Mahendra Singh Dhoni wouldn’t mind a ‘Farewell to Remember’ but a young Shubman Gill, oozing grace, would do everything under his control to prevent Chennai Super Kings from beating Gujarat Titans to its fifth IPL title, here on Sunday.
Nearly 19 summers back when a young Dhoni was making his first strides in India blue, a four-year-old Gill was taking stance on a vast farmland in Punjab’s Fazilka village on Pakistan border, with a handmade customised bat, prepared by his doting grandfather.
On Sunday, at the 132,000 seater Narendra Modi Stadium, the soon-to-be 42 Dhoni will have one last assignment in his favourite Canary Yellow jersey — to stop Indian cricket’s megastar-in-waiting and do a ‘High Five’.
Three hundreds and 851 runs don’t happen in every season but on a batting belter at the Motera, what will be Dhoni’s strategy to rein in the ‘Mohali Marauder’? Will it be Deepak Chahar’s swing or Ravindra Jadeja’s wicket-to-wicket bowling? Or will it be Moeen Ali, who could be the ‘Joker in the Pack’ with his enticing flighted deliveries outside the off-stump which could sharply break back. Can Matheesha Pathirana bowl some incisive toe-crushers? A technically near-perfect batter against a captain known for thinking out of the box. It can’t get more exciting than this. His die-hard fans might expect him to come back again next year but even Dhoni, who has played the entire season with a heavily strapped left knee might find it extremely difficult to keep up with the demands of the shortest format.
So for every ‘Thala’ (elder brother in Tamil) fan, its all about savouring the Dhoni moments till it lasts. In this CSK set-up, he could afford to bat at No. 8 in most games but entering the finals with a bowling line-up that missed Deepak Chahar for the better part of fist half and had to turn a profligate Tushar Deshpande into a dependable wicket-taker.
Turning an inconsistent Shivam Dube into a six-hitting bully or overseeing the return of Ravindra Jadeja, the T20 bowler, the legend of Dhoni will never cease to exist. It will only grow and his captaincy stories will also be burnished with coats of myth decades down the line.
They say familiarity breeds contempt but contempt would be the last word in Dhoni and CSK’s mind when they face Hardik Padya’s Titans.
The CSK logo features a ”Roaring Lion” but they would take the team from Land of Gir Forest lightly at their own peril.
After 73 games, the two of the most consistent teams are pitted against each other in the summit clash.
No team has emulated the structural and team building ethos of Chennai Super Kings as minutely as Gujarat Titans, another team, where cricketing decisions are based on sound logic, consistency and no interference from overbearing owners.
There is a skipper in Pandya, who believes that there is only one way to lead the team. It’s called ‘The Mahi Way’.
Batters win matches but bowlers win tournaments is an old saying and it couldn’t be more apt when one tracks Titans’ performance.
Mohammed Shami (28 wickets), Rashid Khan (27 wickets) and Mohit Sharma (24 wickets) have executed plans more often than not and thus it hasnt really effected the Titans that second highest run-scorer after Gill’s 851 runs is skipper Hardik Pandya (325), who is more than 500 runs behind.
Wriddhiman Saha, a keeper-par-excellence, woukd consider himself lucky, that team management never thought of replacing him despite a strike-rate of 127 opening the batting and only one fifty plus score in 16 knocks.
And herein, Dhoni would try to seize the opportunity. If they can get Gill our early, none of the other batters have shown wherewithal to fight hard and bowlers would need a decent total on board.
Under Dhoni, if players like Ajinkya Rahane (299 runs in 13 matches, two fifties) and Shivam Dube have found their groove this season, youngsters bowlers such as Sri Lanka’s Matheesha Pathirana (17 wickets in 15 matches) and India’s uncapped Tushar Deshpande (21 wickets in 15 matches) have also been able to find their feet at the IPL stage. In CSK’s batting line-up, Devon Conway (625 runs in 15 matches, six fifties) and Ruturaj Gaikwad (564 runs in 15 matches, four fifties) have time and again provided CSK with resolute starts at the top.
The big-hitting Dube (386 runs in 15 matches, three fifties) is the second joint-highest six-hitter for CSK in this IPL with 33 sixes, joined by Gill in the list. There are no clear favourites and it could be one of the finest finals in history of IPL.
Teams (from): Gujarat Titans: Hardik Pandya (c), Shubman Gill, David Miller, Abhinav Manohar, Sai Sudharsan, Wriddhiman Saha, Matthew Wade, Rashid Khan, Rahul Tewatia, Vijay Shankar, Mohammed Shami, Alzarri Joseph, Yash Dayal, Pradeep Sangwan, Darshan Nalkande, Jayant Yadav, R. Sai Kishore, Noor Ahmad, Dasun Shanaka, Odean Smith, KS Bharat, Shivam Mavi, Urvil Patel, Joshua Little and Mohit Sharma.
Chennai Super Kings: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (c&wk), Devon Conway, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Ambati Rayudu, Moeen Ali, Ravindra Jadeja, Ajinkya Rahane, Sisanda Magala, Shivam Dube, Dwaine Pretorius, Ajay Mandal, Nishant Sindhu, Rajvardhan Hangargekar, Mitchell Santner, Subhranshu Senapati, Simarjeet Singh, Matheesha Pathirana, Mahesh Theekshana, Bhagath Verma, Prashant Solanki, Shaikh Rasheed, Tushar Deshpande.
Time: 7:30PM IST.