In so many ways, this is the final IPL 2020 deserved. The teams that finished first and second after a grueling 56-match league stage fighting it out in a no-holds-barred contest for top honours lends a certain romanticism that can only be matched by the sterling march of the underdog. This hasn’t been the year of the underdog; come to think of it, no one knows quite what this year has been.
Just as not every one quite knows what to make of Delhi Capitals. Young, vibrant, energetic and exuberant, they sped off the blocks as if tackling a middling 1500-metre run, not a 42.14-kilometre marathon. Predictably, after a rip-roaring start to their campaign, the wheels started to come off a little, though they have managed, just about, to keep their heads above the water in the last fortnight.
Shreyas Iyer will have the unenviable task of trying to fell the awe-inspiring Mumbai Indians if the Capitals are to script a fairytale finish. Until Sunday night, the Delhi team was the only one of the eight original franchises never to make the IPL final. That monkey off the back courtesy their 17-run defeat of Sunrisers Hyderabad in Qualifier 2, the Capitals will seek to draw inspiration from history.
There has been a brand new winner every time the IPL has been staged in a leap year. There had to be a first-time champ, of course, in the inaugural edition in 2008, Rajasthan Royals ripping reputations to shreds while flying high on the Shane Warne-catalysed adrenaline surge. Four years on, in 2012, Kolkata Knight Riders clinched their maiden title while in 2016, the Sunrisers annexed the trophy for the first – and thus far only – time when they got the better of Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Admittedly, it is a reasonable stretch when one starts seeking recourse in mystical coincidences, but then again, so intimidating is the aura surrounding the Mumbai Indians that you can’t be faulted for seeking every slice of encouragement, however tenuous.
Where the Capitals have blown hot and cold, Rohit Sharma’s men have been imperious, majestic, seldom troubled, barely stretched. They did lose five matches in the league stage, but were never seriously threatened in their charge towards the top-two. Most times, their battles were internal rather than against oppositions. Their challenges were to guard against complacency, against allowing intensity to drop once they had secured qualification. They did keel over without a fight in their last league fixture when the Sunrisers hammered them by 10 wickets, but just how stung they were by that result was clear two nights later.
Having overcome Royal Challengers and sneaked into the second position, the Capitals might have felt they could go toe-to-toe with the four-time champions in Qualifier 1. Mumbai had other ideas. Ruthlessly aggressive and refusing to relax even when they had battered their opponents into submission, they steamrolled the Delhi unit in capital style.
It was hard sometimes to believe this was a contest — a no-contest, really — between the two top-ranked sides. Mumbai were relentless in hunting down their prey, first with the bat, then with the ball. There are other sides with comparable top-fours or near-equal new-ball attacks; where Mumbai tower head and shoulders above all the rest is in the depth at their disposal. Their batting doesn’t stutter from No. 5 downwards. If anything, that’s when the real carnage starts.
As regal as Rohit, Quinton de Kock, Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan have been, the decisive blows have been rained by Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya, with Krunal Pandya an equally destructive non-regular accomplice. It’s in the swift brazenness with which they transition from the hunted to the hunter that they take one’s breath away. At 120 for four after 16 overs, most will settle for 160. Mumbai have topped that by some distance times without number, Hardik a particularly unforgiving punisher of errors under extreme pressure from otherwise high-class bowlers reduced to nervous wrecks.
Then, their own high-class bowlers go to work. It’s a shame Jasprit Bumrah and Trent Boult will never play in the same international side; that would have been a sight for the gods. The affable Kiwi swing-king and the soft-spoken Indian magician have been the most compelling of the pace attacks in the competition, though the Capitals’ all-South African pairing of Purple Cap holder Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje might have something to say about that.
The Capitals bore the brunt of the Bumrah-Bolt bonhomie in Qualifier 1. Needing 201 to reach the final at the first time of asking, they lost their top-three within the first eight deliveries without a run on the board. 0 for 3 in 1.2 overs. It was a mini-miracle that the final margin of defeat was only 57 runs.
The Capitals don’t have happy memories against the Mumbai Indians this year. Like beaten finalists Chennai Super Kings last year, they have lost all three head-to-heads heading into the final, and by fairly substantial margins. Admittedly, the past doesn’t count for a great deal beyond feel-good which, truth be told, doesn’t exactly chart the outcome of matches. That being said, it is impossible that Delhi won’t experience slight chills when they hark back on what has been; in a game where so much can be dictated by what happens between the ears, any advertisement of mental hesitancy is as ill-advised as inviting a bull into a china shop.
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Mumbai aren’t invincible. The Capitals are no slouches, either. They have not just the Purple Cup owner currently but also the only man to have scored hundreds in successive IPL matches. Shikhar Dhawan’s nonchalance is exactly what Delhi need in their bid to rewrite history. They need to believe they are good enough for Rohit’s seasoned warriors, they must convince themselves that they deserve to be the champions. They have the ingredients; whether they will be able to whip up a sumptuous feast remains to be seen.