CSK will have to get over the off-field controversies surrounding them to focus on beating a formidable Mumbai Indians at the Eden Gardens on Sunday.
Kolkata: They have disowned their CEO, refused to admit he is their owner and now face an uncertain future in the Indian Premier League, but Chennai Super Kings will live another day. Live for maybe their last day of existence and fight for their third title in just six years of the IPL - against Mumbai Indians.
It's not the ideal way to prepare for a title clash. Players, however talented they may be, with things other than cricket on their mind will always find it tough to perform. Maybe that's the challenge that props up MS Dhoni's men - to go out there and show that their job is just to give it their best on the ground for the team they play for. Matters beyond the field of play are not in their control.
That CSK will play their fifth IPL final and have reached the knockouts in all six editions undoubtedly makes them the most consistent team of the IPL and worthy of a third triumph, but their opponents are equally hungry in search of their maiden IPL trophy and avenge the 2010 loss in the final. Sachin Tendulkar was the Mumbai skipper then, but he has been on the bench injured for the last few matches this season. Whether he plays or not, the team will want to gift the 40-year-old Indian icon the trophy he has never won in what could be his last season in the league.
The final will quite clearly be a battle of the equals. Both the sides are well balanced and packed with explosive performers - be it batting or bowling. Orange Cap holder Michael Hussey (732 runs) has been phenomenal for CSK this season, so has Dwayne Bravo who shares the top wicket-taker's position with Rajasthan Royals' James Faulkner. But at 28 wickets each, Bravo has one more game in hand to go past Faulkner. Mumbai's answer to that is perhaps Rohit Sharma (536 runs) with the bat and Harbhajan Singh and Mitchell Johnson (22 wickets each) with the ball. They have been the chief architects of Mumbai's road to the final but will need to lift their game a couple of notches to challenge CSK.
Having said that, Mumbai's bowling looks slightly sharper than CSK with names like Lasith Malinga and Pragyan Ojha. Ojha's appearance in the final, though, is under a cloud after he hurt his left shoulder in the second Qualifier against Rajasthan. In all likelihood, legspinner Yuzvendra Chahal will replace Ojha in the XI should he become unavailable. Another change Mumbai could mull over is bringing back Munaf Patel for Rishi Dhawan who had an average outing against Rajasthan on Friday.
Chennai's spin department is well taken care of. Eden Gardens is traditionally known to help the tweakers and CSK have the premier Indian offspinner R Ashwin to exploit the conditions in unison with left-armer Ravindra Jadeja. However, rain on Sunday, which hasn't been ruled out by the MeT department, could make it difficult for spinners to grip the ball that will then skid off the surface and be easy to score off. But their pacers haven't done badly either with young Mohit Sharma (19 wickets with an economy rate of 6.42) and Chris Morris assisting Bravo expertly.
Coming back to the batting, other than Bravo, Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Smith will be the other two West Indians grabbing eyeballs on Sunday. Since Ricky Ponting decided to sit himself out, Smith has done the job as an opener - his 44-ball 62 in the second Qualifier against Rajasthan testifies to that. But Mumbai have a tendency to choke in the middle and skipper Rohit, along with Pollard, will have to ensure it doesn't happen in the final. Also much will depend on Dinesh Karthik (489 runs) who has been doing for Mumbai what Suresh Raina (548) has done for Chennai.
Win-loss stats at the Eden point towards Mumbai taking home the trophy. Of their six IPL games at the venue, Mumbai have won five. But Chennai know more than a thing or two about not just playing the final but also winning it. And getting past Dhoni will be a tough nut to break for Rohit, who will play his second IPL final after winning the trophy with now-defunct Deccan Chargers in 2009.
Chennai Super Kings: 1 Michael Hussey, 2 Murali Vijay, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 5 Ravindra Jadeja, 6 S Badrinath, 7 Dwayne Bravo, 8 Albie Morkel, 9 Chris Morris, 10 R Ashwin, 11 Mohit Sharma
Mumbai Indians: 1 Dwayne Smith, 2 Aditya Tare, 3 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 4 Rohit Sharma (capt), 5 Kieron Pollard, 6 Ambati Rayudu, 7 Harbhajan Singh, 8 Mithcell Johnson, 9 Lasith Malinga, 10 Rishi Dhawan/Munaf Patel, 11 Yuzvendra Chahal/Pragyan Ojha