The final of Indian Premier League 2021 will see a battle between two teams that have achieved dramatic turnarounds this year.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings endured their worst IPL season in history in 2020. The three-time champions struggled on every front and missed out on the playoffs for the first time in 11 appearances in the T20 tournament.
While Kolkata Knight Riders just about missed out on the playoffs last year, they suffered a dismal first half in this season. Eoin Morgan and Co lost five of their first seven matches in IPL 2021 and were languishing in seventh position at the forced halfway interval.
However, both teams have turned things around in some style. Dhoni’s men reverted to type this season and maintained their position near the top of the table throughout. And KKR have been the most impressive team in the UAE leg, winning seven out of nine games to storm into the final.
Both CSK and KKR have achieved success on the back of consistent performers right through their lineups. While captains Dhoni and Morgan, who have struggled for runs but been effective tactically, do deserve credit, it is the responsibility taken by individual players that has allowed both teams to win the key moments.
Having said that, here’s a look at five key matchups that could decide the outcome of the IPL final between CSK and KKR in Dubai:
Venkatesh Iyer vs Deepak Chahar
The batting department was undoubtedly Kolkata’s big weakness in the first half of IPL 2021. Coach Brendon McCullum had vowed to make changes after they suffered their fifth defeat, and his decision to bring in Iyer at the top of the order was a masterstroke. The 26-year-old has been a revelation and his aggressive approach has set up several victories for his team, like it did in Qualifier 2 against Delhi Capitals.
In the final, CSK will expect Deepak Chahar to counter Iyer’s threat. The right-arm pacer hasn’t been at his best this season but he can be devastating if there’s swing on offer. Kolkata’s middle order, especially the lower middle order, has not quite fired this season and Chennai will be in a strong position if they get rid of Iyer early.
Ruturaj Gaikwad vs Lockie Ferguson
Just like Iyer, Gaikwad has been a vital cog for CSK at the top of the order. The only player to hit a century in the UAE leg of this season, Gaikwad has done his reputation a world of good by scoring in heaps. The right-hander seems unfazed when he’s at the crease and tends to find the gaps masterfully.
As far as KKR are concerned, they will be hoping Lockie Ferguson can knock over Gaikwad with his express pace. The CSK opener looks at ease against spinners and perhaps Kolkata will be tempted to test him with some quick, short-pitched bowling. Chennai bat deep and if Gaikwad sticks around, they will most likely be on their way to a formidable total.
Moeen Ali vs Varun Chakravarthy
Thanks to Gaikwad and Faf du Plessis, the men in yellow have gotten off to a number of rapid starts. But Moeen Ali has kept things going after that.
This makes Moeen’s battle with Varun one to watch out for.
Robin Uthappa played a match-winning knock in Qualifier 1 but it is Moeen who has been the most consistent performer for CSK in the middle overs. The left-hander is the third-highest run-scorer for CSK this season (after the openers) and will look to get on top of the bowling once again in the final. He, however, will face a stern test in Varun, who has been in fine form in the UAE and has brought KKR back in matches time and again with his mystery spin.
Eoin Morgan vs Dwayne Bravo
Andre Russell’s absence has left a big hole in Kolkata’s lower middle order, there’s no doubt about it. And what has made matters worse is the indifferent form of skipper Morgan. The left-hander has the responsibility of providing the fireworks down the order but has managed to score just 129 runs in 15 innings at an average of 11.72.
Come the final, KKR will be hoping their captain finally comes good. But his job will only be made tougher by Dwayne Bravo. The vastly experienced West Indies all-rounder is Dhoni’s go-to bowler in the second half of the innings, and Morgan will have his task cut out trying to up the ante against his many variations.
MS Dhoni vs Sunil Narine
Like Morgan, Dhoni hasn’t been at his best with the bat this season. And like KKR, CSK will hope their skipper takes responsibility when it matters most. Chennai have the likes of Dhoni, Bravo and Ravindra Jadeja in the lower middle order for the big hits. But the skipper’s impressive performance in Qualifier 1 will give them confidence that he’ll lead the way again.
Dhoni, though, may have to contend with Narine, who’s close to the top of his game at the moment. The mystery spinner won the Eliminator for his team by running through Royal Challengers Bangalore’s middle order, and is often used by Morgan at the death. Chennai will have won a key matchup if Dhoni manages to get the better of Narine.