It’s the IPL 2018 final tonight, and going head to head are Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings and Kane Williamson’s Sunrisers Hyderabad.
As such, there’s very little to separate the two teams. Both finished the group stage with nine wins in 14 games, but Hyderabad finished on top with a better net run rate. They were the first to make the grade for the play-offs, with Chennai following them there. But Chennai then became the first to enter the final, after beating Hyderabad in Qualifier 1.
Even Stevens there, but Chennai have an edge, and that’s because they have won each of their three fixtures against Hyderabad so far – by four runs, by eight wickets and, in the qualifier, by two wickets.
All of them were close encounters, but Chennai also found a little something extra in their ranks to pull through, like Faf du Plessis in the last game. Chasing 140 for victory, Chennai were languishing at 62-6 and then 113-8 when du Plessis, playing just his fifth game of the season, scored an unbeaten 67 to see his team home.
“I think we can all recall the last game we played. We could have won that game by 20 runs or lost it as we did. It was a remarkable comeback from CSK. I guess we got 90 per cent of that game right and Faf played a remarkable innings and showed his class and experience to be able to see it right to the end,” said Tom Moody, the Hyderabad coach, on the eve of the final.
“You know, I’m not looking at areas that we need to tighten up. We just need to concentrate on our brand of cricket and make sure we bring that to the final tomorrow. And as long as we do that, I’m sure we’ll be competitive on the day.”
From Chennai’s point of view, it’s been a remarkable comeback to the IPL. They were banned for two years following an investigation into spot fixing, and then ended up with an ageing side at the 2018 auction – ten of their players are over 30.
“Experience really counts but it’s not that it always matters,” explained Dhoni before the final. “It’s not something that can be replaced. The good thing is we have managed with them very well, we have got quite a few good fielders in the side. It is good that whenever we have played we have had at least two good fielders or outstanding fielders that can man that deep mid-wicket position. We have done well so far but it is something that can hurt us at any time.
“The age-group of the boys was definitely a concern as we had to keep them fit because of the frequency of the games. You have to manoeuvre your resources and you have to look at the bigger picture, to make sure that when we come to the business end of the tournament, our best XI is available. This year we have been able to do that, yet we did have some injury concerns.”
One man who will concern Chennai is Rashid Khan. The Afghanistan leg-spinner has been one of the stars of the tournament with 21 wickets against his name, and put in a grand all-round display in Qualifier 2 against Kolkata Knight Riders, slamming a 10-ball 34* and then returning 3-19.
“Obviously, left-hand, right-hand batsmen and having the ability to take it away from both of those players on surfaces that offer a little bit of turn is definitely an asset to have. We are very fortunate to have Rashid Khan in our team. He’s been outstanding throughout the whole campaign and hopefully tomorrow night he can do it all over again,” said Williamson.
Hyderabad are not just about Khan, though, and as Stephen Fleming, the Chennai coach, pointed out, “the load has been shared” at Chennai as well. Dhoni’s team have the edge, because of their 3-0 score in the tournament, but Hyderabad have the firepower, in all the departments, to make a match of this one.