KKR vs SRH: Guru Gambhir’s head versus Captain Cummins’ heart in high-stakes final

PTI, May 25, 2024, 12:35 PM IST

Tactician par excellence Gautam Gambhir couldn’t have envisaged a battle of brains with a more different kind of adversary than the smiling yet ruthless Pat Cummins as Kolkata Knight Riders face a spirited Sunrisers Hyderabad in a mega IPL final here on Sunday.

Marquee sporting clashes always pit one leader against another but this IPL final will be about Gambhir’s brain, which is always ticking against a captain who has transcended boundaries to turn into a leader of men.

Somewhere along the line, KKR’s Shreyas Iyer, who is playing his second final as captain, has turned into bit of a side-show as a global cricketing royalty in Cummins faces an IPL czar in Gambhir.

A decade ago, no one would have placed a bet on Cummins being a captain and winning the ODI World Cup, World Test Championship and Ashes in a space of six months, and now, leading SRH to their maiden IPL title would be the icing on the cake.

”A very practical guy, very humble, very empathetic to his fellow teammates and coaching staff. He is into the statistics and gets the information that he needs against a particular opposition in certain conditions,” SRH assistant coach Simon Helmot described the skipper in a nutshell after the team’s win against Rajasthan Royals in the second Qualifier.

”He doesn’t waste time in (team) meetings. Our team meeting today was 35 seconds. But, a lot of information has already been spoken about,” he said.

The two teams met in the first qualifier in which KKR outwitted SRH with clever bowling plans on a massive Motera ground and in Chennai, Iyer’s men will again start as favourites.

The last time KKR played an IPL final in Chennai, it was against Chennai Super Kings in 2012 in one of the most epic contests, which established Gambhir’s credentials as an astute leader of men. He not only had the right game plan but also had his heart in the right place during those heady years.

Gambhir went on to win another title in 2014, which made him a sentimental favourite and now he is on the cusp of becoming the man, who as captain and mentor has won the IPL trophy for the same team.

Obviously a bigger perk in Indian head coach’s assignment awaits Gambhir and a trophy would not only burnish his credentials but also raise the demand to have him in that Indian dressing.

If one looks at man-to-man comparison, KKR tick more boxes in terms of overall match-winners with Sunil Narine, Andre Russell, Rinku Singh, the two Iyers — Shreyas and Venkatesh — the two Ranas — Nitish and Harshit — and spinner Varun Chakravarthy in their ranks.

However, SRH’s uncapped domestic stars like Abhishek Sharma, Nitish Reddy have done really well along with out-of-favour India internationals such as Bhuvneshwar Kumar, T Natarajan and Jaydev Unadkat.

SRH’s 36-run win over Royals on a difficult track will certainly boost their confidence but they also must realise that the Chepauk wicket will be tailor made for Varun (20 wickets) and Narine (16 wickets), who have been in stellar form through the season.

SRH’s spin department might be short on confidence but not in terms of heart as Abhishek and Shahbaz Ahmed showed during their cumulative haul of 5 for 37 in 8 overs, which changed the course of the second qualifier.

Any target between 180 to 200 could be a very competitive one if the pressure of playing the final is also factored in.

Travis Head and Heinrich Klaasen did get runs on a tricky surface but the likes of Abhishek, Rahul Tripathi and Reddy would need to play the match of their lives for SRH to emerge triumphant.

On a track where taking the pace off deliveries will be the key, young KKR pacers Harshit and Vaibhav Arora will have to think out of the box against Head, who has so far amassed 567 runs.

One interesting aspect of the IPL final is that the match features no member from India’s main T20 World Cup squad. The only Indian player associated with the final will be Rinku Singh, who is in the reserves.

That again tells a story that IPL is won mostly by teams where ‘Orange Cap’ or ‘Purple Cap’ doesn’t get much precedence in the face of team culture developed by Gambhir and Cummins.

Teams (from): Sunrisers Hyderabad: Abhishek Sharma, Travis Head, Heinrich Klaasen (wk), Aiden Markram, Abdul Samad, Nitish Reddy, Shahbaz Ahmed, Pat Cummins (c), Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jaydev Unadkat, T Natarajan, Mayank Markande, Umran Malik, Anmolpreet Singh, Glenn Phillips (wk), Rahul Tripathi, Washington Sundar, Upendra Yadav (wk), Jhathavedh Subramanyan, Sanvir Singh, Vijayakanth Viyaskanth, Fazalhaq Farooqi, Marco Jansen, Akash Maharaj Singh, Mayank Agarwal.

Kolkata Knight Riders: Shreyas Iyer (c), KS Bharat, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Rinku Singh, Angkrish Raghuvanshi, Sherfane Rutherford, Manish Pandey, Andre Russell, Nitish Rana, Venkatesh Iyer, Anukul Roy, Ramandeep Singh, Varun Chakravarthy, Sunil Narine, Vaibhav Arora, Chetan Sakariya, Harshit Rana, Suyash Sharma, Mitchell Starc, Dushmantha Chameera, Sakib Hussain and Mujeeb Ur Rahman. Match starts at 7.30 PM.

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