In an astonishing reversal of fortunes, a side without a win in the first two editions of the Tamil Nadu Premier League finds itself in Sunday’s final.
Siechem Madurai Panther’s riveting ride to the summit clash of the TNPL has been a lot about exorcising the demons of the past. Belief has driven the side to the title clash at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium.
Apart from the change of ownership, the selection of former India-A opener J. Arun Kumar as coach has galvanised a side that was the whipping boy of TNPL not so long ago.
An old hand at coaching, Arun Kumar has worked as much on the minds of the cricketers as their skills. The atmosphere in the dressing room has been relaxed, and the cricketers free to express themselves.
Taking on Madurai in the final will be Dindigul Dragons, a well-organised side with balance and depth.
Whichever side wins, TNPL will have a new champion this time around; the first two editions were won by Tuti Patriots and Chepauk Super Gillies.
Dragon’s captain and star all-rounder R. Ashwin might be with the Indian team in England but the side will not be short of inspiration.
In R. Vivek, the side has the most explosive batsman in the TNPL this season. Picking the length early, the stocky powerhouse does bludgeon the ball to the distant parts of the stadium.
In fact, the duel between Vivek, employed as a floater in the line-up, and mystery spinner C.V. Varun could hold the key to the contest.
Varun gets his off-spinners to turn and bounce, sends down the carrom ball, and does deliver a useful leg-cutter, all with control. He has held his nerve in stressful situations, contained and struck. And left-arm spinner Rahil Shah, a bowler with loads of experience, has combined capably with Varun. In the critical middle overs, Varun and Shah could prove hard to get away.
And in the Madurai batting, the in-form K.B. Arun Karthick with 397 runs at 66.17, has built lasting edifices even in the game’s shortest format.
He is stroking the ball with authority at the top of the order, now drilling the ball through the gaps, now striking over the infield. Karthick’s temperament complements his ability.
The pace trio of M. Silambarasan, M. Mohammed and R. Rohit will be up against a rampant Karthick. Leg-spinner M. Abhinav could have an impact in the game.
The final could be decided by individual brilliance. Someone like the free-stroking N. Jagadeesan of the Dragons could seize the occasion.
The Dragons got the better of Madurai in Eliminator 1. But then, Sunday will be another night. At stake will be the title.
Match starts at 7.15 p.m.
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