Mystery man Sunil Narine could hold the key to this duel
Chennai Super Kings is staring at a spectacular hat-trick in the Indian Premier League, while Kolkata Knight Riders eyes a maiden title triumph. The contenders will not be lacking in ambition.
The mercury levels are rising in these parts, so are the cricketing temperatures. Will one of the teams wilt in the heat of the battle?
The stage is big, so are the stakes.
The summit clash of IPL-V at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium on Sunday should witness two mighty sides storming into each other. While power is an essential element in the T20 format, the final could be an intriguing duel of strategy.
The inspirational Mahendra Singh Dhoni has not just muscled the opposition bowling in the play-offs, but his instinct-driven leadership has lifted CSK into the competition's business-end. As the contest hots up, an unruffled Dhoni keeps his finger on the pulse of the game.
And the tactical sophistication in Gautam Gambhir's captaincy is hard to miss. The way he has managed the overs — getting the most out of his two pacemen and shuffling the three spinners around shrewdly — has been among the highlights of this edition.
Gambhir's field placements and his ability to block the strong scoring areas of each batsman reflect a cricketing mind that ticks. However, the Knight Riders captain has a problem on his hands ahead of the big final.
With crafty paceman Lakshmipathy Balaji unlikely to take the field because of a hamstring pull, Gambhir has a crucial selection issue on hand. Finding a domestic paceman to fill Balaji's shoes can be hard and if Gambhir brings back Brett Lee, he might then have to drop another overseas player in left-arm spinning all-rounder Shakib al-Hassan.
Not having Shakib could hurt the Knight Riders — he not only adds weight to the middle-order, but can turn the new ball away from the dangerous and in-form right-hander Murali Vijay.
If Lee indeed plays, then another left-arm bowler Iqbal Abdullah might team-up with Sunil Narine in a two-man spin attack along with Yusuf Pathan's off-spinners as back-up. For now, Gambhir would be hoping for a miraculous recovery from Balaji.
Narine could hold the key to this duel. The batsmen have been unable to pick the ball delivered from a high-arm action. Listed as an off-spinner, Narine turns the ball big both ways, achieves bounce and operates stump-to-stump.
This frugal bowler's wicket-taking skills make him a clear and present danger for CSK. This will be a game where someone from the Chennai side might have to go after Narine early on and knock him off rhythm. If this is achieved, it will be a huge psychological blow for the Kolkata side; Narine is the nerve-centre of its game-plan.
Depth and firepower
CSK has the depth and firepower in its batting to stretch the Knight Riders. Vijay is finding the gaps and crossing the ropes even as he brush-strokes the canvas. He is now high on confidence and low on sympathy for the bowlers.
Michael Hussey, with his experience, technical attributes, innovative skills and the ability to provide stability during crisis, might be a defining factor.
Suresh Raina — he is due a big one — Dhoni, Dwayne Bravo and Albie Morkel can deliver the big blows and alter the tempo of the game. Bravo, in particular, has been dancing to the rhythm of the Calypso. In the event of an early collapse, the dependable S. Badrinath can steady things. CSK has the bases covered.
Swing bowler Ben Hilfenhaus might fancy his chances against explosive opener Brendon McCullum. Yet, if provided the slightest of width, the Kiwi could dismiss the ball ruthlessly.
R. Ashwin leads CSK's spin pack. He would have to cope with the fleet-footed Gambhir — he converts the length admirably — who is among the finest players of spin in world cricket.
Big name players
The match will feature plenty of heavy-weight names. None more than Jacques Kallis whose classical batsmanship could be priceless in such a game. The big man is all heart and commitment, with his ability to hustle batsmen with well-directed short-pitched stuff.
And let's not forget Yusuf Pathan's influence; the big-hitter appears to be rediscovering his timing and range following a barren run. An impact player, he certainly is.
Even lesser names such as the combative Rajat Bhatia — he is accurate and denies the batsmen pace — could make a difference.
The surface should assist the spinners as the match wears on. Batting first should be a better idea, as pursuing a target could be hazardous amid the pressures of a cup final.