Sunday, May 26
Start time 2000 (1430 GMT)
The IPL final takes place in Kolkata on Sunday, but all the news surrounding the tournament is about events off the field. As Indian cricket and its fans grapple with the dismaying allegations of the past week, the old Apartheid-era slogan - No normal sport in an abnormal society - comes to mind. However, despite the formal charges of corruption against top Super Kings official Gurunath Meiyappan, the 2013 season will reach its scheduled end, when Chennai Super Kings play their fifth IPL final in six seasons, against Mumbai Indians at Eden Gardens. An assertion of the game being bigger than the individuals that comprise it, no matter how abnormal the environs.
Super Kings have had an outstanding season, finishing top of the league with 11 wins out of 16 games, and blazed through the first qualifier to seal their finals berth. They are the only team to have won more games than they lost away from home this season; they have the tournament's highest run-scorer and joint top wicket-taker. Their fielders have set standards not matched by most competitors. They have been the IPL's most formidable franchise since its inception, and have the opportunity to enhance that reputation by winning a third title. To do that, however, not only do MS Dhoni's men have to deal with, and overcome the turmoil caused by Meiyappan's arrest, but they also have to deal with a tough opponent.
Mumbai Indians. Their habit of buying the flavours of the season, and of tinkering constantly with their line-up, produced largely disappointing results in IPLs past. This season began the same way, but they took tough decisions - dropping Ricky Ponting and appointing Rohit Sharma as captain - and hit upon a balanced and successful combination earlier than usual. They delighted their home crowds by winning all eight matches at the Wankhede Stadium, but the final is at a neutral venue, and they lost five league games away from home. They are the best franchise to never win the IPL, but that accolade is a slight to the millions that have gone into making the team.
Form guide(completed matches, most recent first)
Chennai Super Kings WLWLW
Mumbai Indians WLLWW
Watch out for
The Eden Gardens crowd
. They are famously passionate. They've disrupted
international matches because they were displeased, they've booed
the Indian team because they felt Sourav Ganguly was ill-treated, and they've created the most electric
atmospheres in famous Indian victories. How will they react to the allegations and charges of corruption in the IPL? Will they just not turn up? Will they arrive in tens of thousands and make their disappointment heard? Or will they remain indifferent and cheer as though nothing has happened?
A clash of tactics. The Super Kings bat extremely deep, deeper than is really necessary in Twenty20cricket. Yet they prefer to bat watchfully for the first ten overs, before going mental in the next ten. The strategy may seem ridiculously conservative, but it rarely fails them. Their bowling attack is far from being the best in the league, but there is no obvious weak link, and they use the advantage of a usually daunting target to defend to tremendous effect. Mumbai Indians play to a different plan. Their batting order is short - it ends at No. 6. Only four of those are tested match-winners, compared to Super Kings' seven, and Mumbai have relied on those four to get the job done. Their bowling attack, however, is power packed and should Mitchell Johnson, Lasith Malinga and Harbhajan Singh have good days, they could neutralise CSK's guns.
Unless Sachin Tendulkar has recovered from his arm injury, Mumbai have little reason to change the combination that beat Royals in the qualifier. Mumbai coach John Wright said Tendulkar was unlikely to play. Pragyan Ojha, however, could also be in doubt after the left-arm spinner hurt his shoulder while diving during the first innings on Friday and had to leave the field.
Mumbai Indians: 1 Aditya Tare, 2 Dwayne Smith, 3 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 4 Rohit Sharma (capt), 5 Kieron Pollard, 6 Ambati Rayudu, 7 Harbhajan Singh, 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Rishi Dhawan, 10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Pragyan Ojha/Munaf Patel.
Barring any last-minute fitness problems, the Super Kings should also field the same team that beat Mumbai in the first qualifier in Delhi.
Chennai Super Kings: 1 M Vijay, 2 Michael Hussey, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 5 S Badrinath, 6 Ravindra Jadeja, 7 Dwayne Bravo, 8 Albie Morkel, 9 Chris Morris, 10 R Ashwin, 11 Mohit Sharma.
Pitch and conditions
Contrary to the pitches used during the league stage at Eden Gardens, the surface for the qualifier between Mumbai and Rajasthan Royals was excellent for batting. And the outfield, despite it being damp from rain, was quick. The weather forecast for Kolkata on Sunday is predominantly cloudy with a chance of showers. It is unlikely that the weather will force a washout, though, and even if it does, there is a reserve day for the final on the following day.
Stats and trivia
- The head-to-head record between the two teams this season is 2-1 in Mumbai's favour. They won in Chennai and at the Wankhede, but lost the first qualifier in Delhi.
- Mumbai have an outstanding record at Eden Gardens, winning five out of the six games they've played there. Super Kings' record isn't shabby either, with four wins in five games.
- The Super Kings' top order has a superb record in IPL finals: Suresh Raina averages 60 and strikes at 168, M Vijay averages 54 and strikes at 158, and Michael Hussey's stats are 58.50 and 133.
- Mumbai have not had any stand-out batsmen against the Super Kings. Rohit Sharma has the best record - 248 runs at an average of 35 in eight innings. Lasith Malinga, however, has 19 wickets at an average of 18 and economy of 7.04 against the Super Kings.
"The players and support staff are distressed by the allegations and news reports considering the CSK franchise, the IPL and Indian cricket. The players and the support staff have no knowledge of either the betting or the separate spot-fixing allegations. As difficult as it is, all our focus is on appearing in the final tomorrow."
Super Kings coach Stephen Fleming, who came for the press conference on the eve of the final, instead of the captain MS Dhoni.
"At this stage Sachin is probably a doubt for tomorrow. We will take a call tomorrow. He is still a big part of our team whether he plays or not. Aditya has done a great job. Sachin is a big part of Mumbai Indians. We play for people like Sachin. We are a family. It's probably unlikely. We will take a final call tomorrow."
Mumbai Indians coach John Wright fronted up instead of Rohit Sharma.
George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo