The Indian Premier League final will be a clash between two of cricket’s finest tacticians when MS Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings take on Eoin Morgan’s Kolkata Knight Riders.

Between them they have won every major title on offer.

Morgan led England to victory in the 2019 50-over World Cup. Dhoni masterminded India’s wins. He was India’s captain when they won the Twenty20 World Cup in 2007 and the 2011 50-over title.

Neither has been a big run scorer in this year’s pandemic-hit tournament, which forced it to be moved to the United Arab Emirates.

But Dhoni’s Chennai, three-time champions, have been the team to beat this year, the first to make the playoffs.

IPL 2021 final: The key matchups

The 40-year-old, who will be a mentor for India at the T20 World Cup starting Sunday, has been his usual unflappable self as the tension mounts.

“Purely from the captaincy point of view who can handle the pressure best, probably has to be Dhoni,” admitted Gautam Gambhir, the former India batsman who led Kolkata to their two previous IPL triumphs.

Morgan’s Kolkata resumed the tournament seventh out of the eight teams, but went on to win five out of seven games to reach the playoffs.

‘Very clever’ Morgan

They knocked out Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore in the eliminator and then Delhi Capitals in the second qualifier on Wednesday to reach the final.

Kolkata advisor David Hussey, the former Australian international, said Morgan has made a huge impact on the team’s results, aided by the break during the IPL’s suspension when a coronavirus surge hit India in April.

“I truly believe that Morgan is captaining really well, he’s marshalling the troops, he’s tactically very clever. The bowling changes have been spot on. I think that’s contributed to our success this time around,” Hussey said after the win over Delhi.

Morgan made smart bowling choices on the slow UAE pitches with West Indies mystery spinner Sunil Narine as the attack kingpin.

Opener Venkatesh Iyer has emerged as an unlikely batting hero, while Morgan has scored just 129 runs in 16 games.

The left-handed Iyer, who made his debut for Kolkata in the UAE leg, smashed 55 in Wednesday’s game in a big partnership with fellow opener Shubman Gill.

Hussey hailed Iyer as “a class player”.

“He is tall, a Stephen Fleming clone I believe. He has got a big future in the game.”

Kolkata may be forced to leave Shakib Al Hasan out of the team and bring back Andre Russell, who is recovering from a hamstring injury. Bangladesh want to keep Shakib fresh for the T20 World Cup that starts in the UAE after the IPL.

KKR's path the final

Match   Result   Venue  
SRH vs KKR   KKR won by 10 runs   Chennai  
KKR vs MI   MI won by 10 runs   Chennai  
RCB vs KKR   RCB won by 39 runs   Chennai  
KKR vs CSK   CSK won by 18 runs   Mumbai  
RR vs KKR   RR won by 6 wickets   Mumbai  
PBKS vs KKR   KKR won by 5 wickets   Ahmedabad  
DC vs KKR   DC won by 7 wickets   Ahmedabad  
KKR vs RCB   KKR won by 9 wickets   Abu Dhabi  
MI vs KKR   KKR won by 7 wickets   Abu Dhabi  
CSK vs KKR   CSK won by 2 wickets   Abu Dhabi  
KKR vs DC   KKR won by 3 wickets   Sharjah  
KKR vs PBKS   PBKS won by 5 wickets   Dubai  
KKR vs SRH   KKR won by 6 wickets   Dubai  
KKR vs RR   KKR won by 86 runs   Sharjah  
Eliminator  KKR won by 4 wickets  Sharjah
Qualifier 2 KKR won by 3 wickets Sharjah

KKR's best batters in IPL 2021

PLAYER Inns Runs HS Avg SR 50 4s 6s
Shubman Gill 16 427 57 26.68 118.94 2 44 12
Rahul Tripathi 15 395 74* 30.38 141.07 2 41 11
Nitish Rana 15 383 80 31.91 122.36 2 34 17
Venkatesh Iyer 9 320 67 40.00 125.00 3 32 11
Dinesh Karthik 14 214 40 23.77 131.28 0 22 6

KKR's best bowlers in IPL 2021

PLAYER Inns Wkts BBI Avg Econ SR 4w 5w
Varun Chakaravarthy 16 18 3/13 22.77 6.40 21.33 0 0
Sunil Narine 13 14 4/21 23.92 6.44 22.28 1 0
Lockie Ferguson 7 13 3/18 12.92 6.46 12.00 0 0
Prasidh Krishna 10 12 3/30 29.25 9.11 19.25 0 0
Andre Russell 8 11 5/15 17.09 9.89 10.36 0 1

Confident Chennai

Ruturaj Gaikwad and South African veteran Faf du Plessis have led Chennai’s batting while Dhoni showed just a flash of his past brilliance when he made 18 off six balls, including three fours, as Chennai beat Delhi to reach the final for the ninth time.

