This would be the fourth time this season that the two teams would be clashing, with Mumbai having won both their league encounters, before Chennai fought back and clinched the first Qualifier which got them a direct entry in the final.
Clearly, Chennai have been the team to beat this season after finishing top of the table in the league stage. Even though Mumbai finished second on the same number of points, but lower net run-rate, they haven’t exuded as much confidence in their performance as Chennai have. CSK had gone on a seven-match unbeaten streak in the tournament and looked invincible at one point, before Mumbai brought them crashing down with a 60-run defeat. Chennai had their revenge in the qualifiers when they inflicted a 48-run loss on their nearest rivals, so it’s all to play for at the Eden on Sunday.
Chennai seem to have found their winning combination which is laden with performers from top to bottom. Their top-order holds two of the leading five run-scorers in the tournament — Michael Hussey (732 runs in 16 matches at 56.31), who currently wears the Orange Cap, and Suresh Raina (548 runs in 17 matches at 45.67). These two southpaws would be key to Chennai’s success and their quest for a third IPL title, given the form they are in. In the qualifier against Mumbai, the duo shared an unbeaten 140-run partnership that all but won them the match as Chennai posted a daunting 192 on the board. So, Mumbai’s primary objective would be trying to figure out a way to get rid of these two.
But the beauty of Chennai’s line-up is that there is always someone who stands up and performs. If Hussey and Raina fail, which is as likely as snowfall in Chennai, then there’s the reliable skipper MS Dhoni, or the miracle man Ravindra Jadeja, or the man with the dancing shoes Dwayne Bravo to take them through. Batting is clearly Chennai’s strength, and if Mumbai can muster up another bowling performance like they did at the Wankhede when they bowled CSK out for a humiliating 79, then more than half their job is done.
Mumbai have a slightly better bowling attack compared to their opponents, comprising Mitchell Johnson, Lasith Malinga and Harbhajan Singh. The former started the tournament brightly and took all the limelight away from Malinga with his economical and penetrating spells, but has slightly faltered in the business end. Nothing would suit Mumbai better than having Johnson back to his viciously swinging ways opening the bowling. Harbhajan has been his usual stingy self and has also chipped in with vital breakthroughs in the middle overs. Malinga, is of course, any captain’s dream in the death overs, but will want to erase the last over he bowled in the second Qualifier against Rajasthan Royals from his mind, when he sent down two howler wide balls down the leg-side.
One dilemma Mumbai do face is in finding the ideal partner for Johnson with the new ball. While Dhawal Kulkarni stands injured and is unlikely to make the cut, Rishi Dhawan (one wicket in five matches) and Munaf Patel (three wickets in four matches) haven’t warranted places in the starting eleven for a match as important as this one. Pawan Suyal is another option, who took one for 21 in the only match he played. Mumbai have been reluctant to open the bowling with Malinga, preferring to use him towards the end of the innings. They might just go in with Munaf since he is the most experienced of the lot.
The fitness of Sachin Tendulkar is another conundrum to the outside world, if not the Mumbai Indians. While there were reports saying that Tendulkar had been ruled out of the tournament with a hand injury, he was seen having a ball bowling in the nets prior to the Rajasthan game. Mumbai could just throw up a surprise Sunday evening with the Little Master. But that would mean benching young Aditya Tare, who has looked impressive and batted with extreme confidence after coming into the side in the latter stages of the tournament.
Mumbai Indians hold the edge in the head-to-head battle between the two teams, having won eight out of 14 meetings. And with Chennai being the latest team to get embroiled in the spot-fixing and betting saga, MI couldn’t find a better time to make that nine out of 15. But that would mean underestimating a team that has made five IPL finals in six years, led by a man who is known to be one of the coolest characters around in cricket, which would be a rather foolish thing to do.
Chennai Super Kings (Probable): Michael Hussey, Murali Vijay, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni (c&wk), Subramaniam Badrinath, Dwayne Bravo, Ravindra Jadeja, Albie Morkel, Chris Morris, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohit Sharma.
(Jaideep Vaidya is a multiple sports buff and a writer at CricketCountry. He has a B.E. in Electronics Engineering, but that isn’t fooling anybody. He started writing on sports during his engineering course and fell in love with it. The best day of his life came on April 24, 1998, when he witnessed birthday boy Sachin Tendulkar pummel a Shane Warne-speared Aussie attack from the stands during the Sharjah Cup Final. A diehard Manchester United fan, you can follow him on Twitter @jaideepvaidya. He also writes a sports blog - The Mullygrubber )