Most expensive players in IPL history set for showdown in final

Pat Cummins's Hyderabad take on Mitchell Starc and Kolkata Knight Riders in title match on Sunday

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Two of the most impressive teams of Indian Premier League 2024 will fight it out for the top prize on Sunday after Sunrisers Hyderabad defeated Rajasthan Royals in the second qualifier on Friday.

Hyderabad thus set up a title showdown with runaway leaders Kolkata Knight Riders in Chennai in what is expected to be an epic clash between two closely matched teams and who also happen to have the two most expensive players in the tournament's history.

Hyderabad captain Pat Cummins is enjoying the time of his life after guiding Australia to the Test and ODI world titles last year before briefly becoming the highest paid IPL player during the auction - bagging a contract worth a whopping $2.5 million.

He was then named captain of the franchise and he has guided his team expertly into the final while maintaining a high standard in bowling by picking up 17 wickets in 15 matches.

Cummins has made particularly efficient use of local talent, getting the best out of Abhishek Sharma, Shahbaz Ahmed and Nitish Reddy both with bat and ball.

On Friday, it was the spin of Ahmed and Sharma that helped

Hyderabad defeat Rajasthan by 36 runs.

Left-arm spinners Ahmed (3-23) and Sharma (2-24) choked Rajasthan to 139-7 in reply to Hyderabad's 175-9.

Ahmed made the biggest difference. After opener Travis Head was out for 34 off 28 balls, Ahmed replaced him as the impact substitute and scored a handy 18 runs.

Then he plunged Rajasthan into deep trouble on a slow pitch when he snared Yashasvi Jaiswal on 42 off 21 and dismissed Riyan Parag and Ravichandran Ashwin in the same over.

Rajasthan was 79-5 in the 12th over, and Sharma finished off the Royals' hopes.

Sharma removed captain Sanju Samson for 10 and came back to bowl Rajasthan impact substitute Shimron Hetmyer for four, while also taking two catches.

Explaining the decision to deploy two left-arm spinners, Cummins said the pitch was gripping and both bowlers made the most of the conditions.

"That was a surprise, tried to stick one out of him (Sharma) with a couple of right-handers and he bowled beautifully and those two won it with their bowling in the middle overs," Cummins said.

Cummins' Australian teammate Mitchell Starc took a different route to the final. The left-arm quick had a lot of pressure of expectations after bagging a record $3 million contract during the auction.

However, he failed miserably for most of the IPL, going at more than 10 an over almost every match. That Kolkata continued their victory march was a testament to their incredible bench strength and form of other bowlers like Varun Chakravarthy, Sunil Narine and Harshit Rana.

Videos of Starc looking disconsolate on the field made the rounds of social media, prompting suggestions that Kolkata might be forced to bench their most expensive player.

But the Aussie quick is a multi-tournament champion and he delivered when it mattered most in the first qualifier when he castled the most destructive batsman of this IPL - Hyderabad's Head - to open the floodgates and seal passage into the final with a lethal spell of 3-34.

Many believe that one ball to Head - breaching through the defence and flattening Head's stumps - alone was worth the $3m contract.

The battle between Cummins and Starc at the MA Chidambaram Stadium on Sunday could well decide the champion of IPL 2024.

Updated: May 25, 2024, 8:42 AM