IPL 2019 Finals Mumbai versus CSK: The IPL’s Very Own El Clasico


IPL 2019 Finals Mumbai versus CSK: The IPL’s Very Own El Clasico

Illustration: Arati Gujar

After 59 matches and two months of non-stop T20 action, the 2019 IPL final has come down to a battle between the franchise’s two most successful teams. Both CSK and MI have won three trophies each and have played a staggering 11 finals between them. While MI have bested them in three out of their four IPL final clashes, the boys in yellow have enough in the tank to upset a confident Mumbai at Rajiv Gandhi Stadium. While this particular season has been a little lopsided in Mumbai’s favour, the Chennai-Mumbai rivalry began nearly a decade ago.

Back in May 2010, I was full of nervous energy as I updated my BBM status to “Duniya aur CSK, dono hila denge! #WhistleTodu.” It was the first time that my team, Mumbai Indians, had reached the finals, and given our dominant performance that year, I was confident of us beating the Chennai Super Kings. That was the first time I’d seen my team go beyond the playoff stage, and after reaching the finals as table toppers, logic dictated that Sachin’s men should defeat Dhoni’s at Wankhede.

I especially wanted MI to win that night because of one particular stat: In three editions of the IPL before that final, there hadn’t been a single Indian captain to lift the cup. The 18-year-old me believed nobody deserved that honour more than one Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. For all the flak he’d received for his disastrous captaincy stint for Team India in the late ’90s, I genuinely believed this IPL trophy could act as his redemption. Alas! We lost that night, and Dhoni became the first Indian captain to win an IPL trophy. That night, for the first time since the 2003 World Cup finals, I shed a few tears at the outcome of a cricket match. And like many MI fans, I’ve had a bone to pick with CSK ever since.

MI versus CSK has evolved into a big-ticket feud over the last decade, comparable to famous sporting rivalries like Lakers-Spurs, Manchester United-Liverpool, or even the El Clasico itself. The El Clasico, between Spanish football giants Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, is considered one of the biggest club football games in the world. It is a true viewership and sponsorship behemoth with fans and brands alike paying big top dollar to be associated with the clash. The rivalry is also similar to MI and CSK since it features two cities within the same country, albeit in different parts and representing different cultures and traditions. And all four teams command a massive fan following that goes beyond the confines of geography.

While MI and CSK may not compete at Camp Nou or Santiago Bernabéu, the fans at Wankhede and MA Chidambaram Stadium are evenly matched in raw, heady enthusiasm.

The passion that fans bring to both Chepauk and Marine Drive’s Wankhede stadium are already part of IPL folklore, but when these two teams face each other, the passion reaches euphoric levels. No wonder then, that these encounters have provided cricketing fans with memorable moments aplenty. From Suresh Raina’s composed 50 in the IPL 2010 final, the last-ball six from Dwayne Smith to clinch it for MI in IPL 2012, frenemies Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard’s infamous on-field banter, Dhoni’s last over heroics at Wankhede in 2014, to Pollard’s blistering half-century to win MI the 2013 IPL title; these champion teams have provided fans with brilliant memories to treasure over the past decade.

But as an MI fan, getting the better of CSK has always meant more since they have been the gold standard in the IPL since its inception. While our team struggled in the first couple of seasons, Dhoni’s boys had made winning a habit ever since reaching the finals of the inaugural IPL. On paper too, CSK’s success rate is awe-inspiring. They have made it to the playoffs of every IPL they’ve played in, and have featured in the finals of 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2017, winning the cup three out of those six times.

The MI and CSK rivalry is so interesting because despite both being wildly successful in their own right; at their core, both teams remain polar opposites.

Yet, MI always seems to get the better of them, with us leading the head-to-head battle 15-to-11, and having bested them in two out of the three IPL finals we’ve come up against them. MI have done their fans proud since 2013, and have made it to every playoff barring 2018. We even beat a Dhoni-led Pune in 2017 by one run to win our third championship.

I believe that the MI and CSK franchise rivalry rivalry is so interesting because despite both being wildly successful in their own right; at their core, both teams remain polar opposites. MI’s glamorous flair and their owner’s deep pockets have ensured a lineage of big name players, even if they’ve only warmed the bench for most of the season. At one point, MI boasted of the most devastating opening batsmen in the franchise with the likes of Jayasurya and Tendulkar. And who can forget that brief period when their dressing room comprised of both Ponting as well as Tendlya.

CSK, on the other hand, has relied more on honing young, homegrown talent. While MI’s bench might have more star power than many of CSK’s playing XIs on most days, Dhoni has turned CSK into the leading “star-maker” franchise with the likes of Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Murali Vijay and to some extent, even Suresh Raina, solidifying their place in the Indian dressing room after proving their mettle in CSK yellow.

While the Whistle Podu army and MI Paltan have never lacked a competitive edge, I believe the fans of both teams share a sense of mutual admiration, albeit begrudgingly. I’m positive that when in the IPL final, Dhoni walks on to the crease, the MI supporters will cheer their hearts out despite knowing how devastating the CSK captain can be for their team’s hopes of winning a fourth title. And similarly, I expect the yellow army to roar unanimously as Sachin’s smiling face from the dugout shows up on the titantron at Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad.

Regardless of which one of them becomes the first team to win four IPL trophies, tonight’s final is bound to be a memorable contest between two champion teams that share one common legacy – the undying will to not end up second best.