IPL underdogs fight for top spot at Wanderers

After five hectic weeks and 59 frenetic matches, the Indian Premier League (IPL) comes to an end in what is expected to be a thrilling final at the Wanderers on Sunday.

The teams that finished seventh and eighth last year—the Royal Challengers Bangalore and the Deccan Chargers—swept past more fancied sides in the semifinals, both winning by six wickets with overs to spare.

Deccan beat log-leaders the Delhi Daredevils in the first semifinal, largely because of an explosive 85 off 35 balls, including the fastest half-century in IPL history, by captain Adam Gilchrist, the former Australian wicketkeeper batsman.

Bangalore beat the second-placed Chennai Super Kings in the second semifinal, with Indian youngster Manish Pandey and veteran Rahul Dravid providing the bulk of the runs.

There will be considerable South African interest in the final.

Herschelle Gibbs, opening with Gilchrist for the Chargers, could prove vital, while the Challengers have several South Africans in their arsenal, including all-rounders Jacques Kallis and Roelof van der Merwe, and wicketkeeper Mark Boucher, with Dale Steyn on the bench with an injured finger.

They also have a South African coach in Ray Jennings, and Jennings believes holding the tournament in South Africa has given it a uniquely South African flavour.

“South African cricketers are tough, and some of these young Indian players have learnt about playing tough cricket while they’ve been here,” he said on Saturday, after his team’s victory.

Jennings said he believed the IPL would benefit world cricket as a whole, but Indian cricket in particular.

“The young players in each of the teams will have learned a great deal from playing with some of the world’s great cricketers,” he said.

“I expect Manish [Pandey] and Virat [Kumar] to become two of India’s top all-rounders in a year or two. All the players will have benefited from the experience.”

He said it had been a strange tournament, so he was not surprised that the two underdogs had reached the final.

“Anything can happen in Twenty20 cricket,” he said. “Just three matches ago we were stone second last, and here we are in the final.
I look forward to a really exciting game tomorrow.”

The final will be followed by a spectacular closing ceremony, which will include a concert and a spectacular fireworks display. All tickets have been sold and the atmosphere at the “Bull Ring” should be electric.—Sapa

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