Mired in a financial scandal, the Indian Premier League’s third season is set for a grand cricketing finale nonetheless with Mumbai Indians, sweating over talismanic skipper Sachin Tendulkar’s fitness, taking on Chennai Super Kings at the D Y Patil Stadium here on Sunday.
IPL and controversy have been bed-fellows since the league’s very inception but this time, it’s a crisis of monumental proportions as allegations ranging from money laundering to betting to match fixing are flying thick and fast.
Besides, the league’s conceptualiser and boss Lalit Modi faces a grim future as the BCCI prepares to shut him out after being embarrassed by the Income tax department’s raids that have revealed murky financial dealings and benami holdings in at least three franchises.
Junior foreign minister Shashi Tharoor lost his job after trying to “mentor” the Kochi franchise’ bid while two other ministers in the government – Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel – are facing the heat for their alleged involvement in the IPL’s affairs.
But despite furore off the field, it has been business as usual on it.
Ahead of the final on Sunday, Mumbai are keeping their fingers crossed over Tendulkar’s finger injury.
The split webbing in his right hand could not have come at a more inopportune time for Mumbai who made their maiden entry into the Twenty20 event final by outsmarting Royal Challengers Bangalore on Wednesday in the first semi-final.
A final call is to be taken on his availability later on Saturday but if he’s forced to sit out it will be a huge blow to Mumbai’s hopes of clinching the coveted title for the first time in three years.
Tendulkar has been in terrific form and was also declared the best batsman in the IPL awards function last night after notching up a tournament-high tally of runs (570 runs) going into the final.
Though the batting great has has led his team astutely, others have also contributed significantly to pilot the Mumbai outfit into the summit clash.
Notable performers among these are Saurabh Tiwary, who has come good at every opportunity, Ambati Rayudu, who has also doubled up as a wicket keeper and done a fairly good job, and the big-hitting West Indian all rounder Kieron Pollard.
If Tiwary and Rayudu can be complimented for building on the strong base provided by Tendulkar’s mastery at the top, Pollard has wielded the bat like a pickaxe and provided a pulsating finish to the innings.
Pollard has turned around things irrevocably in the last few overs when things looked a bit dicey for his team in the last few matches.
The imposing Trinidadian’s blistering 13-ball 45 not out and unbeaten 33 in the same number of balls literally took away the stuffing out of Mumbai’s rivals in the last two matches he has played – against Delhi Daredevils and the Royal Challengers.
Mumbai would hope that the other batsmen, especially Sanath Jayasuriya who is expected to play if Tendulkar is unable to do so, comes up with the all-important innings and set things up for the team.
The bowling has functioned as a well-knit unit with three out of five doing the job very well at every outing. Lasith Malinga has been outstanding at the beginning and end and Harbhajan Singh has been rarely collared in the middle overs.
And the home advantage with the packed crowd rooting for Mumbai has also been a major plus.
The Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led Super Kings have their task cut out. A major worry has been the indifferent form of Matthew Hayden in the second half of the tournament.
The form of Suresh Raina has been the cornerstone of their batting while Murali Vijay and S Badrinath have come out with good knocks on occasions. They would be very happy with the return to form of skipper Dhoni.
The new ball bowlers, barring Doug Bollinger, have been something of a let down with none to support the Australian pacer adequately. The team has relied on spinner R Ashwin to take the pace off the ball in the first six overs constituting the power play and he has risen to the occasion.
Super Kings fielded three spinners in the semi final against last year’s winners Deccan Chargers by fielding Ashwin, left-arm Shadab Jakati and off spin great Muttiah Muralitharan.
With the wicket at the venue showing signs of offering turn coupled with their pace bowling woes, the Super Kings could repeat the same strategy against Mumbai in the contest to decide the biggest prize.