore weren't good enough to beat bottom-placed Deccan Chargers. What's luck got to do with it?
That Super Kings had to wait five days to know they would be able to defend their title was because of an out-of-sorts start to the season. At times they, the IPL's least changed side over five seasons, looked passe compared to some of the other teams, who had strengthened squads with new personnel. Super Kings' turnaround only began after ten league games, of which they had won four. They won four of their last six matches, so their form, when they entered familiar playoff territory, was satisfactory.
And then they were near perfect. After clambering on to level ground, Super Kings' misfiring batting line-up, the longest in the IPL, found its guns and annihilated Mumbai Indians and Delhi Daredevils with breath-taking confidence.
While Super Kings had abundant success in seasons past, Knight Riders had nothing. In the first three years, they were the only team without a top-four finish. So in 2011, Knight Riders abandoned failed strategies, completely overhauled their squad, and climbed to fourth in the league, but lost the eliminator. In 2012, they have gone farther, converting their second-place finish in the league into a berth in the finals by beating Daredevils in the first qualifier.
Knight Riders also had an iffy start to the season, losing three of their first five games. Since then they've lost only two out of 11, acquiring the rarest quality in Twenty20 cricket - consistency. There were no dramas in their progress to the playoffs. Their success has been built around two people with supporting contributions from the rest. The captain Gautam Gambhir has been a reliable run-scorer, while the spinner Sunil Narine has confounded all and sundry with his unreadable variations.
If they perform like they have this season, Knight Riders have little reason to worry. Whether they can perform in their first final, against opponents seasoned to such pressure, is the question.
(most recent first)
Chennai Super Kings: WWLWW
Kolkata Knight Riders: WWWLL
Watch out for ...
Sunil Narine: At present, he has the second most wickets this season, the best economy rate, and the best average for anyone who's played more than two matches - 24 wickets, 5.20 per over and 11.95 per wicket. Gambhir's used him in a variety of situations - early on to drag back a quick start, in the middle to exercise control over the game and at the end, when batsmen have only attack on their minds. Narine's delivered each time. Gambhir's utilisation of Narine in the final will be crucial. Super Kings bat until No. 9 so Gambhir will have to decide when and against whom Narine can have the greatest impact.
The middle orders: With top orders evenly matched and Knight Riders shading the bowling battle, this is where Super Kings score heavily over their opponents. The line-up comprising MS Dhoni, Dwayne Bravo, S Badrinath and Albie Morkel is far more reliable and powerful than the one comprising Shakib Al Hasan, Yusuf Pathan, Laxmi Ratan Shukla and Manoj Tiwary, or variations of it. Knight Riders are more dependent on their top order than Super Kings are, although Yusuf Pathan did make his first proper contribution in the qualifier against Daredevils.
Barring last-minute fitness problems, Super Kings are certain to play the same XI that won them the two knockout games to reach the final.
A couple of Knight Riders players have hamstring concerns. Manoj Tiwary missed the knockout against Delhi because of a strain and was replaced by Laxmi Ratan Shukla, who impressed with 24 off 11 balls. Tiwary is likely to be fit, though, so either Shukla or Debabrata Das, who has also performed well, could make way. The bigger hamstring concern, however, is over L Balaji, who injured himself during the qualifier. Balaji has been the solitary Indian seamer in the Knight Riders attack so his absence could cause significant change to the team composition.
Meetings this season
At Chepauk, Knight Riders won by five wickets and two balls to spare. Super Kings were restricted to a middling total and the victory was more comfortable than the margin indicates.
At Eden Gardens, Super Kings won by five wickets off the final delivery. Chasing 159, Super Kings had reached 97 for 0 in the 11th over when Narine derailed the innings during a spell of 4-0-14-2. With 5 to get off the last ball, Bravo launched Rajat Bhatia over the long-on boundary.
Stats and trivia
In the last five overs of the innings, Super Kings have scored at 10.64 per over on average this season, which is the second best after Royal Challengers Bangalore. Knight Riders have scored at 9.32 per over during this period. There is very little separating the sides' run rates in the first six overs, though Knight Riders are a little faster.
Knight Riders have had the best spinners of the tournament. They've taken the most wickets at the best average and economy rate - 48, 16.20 and 6.09. Their attack of choice in recent games has been Narine, Iqbal Abdulla and Shakib Al Hasan, with Yusuf chipping in. Super Kings' spinners are second best, but by a distance.
"When you go on to the field, you do not go there to make friends but you are there to get results in your team's favour. You have to be aggressive on the field. That is how we have won matches and now we are in the final and not to just compete."
Gautam Gambhir, the Kolkata Knight Riders captain.
"With his action, it is difficult to catch him as to which side he is bowling, whether it is the one that comes in to a right hander or it goes out. The variation he has got and the consistency that he has got in maintaining line and length has been crucial."
MS Dhoni on Sunil Narine.