Two of the strongest teams of this year's Indian Premier League (IPL) and perhaps in the history of the competition — Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians — are up against each other in the grand finale. 

CSK and MI have dominated the competition, each of them dropping just five matches in the league stage. Chennai lost a match more — the first qualifier against Mumbai. What has characterised the two teams over the is consistency. What has also characterised them is the ability to bounce back from adversity. One distinctly remembers Mumbai Indians losing five of their first six matches in 2015 before storming back to win the championship. 

In 2015, Chennai were banished from the IPL for two years after the Supreme Court-appointed Lodha committee found key CSK official Gurunath Meiyappan engaged in betting. It was a hammer blow to the star-studded Chennai franchise, which was also the most successful team at that time. However, the year that Chennai were reinstated, they went ahead and grabbed the trophy. As if nothing had happened. 

Mumbai captain Rohit Sharma had called the CSK-MI rivalry as the El Clasico of the IPL — comparing it with that between Real Madrid and Barcelona. Rohit, one has to say, is not far from the truth. 

Since 2008, Mumbai and Chennai faced each other in the IPL 27 times. Mumbai have bagged 16 of them, while Chennai have won 11. There is hardly a team that have dominated Chennai, but Mumbai are one of those which have a favourable record against CSK. This year, Mumbai have a three-out-of-three record against Chennai. Rohit's team beat CSK, first by 37 runs, then by 46 runs and lastly, by six wickets in the first qualifier. 

The Super Kings have won the IPL three times — in 2010, 2011 and 2018. They have finished runners-up four times — 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2015. Mumbai Indians have won the competition thrice too — 2013, 2015 and 2017. They ended up at the second position on 2010. In IPL finals, Mumbai lead Chennai 2-1, having beaten the latter for the title in 2013 and 2015, while falling short in 2010. 

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Players to watch out for 

For Chennai, Deepak Chahar and Imran Tahir have been in top form with the ball. Chahar has often dented oppostion line-ups right at the top and given CSK a strong start. The South African Tahir has impressed one and all with his spin and guile. The veteran Harbhajan Singh has also put up some quality performances, notably 3/20 versus Royal Challengers Bangalore, 4/17 versus Kings XI Punjab and 2/15 against Kolkata Knight Riders. Mitchell Santner's 2/13 stood out against Mumbai Indians. 

Shane Watson, captain MS Dhoni himself and Faf du Plessis have been the most successful among the CSK batsmen this season. Watson no longer plays for Australia, but has not lost even an ounce of his brilliance. He scored 96 off 53 against Sunrisers Hyderabad and 96 again, this time off 55 balls against Kings XI Punjab. Dhoni decimated Rajasthan Royals with 75 not out off 46 balls. He then put RCB to the sword with 84 off 48 balls. 

For Mumbai Indians, the players to watch out for would surely be Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya. The big West Indian Pollard and the 'pseudo West Indian' Hardik took the bowlers to the cleaners whenever they could. Pollard scored 46 off 26 against SRH and then went ballistic with 83 off 31 against KXIP. Hardik regularly scored brisk runs down the order, his 91 off 34 against Kolkata Knight Riders standing out. 

Jasprit Bumrah, Rahul Chahar and Lasith Malinga have impressed with the ball. Bumrah and Malinga are bowlers with very similar styles and are both difficult to score off. 

However, what Bumrah has to guard against is his tendency to bowl no balls at crucial junctures. He had done it numerous times at the international level, most infamously in the final of the 2017 Champions Trophy. It gave Pakistan's Fakhar Zaman a lifeline, who in turn utilised it to slam a hundred. India lost that match to their arch-rivals by a massive margin. In the first IPL qualifier this year, Bumrah dismissed India teammate Dhoni off a no ball. But despite this weakness, Bumrah is a master at the death, and if the match goes to the super over, his presence would give Mumbai a huge advantage. 

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The biggest reason why Mumbai and Chennai have both been so successful in the IPL is that they have largely kept their core group intact. 

"We have been consistent with the players that we have picked, and once we have a core group, we have bucked the trend by sticking with the players through thick and thin because we believe that gives us an overall chance of success. We went back to players we respected, and the loyalty comes back in droves," CSK coach Stephen Fleming said after winning the IPL crown in 2018. 

Both teams are capable of putting it across each other. If there is a team that Chennai would be wary against, it would be Mumbai. The Hyderabad pitch offers help for the pacers. It is here that Mumbai's Alzarri Joseph destroyed SRH with 6/12, eclipsing Sohail Tanvir's 11-year-old record as the best bowling figures in the IPL. 

At Hyderabad this year, Chennai have won one and lost one. Both those games have been low-scoring ones. The MI-SRH match in Hyderabad was a low-scoring one too. Mumbai were bowled out for 136, which did not look much. But then they skittled Sunrisers out for 96. Except three matches out of seven, Hyderabad did not see significantly high scores. 

So what do we expect in the IPL final 2019? It would be a slugfest, and 150-160 could be a winning score. Whichever team wins would have earned the crown.