The IPL's 12th edition has earned the blockbuster finale it deserves.
When Chennai Super Kings won last year, they tied Mumbai Indians' record of three IPL titles and opened up a debate about which was the better IPL side. After Sunday, that debate may well be decided.
Mumbai, who reached Hyderabad four days ago, have enjoyed a near-flawless season. They were at the top half of the points table all through and they will end the campaign without knowing what back-to-back losses feel like. It's been a team performance too: a total of four men have scored more than 300 runs for Mumbai and five have taken 10 or more wickets.
This was also the year when Hardik Pandya became Mumbai's premier death-overs batter, taking over from Kieron Pollard. His 386 runs have come at breakneck pace and that's often helped the team put up above-par totals and take down tough targets. Add eight overs of a fitter Lasith Malinga and a fiery Jasprit Bumrah, and you know why Mumbai have reached another IPL final.
For Super Kings, it's about proving popular wisdom wrong once again. A team with an average age near 35 was not supposed to contest in two finals in a row, but MS Dhoni's astute man-management - and a resurgence in personal form - has seen them reach their eighth final in 10 seasons.
With 414 runs, this has been Dhoni's best IPL season and for long it looked like he was carrying the weight of the Super Kings batting on his own. But they come to the final knowing the supporting cast - Faf du Plessis, Shane Watson, Ravindra Jadeja and Mitchell Santner - has produced some match-winning performances too.
Tournament finals are a whole different ball game though and results of yore - including the three times Mumbai have beaten Super Kings this season - carry very little weight in a game where pressure has a bigger role to play than skill. If there's anything Mumbai can hold on to, it's that they return to the same venue where they won their last IPL title in 2017. Oh, and that Rohit - unlike thala - has never lost an IPL final.
Both teams have made very few changes - unless forced - all tournament. But a change in venue from their previous games could see Mumbai dropping extra spinner Jayant Yadav and bringing allrounder Ben Cutting in. Cutting was Man-of-the-Match when Sunrisers Hyderabad won the IPL 2016 final. Super Kings could offload Shardul Thakur, who bowled an expensive one-over spell in Qualifier 2, for an extra batting option in M Vijay.
Chennai Super Kings: 1 Shane Watson, 2 Faf du Plessis, 3 M Vijay, 4 Suresh Raina, 5 Ambati Rayudu, 6 MS Dhoni, 7 Dwayne Bravo, 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Deepak Chahar, 10 Harbhajan Singh, 11 Imran Tahir
Mumbai have won all three games against Super Kings in IPL 2019, the first almost wholly thanks to Hardik Pandya, the second thanks to Rohit and Malinga masterclasses and the third thanks to their spinners out-bowling CSK in their own den.
Don't save Bumrah for the death, save him for Dhoni instead. Overall, Dhoni has a strike-rate of only 102.20 against Bumrah in the IPL, with a dot-ball percentage of 46.20% and three dismissals in seven innings. And this season he is the only pace bowler against whom Dhoni does not have a strike-rate of more than 100.
If Bumrah fails, let Hardik bowl to Dhoni. In seven innings against Hardik, Dhoni has scored only 21 runs in 26 balls. To counter both, Dhoni could promote himself up and take a shot against Mumbai's spin bowlers.
Want to surprise Rohit? Throw in Deepak Chahar with the bat. Chahar's strike-rate of 189.70 between overs 7-15 (in four IPL innings) will allow Super Kings to maximise their run-scoring in a period where designated batsmen Rayudu and Raina have struggled. Ravindra Jadeja, too, could be a useful ploy against Krunal Pandya. Krunal has conceded 9.20 runs per over against left handers this season, while going at only 6.50 per over against right handers.
Stats and Trivia
MS Dhoni, chasing his 100th win as Chennai Super Kings captain, has not struck a boundary off Rahul Chahar, Bumrah, Hardik or Krunal Pandya this year.
The top four run-scorers in IPL finals are all in Super Kings. Suresh Raina (241 runs), M VIjay (181), MS Dhoni (178) and Shane Watson (156) lead the pack.
Teams batting first in IPL finals have won 63.60% of all games.
Mumbai are the only team to have a win-percentage of more than 50 against Super Kings.
Rohit, Harbhajan Singh and Ambati Rayudu will be chasing their fifth IPL titles - the most among any player.