IPL7 final is the cliche battle of equals as Kolkata and Punjab face off
After 46 days and 59 matches, in what has been termed as the most exciting campaign in the Indian Premier League, two of the best teams will fight for the crown in its seventh year.
Kolkata Knight Riders and Kings Xi Punjab will go in a final frenetic three-hour burst for a battle of skill and ability, of nerve and character, of hunger and desire, of want and ambition.
Kolkata began like one of the many trams in the eastern metropolis before gathering steam, stringing together an incredible run of eight straight wins, the last of which catapulted them into the title round and has left them within one win of becoming the only team apart from Chennai Super Kings to repeat as IPL champions.
In a competition full of explosive batting talent, Punjab have easily managed to establish themselves as the first among equals, and that is no mean feat.
They started off as a one-man army, but even with Glenn Maxwell understandably cooling off, they have lost none of their destructive powers, not with Virender Sehwag rolling the years back and David Miller batting with the sustained fluency that made him one of two players Punjab retained in the lead-up to the February auctions.
Punjab’s annihilation this season of Chennai, easily the most consistent team in IPL history, has made for exhilarating viewing. In each of the three contests between the teams in IPL 7, Punjab have topped 200; Friday’s 24-run win in Qualifier 2 was breathtakingly effervescent.
Sehwag, stringing together beautiful 30s until his explosive hundred on Friday, has a new-found chemistry with Manan Vohra at the base of the batting tree, from which Maxwell, Miller, captain George Bailey and Wriddhiman Saha have been able to bloom.
Akshar Patel, outstanding with the ball, too has been a quiet performer with the bat, somewhat flying under the radar as the big boys have played the glory innings.
In Kolkata, though, Punjab will run into the strongest bowling line-up of the competition. Kolkata’s batting has been massively reliant on Robin Uthappa, even if Gautam Gambhir, the captain, Manish Pandey, Yusuf Pathan and Shakib Al Hasan have all had their moments.
But their bowling has largely shared the riches with Sunil Narine, not unexpectedly, the most potent weapon. Had Gambhir himself not been responsible for procuring the services of the Trinidadian, it could have been said that the captain was fortunate to be able to fall back on the services of Twenty20 cricket’s most feared wicket-taker.
Narine has come in at various stages of an innings and invariably delivered every single time – both through penetration and economy. He is the undisputed leader of the bowling pack, but around him is a bunch of exceptionally driven and gifted individuals who would have been stars in their own right had they not to operate in Narine’s shadow.
Morne Morkel, Umesh Yadav, Shakib and Piyush Chawla have been effective in their own way. Between them, Kolkata’s five specialist bowlers have picked up 65 wickets. No surprise, then, that there is a quiet confidence within the ranks that no matter what total their batsmen put up, they have the resources to successfully defend that score.
Kolkata have also refrained from chopping and changing their side too much over the last several matches. They have had to make only the odd tactical change, perhaps R Vinay Kumar for Chawla if they felt a medium-pacer was better suited to the conditions than a spinner.
They also have had the courage and conviction to leave out Jacques Kallis, and it is a sign of their depth that they have not missed his all-round skills.
Uthappa’s wondrous run at the top of the tree – ten successive scores of 40 or more is perhaps the equivalent of ten straight tons in the 50-over game – has lent their batting the confidence and the cutting edge while collectively, the bowlers have taken even part-time options out of the equation.
If Punjab are wary of the Kolkata threat, notwithstanding their own varied riches, it is with good reason. Kolkata have won two of three matches between the sides this season, and several members of the squad have had the experience of a winner’s medal around their necks.
First-time finalists Punjab are in uncharted territory. While that can trigger stage fright, it could also instil nervelessness by the same token.
It has been a perfect ending scripted for the two franchises owned by Bollywood stars.
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Published: May 31, 2014 04:00 AM