The two IPL 2018 finalists have traversed contrasting paths during the past seven weeks to get to Mumbai. And now they face off for the fourth time this season, after overcoming very different challenges.
Sunrisers Hyderabad will play their second IPL final but for their new captain Kane Williamson, it will be his first. They have largely banked on Williamson’s batting and strangled oppositions with their bowling attack, and Sunrisers coach Tom Moody said succeeding on different kind of pitches – especially adapting to flat ones – was their strength.
“They [bowlers] have done an excellent job,” Moody said while sitting next to Williamson at the team hotel in Mumbai. “There’s no question about that. We played on a number of varied wickets throughout the tournament and we’ve managed to adjust pretty effectively with Kane’s leadership with regards to how he used those bowlers through the 20 overs. We’ve managed to – more often than not – get it right.
“I guess those experiences of playing on some wickets that the team found flat has been really good for us. We did come across a couple of surfaces which were quite different than what we had played a lot of our games on. Yes, we didn’t get the results that we wanted but what we did get was compete in every single one of those games. We didn’t have an occasion this year where we were smashed up in any game. Even last night, perhaps a lot of people thought after the seventh over we’re out of the contest, but that was certainly not the mind set of the 11 players on the field.”
Their opponents Chennai Super Kings are in the final in their first season back after serving a two-year suspension. MS Dhoni and Stephen Fleming were together at Rising Pune Supergiant for those two years as well, and are reaping the benefits of those experiences – second from bottom in 2016 and second from top in 2017 – with their original franchise. Among their problems were the average age of their squad, a couple of tournament-ending injuries, and losing home advantage after playing only one game in Chennai.
“The challenge this year was slightly different to what we faced in the past seven-eight years,” Dhoni said on the eve of the IPL final. “The age group of the boys was definitely a concern as we had to keep them fit because of the frequency of the games. You have to manoeuvre your resources and you have to look at the bigger picture, to make sure that when we come to the business end of the tournament, our best XI is available.
“I was saddened that we couldn’t play our home matches in Chennai but I was still happy that we played at least one match. Our fans waited a very long time for this moment.”
CSK’s strength has been how different players have stepped up one after another to steal wins from oppositions. Faf du Plessis’ 67 against Sunrisers earlier this week was the latest example. It also meant Dhoni has plenty of resources to choose from, which showed when he did not bowl Harbhajan Singh at all in the first qualifier. In typical philosophical mode, Dhoni said having experience in his “old” squad made a difference, but that was not all a T20 team needed.
“Yes, we want to contribute as a team but it is always good when an individual takes the game away from the opposition as it makes the job of the others easy,” Dhoni said. “Experience really counts but it’s not that it always matters. It is not something that can’t be replaced.
“It is good that whenever we have played we have had at least two good fielders or outstanding fielders, that can man that deep midwicket position. We have done well so far but it is something that can hurt us at any time.
“There are times especially when you have six to seven bowlers in the side, you see the conditions, who is batting and what is needed at that point. I have always said in the past when we had [Pawan] Negi and [Ravindra] Jadeja I always gave them different slots in bowling. I see the conditions and what is best for the team, and then decide who to bowl, who has the best chance against the batsman. It is always tough, in the last game I didn’t feel it was necessary to bowl him (Harbhajan), and I didn’t bowl him.”
Fleming, the CSK coach, was aware that Sunrisers also had individual performers standing up, citing Rashid Khan’s example, and joked while looking at Williamson and Moody at the press conference table to say, “he won’t probably be able to do it tomorrow because having to do it twice in a row is tough.”
Fleming brought up the point of how the CSK squad had been “written off after the auction” and said having different performers contribute to wins was “a characteristic of our campaign that we needed.”
“I guess teams win competitions when individuals can win finals, so we’re game for that match-winning performance and it’s going to have to come because the opposition is very good,” Fleming said.
Despite having loads of experience in the squad, Fleming and Dhoni also carry the burden of a poor record in finals, having won only two out of six with CSK, and losing one for Rising Pune Supergiant against Mumbai Indians last year. Williamson also carries baggage but of a different kind – of losing three matches to CSK already this year.