Big games are typically decided by big players. That’s just how it seems to go. And for cricket players—especially those that are specialists in the limited overs format—it doesn’t get quite as high-profile as an IPL final.
An intense, convoluted schedule has filtered out six of the eight teams taking their place in this year's spectacle, leaving only the Kolkata Knight Riders and Kings XI Punjab to battle it out for the right to be dubbed the 2014 IPL champion.
On the brink of what promises to be a gripping finale, let’s isolate some of those players—a batsman and a bowler for each side—who are likely to step up on the big occasion and deliver for their team when the world is watching on Sunday.
Robin Uthappa—Batsman, Kolkata
In a format as furious and frenetic as Twenty20 cricket, establishing a level of consistency can be perilously difficult. But for Kolkata batsman Uthappa, it’s all looked a bit easy.
He has scored in excess of 40 runs in each of his last 10 innings, which is an unprecedentedly special spell of form. Opta Jim provided an indication of how hot a streak Uthappa is currently on:
The wicketkeeper batsman played another vital knock in his team’s victory over Kings XI Punjab in the first qualifier and another substantial score from him would go a long way to the Knight Riders celebrating come Sunday evening.
After a blistering start from Glenn Maxwell in this year’s competition, Uthappa has overhauled him in the race for the orange cap, awarded to the most prolific run scorer in the competition.
Having accumulated a whopping 655 runs so far, Uthappa needs a score of 79 or better to break the most runs ever in a single IPL series, a record currently jointly held by Michael Hussey and Chris Gayle with 733.
Verinder Sehwag—Batsman, Punjab
After a quiet tournament by his own high standards, the 35-year-old burst into life with a spectacular innings in his team's qualifier victory over the Chennai Super Kings. Sehwag struck a stunning 122 from a meagre 58 balls, sending his side well on their way to the final.
Here are the highlights of that remarkable knock:
If Sehwag gets his eye in in this limited overs format, he is a player that can be very, very difficult to halt. He must start off the innings with positivity and purpose if this team is going to triumph over Kolkata, a side who Sehwag scored 72 against earlier in the tournament.
Sehwag has played in so many high-pressure games, so in many respects, he is the perfect man to lead the charge in this final at the top of the order. Expect a strong performance from the Indian international, who could be a deciding factor in separating these two extremely evenly matched outfits.
Sunil Narine—Bowler, Kolkata
Whist teammate Uthappa has been almost metronomic with his run scoring, Narine is a bowler that has been equally consistent when it comes to bowling.
He’s an extremely astute bowler and unnervingly accurate. At the time of writing, he has conceded just a shade over a run-a-ball throughout the tournament, making him the most economical bowler of any of the top 30 wicket-takers in the tournament.
But in this format, being accurate, holding your line and varying your length with intelligence typically leads to wickets.
Narine has pressured the opposing batsmen into making errors and in doing so has helped himself to 20 wickets in the tournament so far. He trails Mohit Sharma by two wickets in the race for the purple cap, which is awarded to the top wicket-taker at the end of the competition. He'll be hoping a stellar performance in the final will see him end up with both the team and individual accolades.
Mitchell Johnson—Bowler, Punjab
Whilst the aforementioned Narine is all about craft and guile, Johnson’s game is centred around bowling at express pace, roughing up batsmen and taking wickets.
Despite his recent upturn in form, the Australian international can be a little erratic on occasion—he went for an average of 11 runs an over in his last outing—but when he does get it right, he can be devastating.
Johnson will open the bowling for this Kings XI side and will be tasked with unsettling the likes of Uthappa and Gautam Gambhir. If he can prise one of those two out early—especially the prolific Uthappa—then it would be a major boost for the Punjab outfit.
The left-armer needs to ensure he is accurate in his delivery, though. If he allows easy runs to players of that calibre, they’ll settle into a rhythm and make things extremely difficult for the rest of the Kings XI bowlers. The tone that Johnson sets will be absolutely vital to Punjab’s title hopes.
All statistics are courtesy of ESPNcricinfo.com
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