Efficiency and expectation on the line as RCB, SRH tussle for IPL crown
After 59 matches - some fiercely fought for, some one-sided - it is fitting that the title honours will be fought for by two teams that have managed to not just power through on their strengths but have also excelled at damage limitation, over the course of the season.
Early observers of both sides would've pointed out the blatant lack of balance and been dismissive of their prospects of a title charge. Royal Challengers lined up the who's who of T20 batsmanship but without Mitchell Starc and Samuel Badree, their bowling seemed like a department that would play catch-up all through.
Sunrisers Hyderabad assembled a stingy bowling attack comprising Mustafizur Rahman, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ashish Nehra, but were bereft of any real batting stalwart to shoulder the burden of run-scoring along with David Warner. Yuvraj Singh, an IPL gamble that did not pay off in the last two seasons for two different teams, was out with injury, meaning a lop-sided squad began the season.
However, as the season progressed, both teams managed to paper over the cracks well enough to reach the final hurdle. Sunrisers overcame a shaky start and an injury layoff to Ashish Nehra, by embarking on two crucial winning sprees, of three and four matches, on either side of a mid-season defeat to Rising Pune Supergiants. A lull in form, as they lost three of their last four league matches, coincided with intense competition for the playoffs spots, putting at risk their qualification. At one stage, Warner's side looked set to finish at the top of the table but eventually, had to settle for the third spot. In contrast, Royal Challengers were inconsistent till the very end before Kohli inspired his team to four wins in last four fixtures to sprint to the second place.
Beyond the manner in which the two teams have evolved with time, a highly-anticipated climax deserves a few riveting sub-plots. Warner and Kohli's similar, ballsy leadership by example and their show of unmatched consistency towards the team's cause make for a compelling duel. With 919 runs and 10 fifty-plus scores (including four centuries), Kohli is ahead of Warner (779 runs, eight half-centuries) by a good 140-run margin, but the value they bring to their respective teams has been on par. The final also presents itself as the ultimate test of temperament for the most envied batting line-up and the most industrious bowling attack of the season.
What's at stake:
Royal Challengers Bangalore: A maiden IPL title victory will vindicate their belief that Virat Kohli's star-studded line-up is not a mere arrangement of big names, but a side characterised by much-needed cohesion that paves the way for success. It will also provide enough evidence that Royal Challengers can follow the path set by Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings, two sides that have reaped the benefits of investing heavily in proven match-winners.
Sunrisers Hyderabad: Clinching the IPL crown in just their fourth season will come as a reward for their progress in the league and could also help the franchise identify their core set of players and hence, establish a stronger fan base. Sunrisers, who began well by making it to top four in their maiden season in 2013, fought hard but finished mid-table in the next two seasons. A victory on Sunday will represent a big stride forward.
When: Royal Challengers Bangalore v Sunrisers Hyderabad, May 29, 2016, Final, 8PM IST
Where: M Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bengaluru
What to expect: Not the best forecast on the day of a final. Showers or thunderstorms are expected around afternoon and late evening. There is a reserve day (May 30) for the final, in case rain plays a part. If there is no play on Sunday or Monday, the title could be decided by a Super Over elimination. If that too isn't possible, Royal Challengers Bangalore will be crowned champions by the virtue of finishing higher than Sunrisers Hyderabad on the points table.
Royal Challengers Bangalore: If the Chinnaswamy wicket plays out like it did in the first qualifier, Kohli might have a thing or two to ponder regarding team selection. Iqbal Abdulla managed to dent Gujarat Lions, but with Sunrisers playing with two left-handed openers, the Royal Challengers left-arm tweaker could be rendered ineffective. In such a scenario, Kohli could consider drafting in right-arm spinner Parvez Rasool. If the surface for the final reverts to being the batting paradise that one has associated with Bengaluru all season, then Varun Aaron could replace Abdulla.
Sunrisers Hyderabad: A hamstring ruled Mustafizur Rahman out of his side's qualifier fixture against Gujarat Lions in New Delhi on Friday (May 27). There is no clarity on the extent of the niggle and whether the youngster will be fit to reclaim his spot in the line-up for the final. Trent Boult, the New Zealand pacer who filled in, in the previous fixture, is likely to feature in the final, if the young Bangladesh fast bowler fails to regain fitness. Boult brings a different variety of left-arm fast bowling as compared to Mustafizur, whose variety has befuddled many-a-batsmen this season. If the wicket in Bengaluru turns out to be the batting-friendly strip it generally is, his extra pace could be targeted by the Royal Challengers batsmen. It the wicket assists turn like it did in the first qualifier, it will be interesting to see if Warner ponders picking Kane Williamson for Boult, thereby also strengthening his batting.
Who said what:
Virat Kohli: David Warner has come a long way as leader. If you see the kind of hunger he's had throughout to actually get the job done for the team, (it) speaks volumes of his character. As a leader, you execute those things what you ask of your team-mates first. I think we both think of similar lines. If we want to give 120 percent effort, we want to do that on every ball we field. There's a lot of similarity in our approach to the game, getting the team together and wanting them to be at their best.
Did you know:
- In the eight head-to-head encounters, Royal Challengers Bangalore have won four, Sunrisers Hyderabad three, while one ended in a tie, in which the Sunrisers prevailed in the Super Over.
- Sunrisers is one of the two teams against which Virat Kohli has failed to aggregate 100 runs this season.
- Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers have a dot ball percentage of 25.69 and 26.12 percent respectively - the lowest among all with at least 200 balls faced this IPL. De Villiers's boundary percentage of 23.44 is the highest for anyone who faced at least 150 balls.
- David Warner has scored six fifties in as many innings for Sunrisers against Royal Challengers. His scores read 61, 59, 57, 52*, 58 and 92.
Royal Challengers Bangalore: Virat Kohli, Abu Nechim, Samuel Badree, Yuzvendra Chahal, Praveen Dubey, Travis Head, Kedar Jadhav, Sarfaraz Khan, Mandeep Singh, Lokesh Rahul, Sachin Baby, Vikas Tokas, David Wiese, Varun Aaron, Sreenath Aravind, Stuart Binny, AB de Villiers, Chris Gayle, Iqbal Abdulla, Akshay Karnewar, Vikramjeet Malik, Adam Milne, Harshal Patel, Kane Richardson, Shane Watson
Sunrisers Hyderabad: Shikhar Dhawan, Ricky Bhui, Trent Boult, Moises Henriques, Deepak Hooda, Abhimanyu Mithun, Siddarth Kaul, Mustafizur Rahman, Naman Ojha, Karn Sharma, Tirumalsetti Suman, David Warner, Yuvraj Singh, Ashish Nehra, Ashish Reddy, Bipul Sharma, Ben Cutting, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Eoin Morgan, Vijay Shankar, Barinder Sran, Aditya Tare, Kane Williamson