At least Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings let everyone else think they had a chance this year. Briefly.
But then, at the end of it all, it is the competition’s two most successful franchises who are left duking it out for the trophy in Hyderabad on Sunday night. As ever.
Rohit Sharma versus MS Dhoni. Again. Shane Watson and Faf du Plessis, opening in the final. Again. Kieron Pollard and Lasith Malinga, still going strong.
CSK are bidding to retain their title. Mumbai seek to regain the crown they won the previous year. Who is best placed to deliver?
It is difficult to argue against this being the meeting of the IPL’s two great super powers.
This will be the fourth time in the 12 seasons of IPL to date that these two sides have met in the final. In 2010, CSK beat Mumbai by 22 runs to win the first of their three IPL titles.
The Mumbai franchise avenged that in both 2013 and 2015. They have one other title besides – in 2017 against a Rising Pune Supergiant side containing many of the players who needed to find a new team while CSK were suspended.
Even allowing for that two-year ban, CSK’s IPL record is extraordinary. They have never finished lower than fourth, and this will be their eighth final.
Growing old gracefully
“You don’t win anything with kids” is an adage that has famously been disproved many times over. But, in IPL cricket, a bit of maturity certainly does seem to help.
In their starting XI for the final eliminator against Delhi Capitals, CSK had just two players in their 20s – Shardul Thakur, 27, and Deepak Chahar, 26. Everyone else is in their 30s, apart from leg-spinner Imran Tahir, who is 40.
Their average age was 33 and a half. Their opposition’s was just over 26. Which might go some way to explaining why Delhi betrayed nerves with the bat, and even in the field – evidenced by Colin Munro’s comical botched run out at the start of the run-chase, and Keemo Paul’s errant start with the ball.
The average age of Mumbai’s likely starting XI in the final will be 27. So, using this theory as a rough guide, advantage CSK.
Mumbai’s recent dominance
The sides finished in the top two places in the league table, with identical records of won nine, lost five – as, incidentally, did Delhi.
Difficult to split from that regard, then – but less so in terms of head-to-head matches.
Mumbai have won all three of the fixtures between the sides this year, and the margins of victory have been comfortable – 46 runs and 37 runs in the regular season matches, and six wickets in the qualifier final.
The usual suspects have starred. Rohit was man of the match for his innings of 67 in one of the league wins, while Malinga took seven wickets in the course of the two regular season games.
But a previously little-celebrated talent has also proven the difference. Suryakumar Yadav, who has been keeping Yuvraj Singh on the bench for Mumbai, has scored 71 not out and 59 against CSK already this season.
The importance of Faf
South Africa’s players might have overstayed their welcome at the IPL, as far as their national coach Otis Gibson is concerned.
Gibson is said to have wanted players such as Proteas captain Faf du Plessis and Mumbai opener Quinton de Kock back from India sooner, to focus on World Cup prep.
But CSK, in particular, could not be without their man. Since the IPL has reached its business stage, Du Plessis has really found form.
He made 96 at the top of the order in the final league match against Kings XI Punjab, before making the crucial half-century that quelled the challenge of Delhi in the eliminator final.
Hardik Pandya is not everybody’s cup of chai. But, despite the adverse publicity the Mumbai all-rounder has attracted in recent times, he has hardly shied away from the limelight in this competition.
Quite the opposite. His form has been little short of outstanding, and he trails only Kolkata Knight Riders’ Andre Russell in the official Most Valuable Player ratings.
While he might be the outstanding player in that list playing in the final, CSK have eight of numbers. There are three players in the top seven of the MVP list – Chahar, Tahir and Ravindra Jadeja.