The heat is on here, literally. It envelopes you with such intensity you are nearly singed. But then the Indian Premier League (IPL), as remarkably weather-neutral as it is recession resistant, is played in such conditions.
On Sunday, the IPL will complete its first 10-year cycle by heading south before the trophy goes west. Before hurtling into a future about which little is known, it can look back with satisfaction. Even though some of its most ardent proponents have been tainted by it, the IPL has been an idea spawning more imitations imaginable than when Brendon McCullum shredded a bowling attack that had Zaheer Khan and Jacques Kallis in 2008.
Unprecedented third beckons MI
But before the clarity about 2018 and beyond, there is a championship to be decided. Standing between Mumbai Indians (MI) and an unprecedented third title are Rising Pune Supergiant (RPS), who are in their second season but don’t know if they will see a third. To do that, MI will have to achieve what has been ‘mission impossible’ so far, having lost all three of their encounters against RPS this term.
But should MI be the last team standing, it would mean skipper Rohit Sharma will be the only player to have won four IPL titles, the first having come with Deccan Chargers in 2009. Having played three finals before this, MI have the experience and the knowledge that no team has ever notched up a 4-0 head-to-head in any edition.
But as any Punekar will tell you, there’s always a first time. And who better to negate first-time nerves than MS Dhoni and Steve Smith who know what it takes to win World Cups? Also, RPS have had three extra days of rest, which meant the players could disperse after Tuesday and assemble here on Saturday.
Five of the past nine finals have had at least one team scoring over 190 but three of them have come since 2014. So, would we have another title decider where bats transform into bazookas that launch the hard, white ball into orbit?
Putting a dampener on such thoughts could be the Hyderabad wicket where the last two games, coincidentally featuring Sunday’s finalists against Sunrisers Hyderabad, have produced winning scores of 140 and 148 respectively. The 200-barrier was breached here twice but both came in April and the strips are likely to have got drier since. Though not here, the last three games in IPL 10 have had moderate to low scores, again highlighting how wickets behave at the fag end of the season.
Focus on bowlers
So, in a format that continues to add shades of subtlety as it evolves from its slam-bang avatar, will the bowlers win a final for the first time since 2013? The way MI bowled KKR into submission on Friday will give them confidence and iterate the fact that in these conditions, spin can indeed be king. But then, MI struggled to deal with RPS’s bowling arsenal of Washinghton Sundar, Jaydev Unadkat, Shardul Thakur, Lockie Ferguson, Dan Christian and Adam Zampa.
The brevity of T20s means this form of cricket isn’t baseball on a sedative, as an American had once described it, but one more suited for speed junkies. So, fasten your seat belts and grab the hand rests as two evenly-matched teams aim to be at their Sunday best at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Uppal.