Win the powerplay, win the title? First 6 overs might decide fate of top-heavy giants SRH, KKR in IPL 2024 final | Crickit
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Win the powerplay, win the title? First 6 overs might decide fate of top-heavy giants SRH, KKR in IPL 2024 final

May 26, 2024 11:34 AM IST

In a format where sixes are the most common currency, it’s the six Powerplay overs at the top of each innings that could have the final say.

It’s in the fitness of things that the teams that finished one and two at the end of the league phase have made it through to the final of IPL 2024. In a classic sequence, the top-ranked side (Kolkata Knight Riders) bossed Qualifier 1 against the franchise that finished second (Sunrisers Hyderabad). Third-placed Rajasthan Royals prevailed in the Eliminator against Royal Challengers Bengaluru before ceding Qualifier 2 to SRH. And so here we are now, 73 matches into the tournament, with No. 1 and No. 2 going head-to-head at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on Sunday.

Sunrisers Hyderabad's Travis Head (L) and Abhishek Sharma run between the wickets during the Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket match between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Lucknow Super Giants(AFP)
Sunrisers Hyderabad's Travis Head (L) and Abhishek Sharma run between the wickets during the Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket match between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Lucknow Super Giants(AFP)

The force would appear to be with Shreyas Iyer’s outfit, clearly the most consistent and formidable team on view. They have had the better of both exchanges this season against SRH, winning by one run in the tournament opener for the two sides at the Eden Gardens two months back, followed by a commanding eight-wicket victory in Ahmedabad earlier in the week. KKR seem to have no weak links, no obvious Achilles’ heel. If this match were to be played on paper, they would beat their opponents in the final ten times out of ten, maybe. Fortunately, games of cricket are decided on the field of play, so overwhelming favouritism must be tempered by the unpredictability of a format and the quality of an opposition that has breathed spectacular life into the somewhat meandering T20 variant.

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SRH have shown that there is more to their batting than the once-marauding but now somewhat tepid opening duo of Travis Head and Abhishek Sharma. Their middle order has shaped up quite nicely, fortified by the introduction of Rahul Tripathi, the belligerence of Heinrich Klaasen and the emergence of Nitish Kumar Reddy, which might point to a slightly reduced dependence on blazing starts from Head and Abhishek. But that isn’t necessarily true. Impressive as the middle order is, SRH are a completely different force when Head and Abhishek fire in tandem. Twice this season, they have piled up more than 100 runs inside the six Powerplay overs, and their jugalbandi was largely responsible for SRH hurtling to totals of 287 (against RCB) and 277 (against Mumbai Indians). As always, they will be the cynosure on finals day because if they can take the fight to Mitchell Starc, Vaibhav Arora, Harshit Rana and Sunil Narine up front, it will be half the battle won.

KKR possess a versatile and dangerously penetrative bowling group, the rejuvenation of the once erratic Starc complete in Qualifier 1 when he ripped the heart out of the SRH batting. His ability to swing the ball late, and both ways, make Starc a potent weapon; his first-over dismissal of Head had a huge influence on how Qualifier 1 unfolded, and KKR will be hoping he can replicate those heroics on the most important night of the IPL calendar.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that, having been at the receiving end of the Starc masterclass just a few nights back, SRH should adopt a more conservative approach at the top of their innings. But such thinking is anathema to Head and Abhishek. Despite their recent middling form, they are nothing if not self-confident and supremely assured of their ball-striking abilities. Head has revealed a penchant for rising to the top in cup finals and will be determined to go one-up on his Australian teammate while Abhishek, the leader in the six-hitting stakes this season, will care little for reputation or pedigree. Where Head is no stranger to the big stage, Abhishek will turn out in his first final, so it will be incumbent upon his more experienced and illustrious partner to shepherd the younger man through choppy waters early on. If Abhishek can keep his nerves in check and take a shine to Starc, SRH would have grabbed the early initiative, which counts for plenty in an encounter with so much at stake.

Despite the return home of Englishman Phil Salt, KKR have an equally destructive opening combine, Rahmanullah Gurbaz having linked up with Narine at the top of the tree. Like Starc, but without his express pace or his left-arm angle, Bhuvneshwar Kumar can be lethal with the new ball if he is able to elicit even the slightest amount of swing. Cummins has shown that he relishes the occasion as much as Starc, and while KKR might have dominated the new ball in Ahmedabad, there is no guarantee of an encore on Sunday.

In a format where sixes are the most common currency, it’s the six Powerplay overs at the top of each innings that could have the final say.

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