The culmination of what has been an enthralling season of Twenty20 (T20) cricket, which began in January, is finally upon us. The IPL 2016 final is here and will be contested by Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) and Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH), two teams which weren’t given much of a chance at the start of the season but have played some exceptional cricket to reach the final. The Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore will stage the final after the Indian Premier League (IPL) games were moved out of Maharashtra due to drought and therefore, the venue for the final also had to be shifted from the Wankhede Stadium – where the IPL 2016 final was originally set to be played, as the home of the defending champions – to the Chinnaswamy.
It has just been a season of the underdogs, hasn’t it, with Leicester City going on to clinch the English Premier League (EPL) title and now this, a tussle between two underdogs in the “Indian version” of the Premier League? Some would say that West Indies securing their second World T20 title was also an underdog story, but such a perception would be wrong – as the men from the Caribbean are a world class outfit in the shortest format of the game and have many a match-winner in their side, importantly.
Coming back to RCB v SRH, though, at the Chinnaswamy Stadium tomorrow night, it’s just too close a battle to call. This article discusses the factors that make the IPL 2016 final an even contest.
The obtrusive aspect about tomorrow’s final is that both the finalists are in form and, as aforementioned, have got to this stage by playing a wonderful brand of cricket with a winning formula.
RCB, at the 10-game mark, had just four wins to their name and I have to admit that I didn’t fancy them to even reach the IPL 2016 playoffs, let alone this far to the final. Virat Kohli and company have been reliant on their star-studded batting line-up for much of this season, but, over the last couple of games, the RCB bowlers have raised their game by a notch too, making them much more of an all-round side heading into the final. Yuzvendra Chahal, one of the new faces in the Indian side for their tour of Zimbabwe in June, has been a consistently good performer with the ball for the Royal Challengers, and will have a big role to play on Sunday night too.
Coming to SRH, the Hyderabadi franchise has relied quite heavily on David Warner, their skipper, who was absolutely instrumental, once again, in his side beating Gujarat Lions (GL) in Qualifier 2 and reaching their first-ever final. Contrary to RCB, though, SRH’s bowling attack has been by far the most lethal of this IPL season. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the Purple Cap holder with 23 wickets, has been a bowler reborn, rediscovering his innate ability to swing the ball in the air and off the pitch and upping his pace by a couple of bars too. He has also been ably supported by Mustafizur Rahman, the Bangladeshi bowling revelation who continues to befuddle batsmen with his big box of tricks, and Barinder Sran.
Another obtrusive facet of tomorrow’s final is the number of big-hitters in both the sides. You can almost create a big-hitters XI if you combine the following players together: AB de Villiers, Yuvraj Singh, D Warner, Shane Watson, Chris Gayle – and there’s no reason to suggest that Kohli shouldn’t be a part of the pack, while Deepak Hooda too, the 4.2 crore rupee purchase in the February auctions, is a batsman well capable of clearing the fence. And, needless to say, this bunch of batsmen will be playing at one of the smallest venues in India, the Chinnaswamy, where the value for mis-hits, in itself, is extremely high. So, we could be in for a really high-scoring final, as was the case when Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) won their second IPL title in 2014 at this very venue, by beating Kings XI Punjab (KXIP). Having been set a target of 200 to become the champions of India for the second time in their history, Gautam Gambhir and company went ahead and did the needful, as if it was just another game. I wouldn’t be surprised if tomorrow’s RCB v SRH final follows a similar paradigm.
Tomorrow’s final will not be the first for Bangalore, unlike for Hyderabad, but the nerves could play a part in both the camps. RCB are in an IPL final for the first time since 2011, when they lost to Chennai Super Kings (CSK) at the MA Chidambaram Stadium. So, from their point of view, not only are they playing in a final after a long time, but also with the pressure of having not yet won an IPL title despite the kind of squads they’ve had year after year. As for Sunrisers, they have been the Leicester of the IPL: proving everyone wrong game after game and harnessing the resources at their disposal. But there will still be those who won’t give Sunrisers a chance against RCB tomorrow night. SRH too, like the Royal Challengers, will feel the pressure since they are in their first-ever IPL final.
As the headline states, the IPL 2016 final is just too close to call, as it is not only a battle of two underdogs but it is also one featuring two teams that have quite a lot of similarities between them. My gut feeling is that the team which bowls better will go on and become the champions of the ninth edition of the IPL, simply because the batsmen from both teams have got so much in their favour.