Durban, May 24: After 36 days of scintillating action and 58 dazzling encounters, the penultimate stage of the Indian Premier League (IPL) could not have been more exciting as the two bottom-placed teams of the inaugural edition Deccan Chargers and Bangalore Royal Challengers made it to Sunday’s title clash.
Bangalore Royal Challengers and Deccan Chargers have risen like a phoenix from the ashes of the inaugural season, where they respectively finished seventh and eighth in the tournament, and have been a revelation in South Africa.
Both Chargers and Challengers have new captains in Adam Gilchrist and Anil Kumble and they have led the team from the front.
Chargers were tagged favourites in the first IPL, but despite boasting of a formidable batting line-up, they were buried under a heap of defeats. Challengers were mocked as T20’s Test team, but the array of class in their ranks showed in South African conditions.
Both the teams have peaked at the right time. Royal Challengers are riding high with five successive wins. Chargers are pumped up, specially after Gilchrist showed vintage form in single-handedly crushing Delhi Daredevils in the first semi-final with a 35-ball 85.
For Royal Challengers, it was the mix of youth and experience that helped them beat last year’s runners-up Super Kings by six wickets in the other semi-final. Old warhorse Rahul Dravid scored a classy 44 while youngster Manish Pandey emerged as the Man of the Match with his classy 48.
The Challengers would pray that Gilchrist’s most important IPL knock is behind him and the law of averages will catch up with him in the final.
Gilchrist said they need one “big push” to lift the trophy.
“It’s a two-horse race in the final. Everyone has contributed so far. The playing members and the non-playing members – and the support staff have been great. All we need is a big push Sunday,” he said after Friday’s first semi-final.
Chargers started the tournament with a bang by winning four successive matches but lost their way in the middle before again picking themselves up.
They lost their last league match to Royal Challengers, but the very next day churned out a powerful performance to beat table toppers Delhi Daredevils by six wickets on Friday.
Gilchrist, Herschelle Gibbs, Andrew Symonds and Rohit Sharma have all played crucial roles with the willow. Pacer Rudra Pratap Singh and left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha have been the nemesis of the batsmen. Ryan Harris, Symonds and Sharma have also chipped in with the ball. In Sharma’s case, this has been with telling effect as he claimed one of the three hat-tricks of the tournament.
Challengers finished seventh in the inaugural season, but under a new leader in Kumble, who took over the captaincy from Kevin Pietersen midway through the tournament, the team dug deep into its reservoir of strength to finish at third place after the group matches.
Challengers showed promise when they thrashed defending champions Rajasthan Royals in their first match, but then slumped to four successive defeats. IPL’s biggest catch Pietersen was out of form and failed to inspire the team.
It was only in Pietersen’s last match against Kolkata Knight Riders that Challengers arrested the slide. Kumble’s captaincy has infused fresh life and they have won seven of their nine matches under him, five of these on the trot.
For Challengers, New Zealander Ross Taylor has been explosive while Jacques Kallis has contributed both with the bat and the ball, while Mark Boucher has provided the finishing touches.
Kallis, Praveen Kumar and Kumble have shone in the bowling department. South African all-rounder Roelf van der Merwe has been the team’s find in the last couple of matches.
“We will approach it (the final) as just another match like we have done in the last five matches. One more win will be nice,” Kumble said after Saturday’s semi-final that saw Challengers through.