cricket:image:1435293 [365x205]
cricket:image:1435293 [365x205] (Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

Carlos Rod n wins his 7th straight start by pitching the Yankees past the Royals 4-2

Chepauk was a little chaotic on the eve of the IPL 2024 final.

The press conference room was packed, and photographers ran around hurriedly to get the perfect shot of Shreyas Iyer and Pat Cummins with the shiny trophy. Soon after, a sudden shower arrived and quickly became a downpour, catching the groundstaff off guard. They scrambled to dismantle the nets and rush the covers on to the square. Preparations for the closing ceremony were also disrupted by the rain.

Amid the frenetic scenes, Cummins kept calm. When reporters asked Shreyas probing questions about his fitness, Cummins leaned back on his rocking chair to watch highlights of MS Dhoni hitting sixes on the TV. When the captains were asked about the prospect of dew during the final, Cummins showed off his dry sense of humour.

"We don't know how the wicket is going to play tomorrow and also looking at the match [Eliminator] from the TV, we felt the dew factor would play a great role," was Shreyas' response. "But it didn't and the ball started spinning…"

Cummins interrupted at this point with a quip: "No, there was heaps of dew."

Cummins was being Cummins. Composed. Stress-free. On and off the field.

****

Most people would love the lunch at Lord's. Except perhaps Cummins, who had ordered a takeaway after the controversial Jonny Bairstow stumping last June. It was one of the biggest controversies in recent Ashes history but Cummins was in his bubble, one that IPL pressure will find hard to pierce.

Before taking over as Sunrisers Hyderabad captain, Cummins had never led a team in T20 cricket. Sure, he had won the World Test Championship and the ODI World Cup last year, but leading an IPL franchise is entirely different. Especially if you're an overseas captain. Just ask Cummins' predecessors at SRH: Aiden Markram, Kane Williamson or David Warner.

Cummins outlined some of those challenges on the eve the final. "I think in a tournament like the IPL, there's so much pressure from obviously the number of fans that are watching, media, journalists," Cummins said. "But also from their own team back home, or their own coaches and everything as well."

SRH had finished last in 2021, eighth in 2022, and last again in 2023. Under Cummins, they have risen spectacularly to make the final ahead of more-fancied teams this season. They used to be the side that defended sub-150 totals for fun. Then 2021-2023 happened and they lost their identity. Under Cummins' leadership, this SRH side has transformed into the second-fastest scoring team in IPL history.

Travis Head and Abhishek Sharma at the top. Heinrich Klaasen in the middle. Cummins himself can give it a whack lower down the order. The conditions in Chennai may or may not be extremely batting friendly on Sunday, but Cummins has encouraged his players not to change what has worked for them so far.

"I mean there has been a few changes [in the team] this year," Cummins said. "Obviously, Dan Vettori, as head coach, is a big one as well. Few other guys have come in this season, but I think at the start of the season you map out the style that you want to play to give yourself the best chance to win. Obviously, along the way you're allowed to adapt and maybe change the personnel.

"But we were pretty strong with how we wanted to play - super-aggressive - and in a 14 game-season, you're not going to win every single game, but we think if we play that way, you're going to win most of them. That's kind of how it played out - there are little bumps that come along the way but that's okay, you try and make sure it stays on course."

Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jaydev Unadkat and T Natarajan have complemented SRH's explosive batting with their defensive bowling skills. Their find of the season, however, is 20-year-old Nitish Kumar Reddy, who displaced the experienced India player Washington Sundar as the first-choice allrounder in the SRH XI. Nitish smashes spin, bowls seam, and is extremely agile in the field. Cummins believes he is a star in the making.

"It [the contribution of Indian players] has been huge," Cummins said. "Our experienced bowling line-up as well - [Jaydev] Unadkat, Bhuvi [Bhuvneshwar Kumar], Nattu [T Natarajan] have all been amazing and some of the youngsters who have come through have won us games themselves. Nitish [Reddy] and Abhishek [Sharma] are probably the two biggest examples. [These are] guys away from the Indian set-up but have been fantastic. That has been the story of our season - those guys have taken the game on and putting themselves out there and are having breakout seasons."

As for Cummins himself, he's had an up-and-down season with the ball. His form was similar during the league phase of the ODI World Cup, but in the final in Ahmedabad, he rocked India with one cutter after another during a boundary-less spell and claimed the wickets of Virat Kohli and Shreyas.

The conditions at Chepauk - a dry red-soil pitch - could offer Cummins the bounce and grip he enjoys. Bet against him at your peril in the IPL final.