Two IPL sides will battle for the Champions League T20 title for the first time when Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians tilt lances at each other on an M.A. Chidambaram Stadium track that has shown minimal allegiance to the shortest format.
Batting heavyweight Challengers will start on the back foot, having spent the entire league phase feasting on a belter at the relatively smaller M. Chinnaswamy Stadium, while Mumbai will look to turn into success its greater acquaintance with the two-paced conditions at Chepauk.
Challengers started the tournament with two losses and needed to win its last couple of league games to make it to the knock-out stage.
The team accomplished this in style — defending a score in excess of 200and following it up with a dramatic chase of 214 that was decided by K.B. Arun Karthik's last-ball six.
Daniel Vettori's men turned in another scorching performance in the semifinal when they gunned down New South Wales' 203, thanks to Chris Gayle and Virat Kohli, making it the third successive over-200 score for the team.
Challengers' run glut has been realised chiefly through the top three — Chris Gayle (252 runs at an average of 50, SR: 190), Virat Kohli (221 runs at 55, SR: 158), and T. Dilshan (119 at 30, SR: 128).
But unless the track for the final is the one which was used for the Chennai Super Kings-NSW game (the site of David Warner's riot act), Challengers' rampaging frontline is likely to meet with stiffer resistance for scoring, especially when pitted against the likes of Mumbai's Lasith Malinga and Harbhajan Singh.
STANDOUT BOWLING SPELL
RCB's bowling line, plying its wares on a batting-friendly home wicket, has done nothing special yet and the standout performance has been Dilshan's 4-0-10-1 in the semifinal against NSW that produced 407runs in 38.3 overs.
Vettori (five wickets, ER: 6.9) has been his usual tight self, but the team's titular lead bowler, left-arm paceman Dirk Nannes, has picked a solitary wicket in five games, while leaking runs in excess of ten per over.
Mumbai's performances have been anything but batting-centric. The Harbhajan Singh-led team began with two victories in matches in which it had been given up for dead, the first success facilitated by Malinga's unlikely cameo, and the second by Trinidad & Tobago's frustrating tendency to choke. A wash-out against Cape Cobras was followed by a loss to NSW, but T&T's defeat of the South African outfit saw Mumbai become the first team — albeit the most unconvincing — into the semifinals.
How much of an advantage Mumbai's relative familiarity with the conditions remains to be seen.
Although nobody has had a defining outing, none of Mumbai's bowlers has been taken to the cleaners, and in Harbhajan and Malinga it possesses two match-winners on a track that favours scoring so long as the ball is new.
Mumbai's batting has been patchy. Kieron Pollard and Aiden Blizzard have scored the only two half-centuries for the team, and left-hander James Franklin has been cautiously sedate. The reinstated Suryakumar Yadav and all-rounder R. Sathish had a bit of a hit in the semifinal against Somerset.
Maybe, as skipper Harbhajan remarked the other day, it's time for Mumbai's young Indian players to stand up and be counted.
Either way, the trophy will remain in India.