This week marks the end of an Indian Premier League tournament like no other – as with all sporting events these days. The lack of a crowd, however, rapidly became a triviality as the world’s best descended on the United Arab Emirates to deliver nearly two months of first-rate cricketing entertainment, all culminating in Tuesday’s showpiece final between reigning champions Mumbai Indians and the Delhi Capitals.
The final was fascinatingly poised. The two met in a qualifier for the final as recently as Thursday in a game which was all wrapped up within two overs of the Capitals’ innings getting underway. Chasing 201 to win following an excellent knock from Ishan Kishan for Mumbai, Shreyas Iyer’s side were reduced to 0-3 by a truly terrifying start with the ball from what has, in this competition, been an unparalleled bowling pair of Trent Boult and Jasprit Bumrah.
Remarkable as it was, this was not the first time a side had found themselves all but beaten within two overs by Mumbai’s pace attack – MS Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings were reduced to 3-3 by a similar burst from the same pair.
Removing Thursday from the collective conscience will be key for a Delhi side who made significant changes to the top of their order for the second qualifier – a convincing success against Sunrisers Hyderabad. The big decision was to move Marcus Stoinis up the order to open alongside Shikhar Dhawan. The powerful Australian attacked from the off as, along with the imperious Dhawan, he led a rapid 86-run first wicket stand.
Success against Mumbai, however, seems far less about early runs. Knowing that the world’s best T20 bowler, Afghan spinner Rashid Khan, would be waiting in the middle overs, the Capitals needed to hurry early on, but faced with Boult and Bumrah – presuming the former is fit to play give his reported struggle with a groin injury over the weekend – such a strategy seems reckless to pursue. The choice between sticking with a winning team or bringing the more conservative 21-year-old Prithvi Shaw back in to open, with the aim of getting through the powerplay in one piece, may just define the course of this final.
It seems wrong to focus on the chances of the bowlers causing carnage in a T20, but given Thursday’s result, it seems the obvious angle from which to approach this final. Having said that, there are ample men who could – ‘could’ being very much the operative word here – decide this game with the bat, none less so than Rohit Sharma. The Mumbai captain’s form has been inconsistent this season, epitomised by his removal for a duck by another India old-timer, Ravichandran Ashwin, on Thursday. However, as they say, class is permanent, and assuming speculation over his place is unfounded, do not be surprised if Shara is in the Indian headlines in some way or other come Wednesday.
His opening partner, Quinton de Kock, has had a successful campaign and will once again be key as his side attempt to stand up to the brutal pace of de Kock’s fellow South Africans Anrich Nortje and the brilliant Kagiso Rabada. Sticking with opening batsmen, the one definite in the Delhi opening partnership will be Shikhar Dhawan – the competition’s second top became the first man to score consecutive IPL centuries earlier this season and will, as it has been for so often in limited overs cricket for both club and country, be the man his side look to to lead the way through a vital first few overs.
Further down the orders, there is some serious batting power in both ranks. Most obviously, IPL stalwart Kieron Pollard – second only to Chris Gayle in all-time T20 sixes struck. The West Indies limited overs captain is the first man to pass 150 appearances for Mumbai and his experience is always vital on the big occasion. Mumbai’s embarrassment of riches goes on, with the dual threat of Krunal and the much-feared Hardik Pandya providing further force with the bat. For the Capitals, much hope will be pinned on a return to the usual explosive form of Rishabh Pant, whose campaign has fallen short of expectations.
All in all, this final is set up exactly how you would want it, featuring two sides littered with talent across all aspects of their sides. Boult and Bumrah or Nortje and Rabada? Pollard and the Pandyas or Pant and Stoinis? And what of the captains – the eternal Rohit Sharma or the refreshing youth of Shreyas Iyer, admittedly backed up by Dhawan and Ashwin? Mumbai must start as favourites to defend their title but don’t let that deceive – in terms of quality and hopefully entertainment, this occasion is as good as it gets, and both sides possess the quality to take the trophy back to India.
Image: Ashok666 via Creative Commons