Two legends, but only one perfect finish
Sunday, October 6, 2013
Start time 2000 (1430 GMT)
A chance to see two legends play the T20 format for the last time was one of the things to look forward to at the start of this Champions League, but by some design and because of the quality of cricket played by Rajasthan Royals and Mumbai Indians, the two players have got an opportunity to finish in style. The 2013 Champions League began with the Dravid v Tendulkar show, and it is ending the same way.
Despite being light-years away from their best form, they continue to inspire their respective teams - Rahul Dravid, in an active and visible role as the passionate leader and Tendulkar, as every Mumbai Indians player concedes, for being the guiding light.
Dravid joined the franchise three years ago and has managed to successfully convert Warne's Royals into Rahul's Royals after a topsy-turvy year that brought exhilarating highs and crushing lows. He had said at the start of the tournament that the team was closer because of the spot-fixing crisis they faced and that has shown in their undefeated campaign in this tournament. Their non-flashy players excelled playing a similar non-flashy brand of cricket. Ajinkya Rahane, Shane Watson, Brad Hodge, Stuart Binny and Sanju Samson have collectively stood up to every batting challenge efficiently, but it's their bowling that has surprised most, with inspirational performances from inexperienced players like Pravin Tambe, Rahul Shukla and Vikramjeet Malik.
All that success, however, has come at home - Royals won only three matches outside Jaipur in the IPL this year. Add to that the absence of Hodge from the XI due to the injury he sustained in the semi-final and it appears the Royals have a tough task against a formidable opponent under a new set of conditions.
Mumbai, on the other hand, have already had a chance to get used to the conditions in Delhi after playing their last two matches there. Rohit Sharma, their captain, had said after their semi-final win that it was to their advantage, because one needed time to adjust to the slower and lower pitches at the Kotla.
In the two matches, Mumbai's power-packed batting, apart from a stern test from Sunil Narine, excelled. A lot had to do with the team combination they hit upon midway during the IPL when Ricky Ponting, the then captain, dropped himself and was replaced by an imposing Dwayne Smith. Rohit was handed the captaincy and he relished the role, taking Mumbai to their first IPL title. He now has a chance to make it a double this year. They will be tested by a team that is now synonymous with resilience.
Royals have drafted Sri Lankan wicketkeeper-batsman Kusal Perera and Kerala batsman Sachin Baby into their squad as replacements for Hodge and Shaun Tait, who is also injured.
There are no known injury concerns for Mumbai Indians.
In the spotlight
Pravin Tambe has already played more matches in the Champions League than he played in IPL 2013, and hasn't he been a revelation? Apart from being the second-highest wicket-taker with 10 wickets - one behind Sunil Narine - he has also bowled his 15 overs at a miserly economy of 3.93. Although his best spell - 4 for 15 - was against Lions, Tambe had tremendous impact in the semi-final against Chennai Super Kings. He picked up 3 for 10 against a batting line-up not too dissimilar to Mumbai Indians'. Tambe's form has made spin, which was considered a slight weakness for Royals at the start of the tournament, their trump card. He wasn't a part of the XI that beat Mumbai Indians in the first match of the tournament, so he will pose a fresh challenge.
Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid have collectively scored 102 runs off 121 deliveries in nine innings - statistics that could be damning for any T20 opening batsmen - but given the intangible value they bring to their teams, there is no point analysing those numbers. The result of the match won't matter for most of their fans, nor would their individual contributions, but as the crowds have shown throughout this tournament, they will come and watch their favourites sign off on a cricket field and not off it.
"I am a little superstitious, so I don't like speaking about my own team."
Sachin Tendulkar, on Mumbai Indians' chances in the final
"I haven't talked to Hodge yet, but touch on wood he comes through because we only have four foreign players in the squad and if one gets injured we will be struggling."
Rahul Dravid after the semi-final against Chennai Super Kings
Devashish Fuloria is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo