Shreyas Iyer and Pat Cummins
Kolkata Knight Riders’ captain Shreyas Iyer (left) and Sunrisers Hyderabad’s skipper Pat Cummins pose with the Indian Premier League trophy during a press conference at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on May 25, 2024. The teams clash in Sunday’s final. Image Credit: AFP

Kolkata 2 Hyderabad 0. That’s where they stand after two meetings in IPL 2024. Kolkata will be on a high after the win in the first qualifier, but that wouldn’t matter when the teams clash in Sunday’s final at Chepauk. It will be a clean slate. A new start. An opportunity to write a new chapter into the franchise’s history.

Kolkata Knight Riders have been champions twice — both under the captaincy of Gautam Gambhir. After the golden summers of 2012 and 2014, KKR made the final only once (2021) before slipping back to mediocrity. This year, Kolkata turned to Gambhir to mentor the team and bring back the glory days. It has paid off. They have won 12 of the 15 games and are a win away from the cup.

Sunrisers Hyderabad’s best years came under David Warner’s leadership. The championship in 2016 was followed by a third place and a runners-up finish in the following years. After that, Hyderabad’s fortunes plummeted, and Warner was ousted in unpleasant circumstances.

How Kolkata became so aggressive

That’s history. Here’s Hyderabad’s chance to win the second title. Standing between them and the cup is Kolkata. The task is tough, for KKR have been the most resilient team this year, bouncing back from three defeats in the league to top the points table.

Phil Salt may have returned to England on national duty, but his opening partner Sunil Narine continues to plunder runs. The West Indian’s 482 runs in 14 matches came at a strike rate of 179.25, and his 16 wickets were reaped with an economy rate of 6.90. The stats remind us of Narine’s critical role in steering KKR into the final. He could well be the Player of the Tournament.

Gambhir’s return instilled an attacking mindset, evident in Narine and Salt’s approach in the powerplay. Skipper Shreyas Iyer, Venkatesh Iyer, Angkrish Raghuvanshi, Ramandeep Singh and Andre Russell continued to bat in that vein, making KKR such a formidable batting side that finisher Rinku Singh’s lack of form hasn’t been a worry. In 14 league games, they amassed six 200-plus totals.

How Hyderabad became a batting juggernaut

Hyderabad also posted six 200-plus totals, making them a batting behemoth. Much of that owes to the arrival of Phil Head, who formed a fearsome opening partnership with Abhishekh Sharma. With Sharma enjoying his best IPL season, Hyderabad have piled runs in the powerplay and beyond. The middle-order wobble has been fixed with the introduction of Rahul Tripathi, while the hyper-aggressive Heinrich Klassen can tailor his game according to the situation, as in the eliminator against the Rajasthan Royals on a tricky pitch.

When batting giants clash, sparks will fly. The Chepauk is slow and affords spin, so 200 could be a par score; Hyderabad won the eliminator with 24 fewer runs. Spinners sure will be rubbing their hands with glee.

Kolkata mystery spinner Varun Chakravarthy will look forward to the final as another opportunity to improve his fine season. He has claimed 20 wickets from 14 games with an economy rate of 8.18. With Narine, Chakravarthy forms a deadly spin duo with a combined haul of 36 wickets. They are KKR’s trump cards, which make them favourites to win IPL 2024.

How Hyderabad solved the spin riddle

Hyderabad’s leap to the playoffs was fashioned by a bunch of pace bowlers led by Pat Cummins. The Australian has led from the front, bowling in crunch situations, while relying on Bhuvaneshwar Kumar’s swing upfront and T. Natarajan’s yorkers and slower ones to close out games. In the absence of quality spinners, they played the second qualifier with part-time spinners Shahbaz Ahmed and Abhishek Sharma, who were good enough to crack Rajasthan’s brittle batting.

That may not work against the powerful batting of Kolkata. They have the batsmen to neutralise spin, so it would be prudent for Cummins to bring Mayank Markande in place of Jayadev Unadkat. Part-timers may not be enough.

read more

Hyderabad’s task is two-pronged: take on KKR’s feared spinners and dismantle the batting juggernaut. Cummins will plot just that, especially after the rout in the first qualifier. That was in Ahmedabad. This is Chennai, and the variables are different.

Finals are always different. They are nervy affairs. Even the best in the business become wrecks. But Cummins has been there several times and come out triumphant. The Australian captain will want to add the IPL trophy to his mantlepiece stacked with the World Test Championship, the Ashes and the ODI World Cup.

Can Hyderabad surmount the superiority of Kolkata, who are favourites in my book? But I won’t write Hyderabad off. Not after the win over Rajasthan. Cummins has a habit of pulling rabbits out of his hats. He could do it in Chennai too.

Keep your eyes peeled. Sunday’s final starts at 6pm UAE time. It will be a cracker.