Kolkata, Chennai to vie for top honours in battle of nerve - GulfToday

Kolkata, Chennai to vie for top honours in battle of nerve


MS Dhoni and Eoin Morgan pose for photographers. Courtsey: IP Website

Mohammad Abdullah, Senior Sports Reporter
An experienced Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and a resurgent Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) are all set to battle it out for the top honours in an electrifying IPL final showdown in Dubai on Friday.

It promises to be an intriguing clash as both the teams are of the same callibre with star-studded line-ups and prolific players.

Three-times champions Chennai are the oldest side in the tournament with the average age of players above 30 years. But they do not seem to be withering with age but getting more intoxicating like an old wine.

The icing on the cake will be MS Dhoni’s shrewd captaincy, which will be further fuelled by the fact that this might by his last chance to lay down his hands on the silverware.

On the other hand, Kolkata’s captain Morgan, who guided England to their only 50-over World Cup title, is lurking to launch an ambush on the title.

The final will be a contest of holding the nerve rather applying expertise, the team that soaks the pressure better will emerge winners and this prospect makes Chennai as favourites.

Chennai put up clinical performance and capped the group stages on the second spot behind Delhi Capitals  with 18 points, winning nine out of their fourteen games.

They lost some momentum towards the fag end of the group stages but bounced back more strongly against Delhi in the Qualifier 1 to directly book a berth in the final.

Chennai had lost three games in a row before beating Delhi in the Qualifier 1 and restore their confidence, which was of course dented by the series of defeats.

Chennai’s main concern was their stuttering middle-order, which was not delivering, particularly number three. The underwhelming performance of the middle-order was putting a lot of pressure on the openers Faf Du Plessis and Ruturaj Gaikwad.

An out-of-form Suresh Raina's failure to get some runs on the board prompted the decision to bring Robin Uthappa into the fold.  Uthappa also failed to deliver in the first two matches, which compounded the problems for Chennai. But he lived up to the expectation of the team management in his third game and finally smashed a cracking fifty.

Uthappa’s hitting the form at the right time when it matters the most brought both relief to the team and stability to a stuttering middle order as Chennai also returned to the winning ways.

Gaikwad and Du Plessis are in stellar forms, having scored 500 plus runs each in the tournament, the opening slot looks quite impressive. The opening duo will once again be entrusted with the job of setting up the tone for a big total.

With in-form Uthappa at number three, followed by Shradul Thakur, Ambati Rayudu, Moeen Ali and MS Dhoni makes the middle order strong while Ravindra Jadeja and Dwayne Bravo add depth to the batting line-up.

Bravo has been the outstanding performer for Chennai with both bat and ball in the UAE leg of the tourney. He was dropped twice from the side to accommodate Sam Curran but only to bring disappointment to the team. Jadeja and Bravo can hit big shots in the death overs to propel score to a fighting total.

Josh Hazlewood with a charged-up  Shardul Thakur make a good pace combination. Thakur’s last minute inclusion in the Indian World Cup squad in place of Axar Patel must have given him a lot of confidence. Deepak Chahar and Bravo give more option in pace while Jadeja and Ali can choke the flow of runs and give breakthroughs from time and again with a crafty spin bowling.

Kolkata are brimming with confidence as they are coming into the match on the back of four consecutive triumphs. Kolkata have shown a great resurgence in the UAE leg of the IPL and won six of their eight matches to climb up the standings three places to book a berth in the qualifier.

They defeated Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in the eliminator before sending Delhi out of the tournament with a victory in the Qualifier 2.

Their strength is bowling and they also have a stuttering middle order, which can wobble to lose control of the match from a string position.The same was evident in the last match against Delhi, as Kolkata lost six wickets with in a space of eight runs to survive a scare.

They have world class spin trio of Varun Chakravarty, West Indian Sunil Narine and Bangldesh prolific all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan. The spin trio can rock any batting line-up and choke the runs, prompting the batsmen to play reckless shots.

Lockie Ferguson and Shivam Mavi can clock the speed of 140km/hr mark regularly to unsettle the batmen if they find a little assistant from the turf. Kolkata are also relying too much on their openers Vankatesh Iyer and Shubman Gill. The duo is giving them a blazing start in almost every match.

They put up a 98-run partnership in the Qualifier 2 against Delhi to tilt the match in Kolkata’s favour before the infamous wobble left them limping to victory. However, with Morgan, Dinseh Karthik and Rahul Tripath in the middle-order and Shakib and Narine coming at six and seven, they seem to have good depth on batting at least on paper.

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