Chennai are still smarting from their failure to reach the playoffs last season. But Dhoni says key players made use of their time to improve their performances.

“That is the reason why we have come back strongly this season,” said the legendary Indian.

Morgan knows he faces a classic battle in Dubai but knows the IPL can throw up surprises.

“We would like to keep going, playing against CSK, one of the best franchises in IPL history. Anything can happen,” said the England leader.

Match  Result  Venue 
CSK vs DC  DC won by 7 wickets  Mumbai 
PBKS vs CSK  CSK won by 6 wickets  Mumbai 
CSK vs RR  CSK win by 45 runs  Mumbai 
KKR vs CSK  CSK won by 18 runs  Mumbai 
CSK vs RCB  CSK won by 69 runs  Mumbai 
CSK vs SRH  CSK won by 7 wickets  Delhi 
MI vs CSK  MI won by 4 wickets  Delhi 
CSK vs MI  CSK won by 20 runs  Dubai 
RCB vs CSK  CSK won by 6 wickets  Sharjah 
CSK vs KKR  CSK won by 2 wickets  Abu Dhabi 
SRH vs CSK  CSK won by 6 wickets  Sharjah 
RR vs CSK  RR won by 7 wickets  Abu Dhabi 
DC vs CSK  DC won by 3 wickets  Dubai 
CSK vs PBKS  PBKS won by 6 wickets  Dubai
Qualifier 1 CSK won by 4 wickets Dubai

CSK's best batters in IPL 2021

PLAYER Inns Runs HS Avg SR 100 50 4s 6s
Ruturaj Gaikwad 15 603 101* 46.38 137.35 1 4 61 22
Faf du Plessis 15 547 95* 42.07 137.09 0 5 53 20
Moeen Ali 14 320 58 22.85 133.33 0 1 29 16
Ambati Rayudu 13 257 72* 28.55 151.17 0 2 16 17
Ravindra Jadeja 12 227 62* 75.66 145.51 0 1 19 9

CSK's best bowlers in IPL 2021

PLAYER Inns Wkts BBI Avg Econ SR 4w
Shardul Thakur 15 18 3/28 27.16 8.75 18.61 0
Dwayne Bravo 10 13 3/24 18.00 7.88 13.69 0
Deepak Chahar 14 13 4/13 32.23 8.38 23.07 2
Ravindra Jadeja 15 11 3/13 28.09 6.86 24.54 0
Josh Hazlewood 8 9 3/24 29.33 8.51 20.66 0


Kolkata Knight Riders: Eoin Morgan (captain), Dinesh Karthik, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Karun Nair, Nitish Rana, Rahul Tripathy, Shubman Gill, Harbhajan Singh, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Kuldeep Yadav, Lockie Ferguson, Pawan Negi, M Prasidh Krishna, Sandeep Warrier, Shivam Dube, Tim Southee, Vaibhav Arora, Varun Chakravarthy, Andre Russel, Ben Cutting, Shakib Al Hasan, Sunil Narine, Venkatesh Iyer, Sheldon Jackson, Tim Seifert.

Chennai Super Kings: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain), Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, KM Asif, Deepak Chahar, Dwayne Bravo, Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir, N Jagadeesan, Karn Sharma, Lungi Ngidi, Mitchell Santner, Ravindra Jadeja, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shardul Thakur, R Sai Kishore, Moeen Ali, K Gowtham, Cheteshwar Pujara, Harishankar Reddy, Bhagath Varma, C Hari Nishaanth.

Kolkata vs Chennai IPL head-to-head

Matches Kolkata wins Chennai wins
Overall 24 8 16
In 2021 2 0 2
Since 2019 6 1 5
Since 2020 in UAE 3 1 2

Brief scores from IPL 2021 meetings:

Match No 15, Mumbai:

Chennai Super Kings: 220/3 in 20 overs (Faf du Plessis 95 not out, Ruturaj Gaikwad 64; Varun Chakravarthy 1/27).

Kolkata Knight Riders: 202 all out in 19.1 overs (Pat Cummins 66 not out, Andrew Russell 54; Deepak Chahar 4/29).

Match No 38, Abu Dhabi:

Kolkata Knight Riders: 171/6 in 20 overs (Rahul Tripathi 45, Nitish Rana 37 not out, Dinesh Karthik 26; Shardul Thakur 2/20).

Chennai Super Kings: 172/8 in 20 overs (Faf du Plessis 44, Ruturaj Gaikwad 40, Ravindra Jadeja 22; Sunil Narine 3/41).

With AFP and iplt20 inputs