Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai
A year ago, at this stage, this would have been a matchup between the best team in the league and the worst team in the league. That remains the case this year, except that the teams have switched.
Mumbai Indians, defending Champions, have been dismantled and destroyed by five of the seven remaining teams so far. Another defeat here, most likely, will condemn them to a sixth consecutive defeat and put them in danger of the first-ever first-round clean sweep of losses. No team has begun with 6 consecutive losses, leave alone 7.
Only this time, they will play at their spiritual home. In Mumbai. Back to India – a venue that will host the final in which MI will not figure. Away from the heat of UAE, perhaps it is what the league needs to showcase a quick turnaround in fortunes for most every team — because as of now, there are only two teams heads and shoulders above the rest. As usual, one of them is CSK. The other is —
KINGS XI PUNJAB
They have been the story of the tournament so far. They have a new league record of 8 consecutive wins dating back to last year, and have been unbeaten in UAE — the only team to do so. Their wins have been convincing, and what’s more — even their alleged weak link, their bowling, has begun to click. Young gun Sandeep Sharma has been a revelation. He single-handedly wrecked the RCB top order, and has joined young Akshar Patel as the two faces of a Kings’ Revolution. Maxwell, by his own admission, seems to have run out of luck after being dismissed by a stunning catch in the deep by Starc, which means that he has failed to cross 20 twice in a row — a colossal failure by his own dizzy standards. He has profited from tons of dropped catches, but that’s a risk he is willing to take. If not him, though, it has been Miller as well as that old warhorse, the Indian cannon Virender Sehwag, who is showing dangerous glimpses of form. The only misfit seems to be Cheteshwar Pujara, who is not doing himself a world of good by struggling as an opener in a format he is not meant to play. This will harm his confidence going into Test Season, and the team managers must understand that tournaments like IPL and other T20 leagues aren’t going to be beneficial to Indian cricket if it ruins their best test batsman. Surely, there are options — look no further than Manan Vohra, last year’s teenaged star, who they retained but have inexplicably not given him a game so far. He is raring to go, and perhaps they were waiting for more familiar conditions to play him.
X-factor: Mitchell Johnson
. The other MI
reject from 2013, he is hitting top stride and will love the return to the pace and bounce of Mohali
and Mumbai. His death overs are lethal to lower-order batsmen, and his reputation is slowly starting to come to the fore. More so, the Australians in this team will be boosted by their return to the Test No. 1 ranked team, and will be dizzy with confidence.
5 matches, 5 defeats. What’s worrying is that they haven’t even come close to a victory, and have been outplayed and clueless in most games. Without a big hitter at the top (Smith), they are out of resources, and frighteningly, things don’t look like changing. Except a new pitch with home crowds, nothing can help them become a better team. Their main buy Corey Anderson isn’t showing why he is considered the next big thing, just like Richard Levi didn’t two years ago. There is no way to make them win with their current batting strength — Captain Rohit is woefully short of confidence, as are Hussey and Tare. Hussey was dropped for Australian Ben Dunk, who might be the answer at the top. But they need to get in Santokie to add to their bowling arsenal somehow, to give Malinga the support he so desperately needs. Harbhajan seems to be happy with restricting batsmen to 5 an over in the middle overs, but he is not a wicket taker and has never been one. Batsmen are happy to play him out, and go after Ojha. Moreover, a thinktank of too many cooks — Tendulkar, Ponting, Kumble, Rhodes, Robin, the spirits of Babe Ruth, Bradman and Grace are only making things worse. Rohit must be a confused man.
KXIP win. They look too strong. More than anything, MI look too weak.