Hyderabad: This is not going to be easy. One just cannot look into the crystal ball and predict a winner. But if one goes by recent form and record Pune Rising Supergiant (RPS) look clear favourites to emerge champions in the IPL10 edition. But all these calculations can go awry as Mumbai Indians have the ability to turn the tables. The Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium is all set for a Maha Derby clash and a first ever IPL final in the city on Sunday.
Pune have that X-factor advantage because they have beaten Mumbai in all their three encounters in this year’s IPL, both in the league matches and in the Qualifier 1. If any team that has believed in youth and experience then it is RPS. In youth they have the exuberant Washington Sundar, while 18 years older to the off-spinner is the indefatigable Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the Baahubali of IPL. At 35, Dhoni has been a rockstar.
At 17, the tall Sundar is fearless and has even dared to roll his arms with stunning results in the first six overs. Sundar, who came in as a replacement for India off spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, has fitted in the role perfectly.
More stunning is the Dhoni’s giant-like performances. MSK Prasad, chairman of selection committee, rightly said that Dhoni is still the best wicketkeeper in the world. He is lightning quick with his stumping and athletic while pouching difficult catches. His power hitting batting has been of ‘paisa vasool’ value to the team. The story does not end there. This veteran has proved valuable asset to the team with his inputs to Australian skipper Steven Smith. As the former Indian skipper walks out on Sunday, the chants of Dhoni, Dhoni will definitely reverberate in the Stadium.
These two players apart, it is the work of other performers like Rahul Tripathy, Manoj Tiwary, Jaydev Unadkat, Shardul Thakur, Daniel Christian who have been prominent in Pune’s blockbuster show. Tripathy has been a revelation with the bat as an opener. The cool Tiwary is unflinching in the middle order. The other good news is the return of form of Ajinkya Rahane, who kept the MI bowlers at bay in the Qualifier1.
Left-arm seamer Unadkat has been sharp. So is Thakur. The two Indian pacers are relishing their roles as wicket-taking bowlers while wicket-to-wicket bowler Christian is spot on in the middle overs. Such has been the dominance of these players that Pune have not missed the IPL’s costliest player Ben Stokes, who left for England last week. He was their leading performer in the league stage. Surely, Pune who will finish their two-year stint as replacement team, will like to sign off in style.
Mumbai have been having a roller-coaster ride, especially so in the last few matches. But to their credit, they have bounced back strongly. The two-time champions have to find a formula to break the Pune stranglehold. It is a stern Test. But they have players to rise to the occasion. It is the Pandya brothers — Krunal and Hardik — who have been key figures in MI’s scheme of things. They have been enthusiastic as fielders, bowlers and batsmen. The surprise hero is Karn Sharma. MI took a bold gamble by playing this leg spinner ahead of Harbhajan Singh. It paid off and Sharma destroyed Kolkata Knight Riders on Friday.
The batting has been a little inconsistent of late. But skipper Rohit Sharma, Parthiv Patel, Kieron Pollard, local hero Ambati Rayudu would like to make it count in the final. Jasprit Bumrah has been outstanding. They would be hoping that Mitchell McClenaghan would be fit. He is the top wicket-taker in the first six overs.
All in all, a cracker of a contest is on the cards but the wicket is the key for that.