Sharma's champions Mumbai out to shatter Delhi's maiden IPL dream

Dubai (AFP) –


Rohit Sharma's Mumbai Indians are aiming for a record-extending fifth title when they defend their Indian Premier League crown on Tuesday, but the Delhi Capitals under skipper Shreyas Iyer are threatening a changing of the guard.

The 13th IPL final will be played in an eerily empty Dubai stadium because of the coronavirus pandemic, but more than 200 million are expected to watch on television in India alone.

Delhi outplayed Sunrisers Hyderabad on Sunday to reach their first final, meaning a new name could be added to the trophy if the Ricky Ponting-coached Capitals beat Mumbai, who lifted it in 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019.

Led by the 25-year-old Iyer, Delhi have been the surprise package of 2020 -- though their path to the final has not been smooth.

They started the season brilliantly, winning seven of their first nine games and briefly battling Mumbai for top place in the league before four straight defeats.

Three defeats have come against Sharma's Mumbai -- including the first playoff last Thursday.

Mumbai-born Iyer said Delhi, with Shikhar Dhawan shining with the bat and the impressive pace of Kagiso Rabada, had to hold their nerve to counter Mumbai's big-match experience.

"This has been a rollercoaster. A lot of ups and downs. We have stuck together like a family," Iyer said after his team's 17-run win over Hyderabad in the final playoff match took them to the final.

"In the next game... we have to play freely and maintain our temperament."

Iyer's inconsistent batting has been a cause for concern, but Dhawan has hit two centuries while Australian Marcus Stoinis and West Indian Shimron Hetmyer have contributed valuable power-play runs.

Rabada leads the IPL bowling chart with 29 wickets, while fellow South African Anrich Nortje has set the IPL record for the fastest delivery at 156 kilometres (97 miles) per hour.

Stoinis, who took three wickets and scored 38 in Sunday's victory, said Delhi at their best should be able to beat Mumbai, who he called a "great team".

- 'Fresh game' -

But Sharma said beating Delhi three times this season will not matter much on a new day in a closely contested IPL.

"You can take confidence from the past but you can't dwell on it," he said Monday, "because one guy having a good day can take the game away from you.

"We need to keep focus, do little things well. Treat this as a fresh game, think they are a new opponent. We keep doing the right things on the field I am sure we will have the fifth one in the bag."

Ponting was part of the Sharma-led Mumbai team which won the first of their four titles seven years ago.

Sharma, 33, was appointed skipper midway through the 2013 season after Ponting stepped down due to poor form, but has since grown into his role as a leader -- even being touted as a rival to Virat Kohli as captain of India's limited-overs teams.

Sharma is not in the best of form with the bat and missed a few games because of a hamstring injury which keeps him out of the one-day and Twenty20 squad from India's upcoming tour of Australia.

But his team remain favourites against Delhi, with a strong batting line-up that includes rising star Ishan Kishan, South African wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock and Suryakumar Yadav.

The pace duo of Jasprit Bumrah and Trent Boult, who moved from Delhi Capitals this year, have shared 49 wickets in their impressive run to the final.

But Boult, who struck twice in his first over of the opening play-off, bowled just two overs before going off the field with a reported groin strain.

Sharma said his left-arm paceman "pulled up pretty well in the last two days, fingers crossed, hopefully he plays".