Two established franchises in the Indian Premier League with massive fan-bases. Two teams that appeared to be the most balanced on paper even before the tournament began. Two sides filled with superstars, match-winners and all-round fun people. Two captains who have inspired their national teams with their performances and leadership. Apart from class batters and bowlers, two sides who have set the benchmark for fielding too. And two teams that, during the league phase, won once against each other.
The first Women’s Premier League final is fitting for more reasons than just the primary one of featuring the top two teams of the league phase. Harmanpreet Kaur’s Mumbai Indians will take on Meg Lanning’s Delhi Capitals at Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai on Sunday to decide the first champions of WPL in a clash that is dripping with narrative on either side.
Interestingly though, they come into the final with the knowledge that both of them haven’t been able to produce their best against each other. There is a case to be made that MI’s best result of the league stage came against DC, and in the same way, DC’s most impressive performance was against MI. What that meant though is that we haven’t yet had the contest that has reflected how evenly-matched these two teams are and perhaps the best has been saved for the last.
“I reckon we are due a close game,” Lanning told JioCinema in a pre-match captains feature.
TOSS: Meg Lanning opted to bat first
First innings: DC 105 all out after 18 overs
Second innings: MI 109/2 after 15 overs
Toss: Meg Lanning opted to bowl
First innings: MU 109/8 after 20 overs
Second innings: DC 110/1 after 9 overs
Speaking ahead of the summit clash, DC’s captain Lanning said, “Mumbai and Delhi have been consistent throughout the tournament. We know how dangerous Mumbai can be and how many great players they have. It’s a massive challenge for us, but our group is confident ahead of the big game.”
It will help both sides that they have been put through adversities at various points of the season. If they are put under pressure in the final, it will not be the first time. DC’s batting depth is an issue MI’s wicket-hungry bowling lineup will hope to exploit. Harmanpreet knows the challenge facing her bowling attack will be to first break the dangerous opening partnership, the best in the tournament in her own words. And then there is the threat of Alice Capsey to deal with as well. MI’s reliance on their top order is a weakness that DC’s well-rounded bowling unit will target.
Lanning also heaped praise on her opening partner Shafali Verma, “Shafali and I have a really good combination at the top. We play differently, which works for us. The opening spot is my favourite position and it’s been nice to play there. Shafali has made my job a little bit easier by taking the attack to the opposition. Hopefully, we’ve got one more big partnership in us on Sunday.”
The pre-final press conference was one of plenty of mutual admiration between Lanning and Harmanpreet. Both captains acknowledged the other’s ability to bring the best out of their side.
“The biggest thing to learn from her is that she is not someone who is dependent on players. She is someone who leads from the front, like in this WPL,” Harmanpreet said. “That’s something you want from a leader. When a leader takes responsibility from the front, the team does well. That’s something I always see and learn from her. She is not someone who gives up early, we will have to fight till the end and we are ready for that.”
Lanning knows a thing or two about being at the receiving end of Harmanpreet’s fireworks with the bat, even though the Australian has had more success as a captain in matches against her Indian counterpart. “She has shown that she is an excellent leader and gets results, both individually and for her team. I always look forward to challenges like that. Always a great contest to come up against a team led by Harman,” the Aussie great, who turned 31 on Saturday, said.
The Harmanpreet Kaur vs Meg Lanning battle will be at the center of the final, but that alone is unlikely to decide the outcome of what has the potential to be a cracking contest. The likes of Saika Ishaque and Shafali Verma, Nat Sciver-Brunt and Marizanne Kapp, Amelia Kerr and Alice Capsey, Issy Wong and Shikha Pandey, will have their say. Maybe even a new hero will be found at the end of it all.
After two one-sided contests, perhaps it is the big day of the final that will give us the thriller these two teams are capable of. At the end of a fine tournament, we already have the finale it deserved. It is now over to the players to deliver for their teams on the big night. There will forever be only one first-time champions, after all. History beckons.