|| AFP ||
The Indian Premier League final on Friday will be a clash between two of cricket's finest tacticians when M.S. Dhoni's Chennai Super Kings take on Eoin Morgan's Kolkata Knight Riders.
Between them they have won every major title on offer.
Morgan led Englad to victory in the 2019 50-over World Cup. Dhoni masterminded India's wins. He was India's captain when they won the Twenty20 World Cup in 2007 and the 2011 50-over title.
Neither has been a big run scorer in this year's pandemic-hit tournament, which forced it to be moved to the United Arab Emirates.
But Dhoni's Chennai, three-time champions, have been the team to beat this year, the first to make the playoffs.
The 40-year-old, who will be a mentor for India at the T20 World Cup starting Sunday, has been his usual unflappable self as the tension mounts.
"Purely from the captaincy point of view who can handle the pressure best, probably has to be Dhoni," admitted Gautam Gambhir, the former India batsman who led Kolkata to their two previous IPL triumphs.
Morgan's Kolkata resumed the tournament seventh out of the eight teams, but went on to win five out of seven games to reach the playoffs.
'Very clever' Morgan
They knocked out Virat Kohli's Royal Challengers Bangalore in the eliminator and then Delhi Capitals in the second qualifier on Wednesday to reach the final.
Kolkata advisor David Hussey, the former Australian international, said Morgan has made a huge impact on the team's results, aided by the break during the IPL's suspension when a coronavirus surge hit India in April.
"I truly believe that Morgan is captaining really well, he's marshalling the troops, he's tactically very clever. The bowling changes have been spot on. I think that's contributed to our success this time around," Hussey said after the win over Delhi.
Morgan made smart bowling choices on the slow UAE pitches with West Indies mystery spinner Sunil Narine as the attack kingpin.
Opener Venkatesh Iyer has emerged as an unlikely batting hero, while Morgan has scored just 129 runs in 16 games.
The left-handed Iyer, who made his debut for Kolkata in the UAE leg, smashed 55 in Wednesday's game in a big partnership with fellow opener Shubman Gill.
Hussey hailed Iyer as "a class player".
"He is tall, a Stephen Fleming clone I believe. He has got a big future in the game."
Kolkata may be forced to leave Shakib Al Hasan out of the team and bring back Andre Russell, who is recovering from a hamstring injury. Bangladesh want to keep Shakib fresh for the T20 World Cup that starts in the UAE after the IPL.
Ruturaj Gaikwad and South African veteran Faf du Plessis have led Chennai's batting while Dhoni showed just a flash of his past brilliance when he made 18 off six balls, including three fours, as Chennai beat Delhi to reach the final for the ninth time.
Chennai are still smarting from their failure to reach the playoffs last season. But Dhoni says key players made use of their time to improve their performances.
"That is the reason why we have come back strongly this season," said the legendary Indian.
Morgan knows he faces a classic battle in Dubai but knows the IPL can throw up surprises.
"We would like to keep going, playing against CSK, one of the best franchises in IPL history. Anything can happen," said the England leader.