Only CSK can now beat CSK

IPL 2012 Final Preview through Impact Index

By Jaideep Varma and Jatin Thakkar

There is no doubt that the best two teams of IPL 2012 are now in the final. The most interesting thing about this is that KKR have been steadily maintaining their supremacy while CSK have fast-tracked their way through to the same kind of supremacy in the last two matches.

At the end of the league phase, KKR’s Team IMPACT was 1.94 while CSK’s was 1.83 (and they were much closer to the bottom than the top in team standings). But in the three playoff matches (where KKR played one, CSK two), KKR’s Team IMPACT was 2.17 whereas CSK’s has been a massive 2.49. That’s a considerable difference – and something that should disturb KKR.

CSK are a side transformed in the playoffs – it is, after all, familiar territory for them. Not just because the matches are now on home turf but because CSK’s great success in the last 3 years has come because of raising their game (often unrecognisably, especially as a team combination) during the knockout phases. This year, they are actually doing this even more comprehensively. With just one more match to go, it is hard to see them falter now.

But KKR still have a lot going for them, as these numbers below reveal.

Even after accounting for the big match performances in the playoffs so far, KKR are still slightly ahead of CSK. This should give them heart. But there are some warning signs contained within these numbers.

Despite having a slightly higher Batting IMPACT. KKR’s batting failure rate is 14% higher than CSK’s. This, coupled with KKR’s dependence on Gambhir (19% of KKR’s batting impact in IPL 2012 has come from Gambhir – the highest proportion this year in any team) which is exemplified by the fact that the next highest impact KKR batsman is 57% below Gambhir, does not augur well for them.

As it is, KKR is a team of all-rounders and not specialised talent – this has served them well to reach this stage, but against a team like CSK, they could miss the X-factor required to surge ahead – only Gambhir, Narine and on the evidence of the last match, Yusuf Pathan, can really provide that. Kallis is always a steady contributor but not likely to take the match away. Conversely, CSK has at least 6 players who are capable of this – Vijay, Hussey, Raina, Dhoni, Bravo and Morkel. Badrinath played a crucial role in the first eliminator and Ashwin has shown signs of getting his mojo back in the last match.

Bowling is the one definite weakness CSK have, and this is where they could falter – if they do not stay disciplined, as their margin for error is very low. It is arguable though whether KKR have the talent to take full advantage of this weakness, given their lack of specialised talent. Of course, if it is their day, and their all-round talent uncharacteristically (for all-round talent typically) clicks together in one department, then they could take full advantage so they have to look at that as an opportunity. However, CSK’s bowling in the 2 playoff matches has been the most transformed of all their functions, suggesting a mental discipline already in place.

KKR’s bowling impact is spread over the efforts of Narine (2.87, 14 matches), Shakib Al Hasan (2.24, 7) and Balaji (2.23, 8). CSK depend on Hilfenhaus hugely (2.47, 8); however, Ashwin (1.78, 17) and Bravo (1.47, 17) have given good performances in the playoffs.

In this IPL, interestingly, both teams have last-over 5-wicket wins over each other in the league stages. However, KKR have an overall advantage over CSK with it comes to Chasing IMPACT (led by Gambhir and Kallis on this front) while CSK has an advantage over KKR when it comes to Pressure IMPACT (led by Hussey). This perhaps suggests that KKR would be better off chasing, though given how the Chennai pitch slows down and how it has favoured teams batting first over the years, and the fact that this is the biggest match of the IPL with its attendant pressures, perhaps batting first is the percentage option on winning the toss.

In the end, it comes down to big match temperament – and on this, CSK have been tested exhaustively before. There are 9 tournament-defining T20 players in their likely XI, which is as elite as a team gets (and 15 big match players in their squad). Moreover, 6 of these 9 CSK players have already delivered big match performances in the last two matches of the playoffs, which is as turned-on as a side can get for a big occasion.

KKR, conversely, have just 6 such players (which is not insubstantial by any means). They could consider including Brett Lee for Shakib as Lee is a huge big match player in T20 cricket (and Shakib not as emphatic a big occasion player in this format) but that would mean weakening an already slightly iffy batting line-up, so they probably won’t do it. Tournament-definer Manoj Tiwary will probably come back from injury in place of L Shukla – the former is a serious big match player though it was Shukla who performed very well in his place in the first playoff – it’s a ticklish problem for KKR.

Whatever KKR does though, it is difficult to see CSK knocked over now. Two of CSK’s 4 highest impact performances in IPL 2012 came in the last 2 matches. They are just about fully revved-up now. If KKR do manage to win, it would be an upset, against the grain, against the laws of sporting momentum.

This doesn’t mean KKR can’t do it; it just suggests that they would need help from CSK to do so. It also means – if both teams play to potential, CSK will win.

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