A crowd of more than 100,000 is expected to fill the world’s biggest cricket stadium for the final of the Indian Premier League and the likely farewell of superstar MS Dhoni.
Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings will take on holders Gujarat Titans in Ahmedabad on Sunday, aiming for a record-equalling fifth title in the culmination of the big-bucks T20 tournament.
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But Gujarat, led by Hardik Pandya, will be no pushovers playing in their home stadium as they look to retain the title after a fairytale, debut-season victory a year ago.
Pandya lifted the trophy in front of 101,566 fans at the 132,000-capacity stadium in 2022, a world record for a T20 cricket match. But organisers were confident that record would fall on Sunday evening when, barring a surprise, Dhoni will step out as a player for the last time.
Rising star vs old guard
Standing in Chennai’s way will be Gujarat opener Shubman Gill, fresh from smashing a century – his third in the IPL – in the final playoff on Friday at the same venue.
Gill’s three IPL centuries have all come in his last four innings, his latest a brutal 129 off 60 balls to demolish five-time winners Mumbai Indians.
“He would certainly be the example you would like to use towards young players on how to bat,” Gujarat’s director of cricket and former England batsman Vikram Solanki said of Gill on Saturday.
SHUBMAN GILL! Wow. I don’t really have words.
— AB de Villiers (@ABdeVilliers17) May 26, 2023
“If you are trying to model yourself on a particular player, he has all of the qualities of a world-class player.”
And former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar, on the ESPNcricinfo website, called Gill a “once-in-a-generation player”.
‘Can’t afford to dream’
With home advantage, betting odds make the Gujarat team the slightest of favourites, but Pandya remained cautious about their chances.
“We have to play good cricket, put in our 100 percent,” he said.
“Knockouts could go either way.”
Dhoni’s Chennai took the second spot after the group stage behind table-toppers Gujarat but beat the defending champions in the first playoff earlier this week to bag a spot in the final.
“It’s really hard not to look too far ahead and dream of winning it again,” Chennai coach Stephen Fleming told reporters.
“You got to stay very present of what you are going to do against Gujarat, an excellent side, most consistent side throughout the competition. We can’t afford to dream too much.”
Shubman Gill's performance this season has been nothing short of unforgettable, marked by two centuries that left an indelible impact. One century ignited @mipaltan's hopes, while the other dealt them a crushing blow. Such is the unpredictable nature of cricket!
What truly… pic.twitter.com/R3VLWQxhoT
— Sachin Tendulkar (@sachin_rt) May 28, 2023
Fans line up to see Dhoni lift trophy ‘one more time’
A media official of the state association told the AFP news agency that “tickets are sold out for the grand finale and we are expecting a full house”.
Suresh Babu, a software engineer, told AFP he had travelled from Chennai, at the other end of the country, “to see Dhoni lift the trophy one more time”.
“I know it may be his last, but we pray that he comes back again next year,” added the 43-year-old, who wore Dhoni’s yellow Chennai jersey.
Dhoni remains a huge draw in cricket-mad India and the finale is believed to be his last game as a player, despite the wicketkeeper-batsman saying he will make a call on his IPL future later this year.
The former India captain has filled venues all over the country during the current season, and the Narendra Modi Stadium will be no different in the tournament final.