Chennai's batsmen against Bangalore's discipline
The teams couldn't be more different, and their journey to the semi-final illustrates that. If Royal Challengers Bangalore, under Anil Kumble, are playing as a team with the seniors and youngsters performing as a unit, Chennai have depended on individual performances to fuel them. Chances are that in the season-end IPL XI, only Anil Kumble will make it from Bangalore while Chennai will provide Matthew Hayden and Suresh Raina, with MS Dhoni missing out only because of Adam Gilchrist. It's a contest between Chennai's flair v Bangalore's old-age resilience. Chennai's batsmen v Bangalore's discipline.
It's also a battle between two captains. The moment of Bangalore's campaign came when Anil Kumble was asked about his rather aggressive fist-pumping celebration after dismissing Yuvraj Singh in a tight game. "You have to do it; else they will say you are too old for Twenty20!" It captured Kumble's personality perfectly; perhaps it has rubbed on to the team, largely comprising the same non-performing and "aged" Test-stars from last year.
Bangalore's transformation has been one of the great stories of this IPL. Perhaps, like Deccan Chargers, their dismal performance last season hurt them deeply. Under Kumble, Bangalore have performed united, almost above themselves. Their bowling, barring Kumble, is not going to cause sleepless nights to any batsmen. Their batting doesn't seem to have the X-factor to post or chase big totals. Yet they are where they are now. The seniors led the way and the youngsters have begun to follow them.
The moment that highlighted Chennai's problem came a couple of games ago when Dhoni admitted to being irritated and angry at his bowlers and fielders. Even earlier in the tournament he spoke about the need to improve. But the bowlers have repeatedly let him down, till the crucial game against Rajasthan which saw them through to the semi-finals. The uber-cool Dhoni has become a bit edgy. He has talked about how he is losing his temper as he is finding it difficult to grab the attention of the fielders manning the boundaries. Kumble has been his old fierce self. The good thing for both is that the players respect them and don't take criticism in the wrong way.
Bangalore's turnaround has been spectacular. What has caught the eye is that the lesser- known players have also started to pitch in with vital contributions. Everyone has had their moment under the sun. Many of them have produced the best performances of their careers in this IPL. R Vinay Kumar bowled two of his best deliveries to remove Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly. Manish Pandey had his best outing with the bat in the last game. And even greats like Jacques Kallis and Rahul Dravid have quashed the perception that they won't shine in this Twenty20 format. Even Kumble, by his own admission, struggled last year. Ross Taylor has started to finally come good with three quality innings. Virat Kohli hasn't been consistent but has had couple of good outings. Robin Uthappa has been a disappointment, though, with only one good knock so far. That has hurt Bangalore as he could have provided the fire-power with the bat to take them to big totals, which they have managed only once.
Chennai's problems have been with the ball. Dhoni has preferred allrounders like Jacob Oram and Albie Morkel rather than specialist bowlers but both have struggled to come good. The top batsmen, however, have all come out firing in the tournament. And Raina has also proved to be more than a handful with his offspin.
The prediction? Either Chennai will have a one-sided victory with Hayden, Raina and Co firing on all cylinders or Bangalore will scrape a hard-fought win.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo