What bills today’s CSK-Mumbai clash as IPL’s El Clasico

CSK and Mumbai Indians will meet in the IPL for their 27th game and fourth final at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad on Sunday. Photo: PTI

When experienced campaigners Shane Watson (50 off 32) and Faf du Plessis (50 off 39) took Chennai Super Kings to their eighth IPL final in 10 years, cricket lovers — minus CSK loyalists — were disappointed. You see, nobody enjoys a routine life of eat, sleep, work, repeat. Similarly, cricket fans are exhausted of a routine IPL of eat, sleep, CSK in finals, repeat.

Fans of the game wanted a new finalist this time around, and in perennial underachievers Delhi Capitals, they had almost found one. Eleven cricketers from Delhi’s 15-men squad are below 24 years of age. Six of those are below 22. Their captain Shreyas Iyer is the youngest to lead in an IPL playoff. Nobody had given them a chance to the trophy when the tournament started. And yet, here they were – a young team fighting it out with oldies and the over-achievers of the IPL in the second qualifier match. Chennai’s six-wicket win over Delhi won the hearts of the ‘Yellow Brigade’, but broke those of neutral cricket fans. However, on the positive side, the game also gave a consolidation to all the partisan viewers – yet another EL Clasico in an IPL final.

A mouth-watering end to IPL 12

CSK and Mumbai Indians will meet in the IPL for their 27th game and fourth final at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad on Sunday (May 12). The square-off between these two teams boasts of the maximum viewership in the T20 extravaganza. But what bills this clash as the ‘El Clasico’ of the IPL?

No two teams in the league have had more number of clashes than Mumbai and Chennai (26). This, despite Chennai serving a two-year suspension in 2016 and 2017. These are the only two teams to have faced each other thrice in the finals. And to add to the interesting stats, no other team has broken the Chennai juggernaut more number of times than Mumbai, and this 9-year-old story repeatedly itself this season as well.

In IPL 12, Chennai have played 14 games, losing only five. Of those five, three losses came against Mumbai. Out of those three losses, two came at the Chepauk where the only team Chennai has lost to this season is Mumbai. The ‘blue army’ has conquered the Chepauk fortress every year for the past six years.

Beyond stats and match results, what equates this rivalry to India vs Pakistan of international cricket is that the two teams have produced some of the best performances and exciting finishes.

Roll back to 2012, when Mumbai asserted themselves as a force to reckon with against Chennai, and erased memories of the 2010 final in which MS Dhoni’s team beat Ricky Ponting’s team by 22 runs.

Mumbai’s resurgence against Chennai began in one of the league games, which the hosts won by 2 wickets at the Wankhede Stadium.

Sixteen runs were needed off the last over, and four off the last delivery. A six and two fours in the last three balls from Dwayne Smith sealed the deal for Mumbai and began a rivalry now cherished across the world.

Not to forget, the rivalry also owes equal shares to Sachin Tendulkar – Mumbai’s mentor, and MS Dhoni – Chennai’s captain. The respective fans of the two cornerstones of Indian cricket have given this clash a new meaning.

Marquee players to watch out for in the final

The two teams boast of world-class cricketers in their ranks, who do not give an inch to the opposition. Here is one player from each side who is likely to fire on all cylinders.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni: The most successful captain in the history of IPL, MS Dhoni has been CSK’s biggest icon since the inaugural edition. The wicketkeeper batsman missed two games this season, both of which CSK not just lost but were thrashed in. The entire CSK outfit looked in disarray in Dhoni’s absence, and that explains how crucial the three-time IPL trophy winning captain is to the Sunday blockbuster. With 414 runs in 12 games, Dhoni has been Chennai’s most responsible batsman this season, and he just might have saved his best knock for the final.

Hardik Pandya: In terms of performance, this season has been the best in the all-rounder’s IPL career. His double-edged sword has won Mumbai most of their games this year – 14 wickets with the ball and 393 runs with the bat. The younger of the Pandya brothers, Hardik has been as crucial to Mumbai in the death overs as teammate Jasprit Bumrah. Mumbai have several reliable batsmen in their ranks, but if there is one man who can change the equation of the game, it is this one.

Who will march ‘fourth’ to the silverware?

Both the teams have won three IPL titles each, which is the joint-most by any team. The winning team on Sunday will thus create history by becoming the first IPL team with four trophies.

Talking about Mumbai’s journey this season, they finished the group stage as table toppers with 18 points, before stealing a direct entry to the finals from Chennai. Much like every year, Mumbai peaked at the second-half of the tournament, having started slowly. Dhoni’s troop, on the other hand, have mostly stuttered due to the loopholes in their batting department.

Chennai have the world’s best limited-overs skipper at their helm, but Mumbai have a team which looks much more balanced on paper. All of their batsmen are in fine form. The pace and spin department has done equally well and the fielding has been extraordinary. If there is one team which can win matches only with its fielding, it is Mumbai.

If CSK are to once again shrink into a four-man team – Dhoni, Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir and Deepak Chahar, Mumbai will be the firm favourites in the contest. Regardless of the end result, the high-octane clash will be a perfect end to India’s favourite franchise cricket tournament.