In the 14th match of the VIVO IPL 2018, two of the Indian Premier League’s most popular T20 teams will face off at the 'home' of Indian cricket – the Wankhede Stadium. It will be Indian captain vs Indian vice-captain, as Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore and Rohit Sharma’s Mumbai Indians haven’t had the best starts to this year’s tournament once again. They aren’t known to be fast off the blocks, which is why this match – the fourth for each team – will go a long way in defining their performance and future in IPL 2018.
Perhaps the most “balanced” rivalry between any two franchises of the IPL exists between MI and RCB. This will be their 18th contest. Out of the 17 matches played between the two teams, MI has won 9 and RCB has won 8. Interestingly, the two teams have played each other only once outside of the group stages, despite qualifying together in three different seasons. That one occasion, in the semifinal (there were no playoffs back then) of IPL 2010, Mumbai defeated Bangalore by 35 runs at the DY Patil Stadium – where they would then go on to lose to a dominant CSK in the Final days later. Rohit Sharma was still a Deccan Charger back then, and Virat Kohli was yet to break into the Indian team and seal his spot. But while Rohit has played for two IPL teams across his career, Kohli is the only player to have been in the same franchise right from the beginning a decade ago. And despite making two Finals, he is yet to win this title. Rohit has won three of them as Captain of Mumbai Indians.
IPL 2017 was starkly different for both teams. After RCB blazed away to the Final in 2016, they failed to take off in 2017, finishing BOTTOM of the group stages after winning a paltry 3 of their 14 matches. With the newly re-laid pitch that replaced the cement run-machine strip at the Chinnaswamy, they struggled to score runs with a top order of Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers, and Virat Kohli. Kohli, after smashing a record 973 runs in IPL 2016, was tired and disinterested by the end. Gayle, arguably the greatest ever T20 batsman, was to never play for RCB again.
MI, however, finished top of the table last year. They won 10 of their 14 matches and then won the title, after defeating Steve Smith’s Rising Pune Supergiants in a thriller in the Final. MI did it the hard way in the playoffs, losing to Pune first, before defeating KKR in Qualifier 2 at Bangalore and then winning the Final in Hyderabad. There was no better team than MI in 2017, and no worse team than RCB. This time, when they cross swords, they will do so at the same level – starting all over again, hoping for their stars to fire and their campaign to gain some momentum after a shaky start.
Key: Rohit Sharma, now opening the innings, has to fire at home. There are no two ways about it. He always starts every IPL inconsistently and only lights up towards the business end. This time, with Kieron Pollard in decline and Hardik Pandya injured, he will have to be the savior. He would want to think about coming at 3 otherwise, letting young Ishan Kishen instead open the innings. With a middle order of Kishen, Suryakumar Yadav and Krunal Pandya, Rohit will be worried about finishing an innings strongly.
X-factor: Local Leg-spinner Mayank Markande may be set for a promising career after almost single-handedly pulling off a win against the Sunrisers before his fellow bowlers let him down.
Prediction: Jasprit Bumrah might just roar back into form, facing the best batting lineup in T20 history.
ROYAL CHALLENGERS BANGALORE
Key: Virat Kohli has looked tentative, unlike his free-flowing self, which is natural after his short break from international cricket. With guys like de Kock, AB de Villiers and Brendon McCullum around, he can take his time. But he will have to lead the way with his spirit and passion – something that was lacking last year.
X-factor: Washington Sundar was smashed around the park in the first game, but the youngster learns faster than anyone else. He will be the key to keeping the Mumbai batting lineup – Rohit struggles against spin – very quiet. The problem with RCB is even if one of their bowlers fail (only 5 of them play, without part-timers or options), they concede a huge total. They might want to rethink the long batting order – with Woakes at 7 and wasting Mandeep Singh’s talent at 6. Will he be required with the names above him?
Prediction: Quinton de Kock will have a field day after a shaky season of cricket with South Africa.